Home News Local news SENATE'S FIRST SESSION INCLUDES LAUGHS, TEARS

SENATE'S FIRST SESSION INCLUDES LAUGHS, TEARS

0

Jan 14, 2003 – Sparked by occasional rancor, humor, productivity and tears, the first session of the 25th Legislature, like that of its predecessor, came in like a lion and showed no promise of lamb-like serenity in the foreseeable future.
Outgoing Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd called the session to order, and new majority leader Douglas Canton immediately moved to consider the majority's organizational resolution naming officers and committees for the new Senate.
Just as immediately, former majority leader Celestino A. White Sr. and freshman St. Croix Sen. Raymond "Usie"Richards, a minority member, objected to Canton introducing the resolution "without debate." The resolution, which the Democratic Party majority had been working on since organizing following the November elections, passed by a vote of 10-5 along majority/minority lines.
Liburd then passed the gavel to incoming President David Jones and, after a few genial words — Jones thanked Liburd for his assistance during the transition period – and a hasty embrace, the antics began.
Canton held his own in his first go-round as majority leader, introducing a bill to authorize the Public Finance Authority to use up to $6.7 million in tobacco settlement funds to complete repairs to the Charles Harwood Medical Complex on St. Croix. "It is with great pleasure that I offer substance and not rhetoric on this matter," he said. The bill passed 11-4, with Liburd joining the majority members in favor.
Richards' almost constant cries of "Motion!" provoked a brief debate with Jones over parliamentary procedure. "Simply yelling doesn't mean you are recognized by this chair; it doesn't mean the chair must recognize you," Jones said, adding, "I will preside over this Legislature with honor, with order and with class." The remark was received in the packed Senate chambers with cheers and applause.
Richards countered, "I will give you respect if you want respect, but respect is a two-way street."
He then made a motion to call all the government's chief fiscal officers to testify about the territory's finances at a Committee of the Whole meeting on Jan. 21. The motion passed 9-6 with four majority members — Sens. Lorraine Berry, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Shawn-Michael Malone and Luther Renee — voting for it, joined by minority Sens. Carlton Dowe, Norman Jn Baptiste, Liburd, Richards and White.
The measure didn't go over well with freshman Sen. Ronald Russell. "I don't believe we should be adversarial to the governor," he said. "I voted my conscience. I want to hear what he has to say in his address tonight."
Jones agreed: "One week to have them come here and tell us they are not ready? Come on," he said.
Jones elaborated later in the day. The majority caucus is "working on that matter," he said, adding that it was "unprecedented" for a freshman senator to get a measure like that passed in an opening session. "I wanted, too, to hear what the governor had to say before taking any action, and I was disappointed that my members broke ranks on the motion," he said.
Two years earlier, in the opening session of the 24th Legislature, then-Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, speaking for the majority, who came to be known as the "Millennium Eight," warned Gov. Charles W. Turnbull: "We have very much to do, and you had better cooperate."
It was a stance Jones was determined not to emulate. He opened the floor, giving each senator five minutes of "personal privilege" time to use as he or she wished. Many used the time for effusive thanks to family, staff and friends, and some took the occasion to make concerns known.
Freshman Sen. Louis Hill advanced an idea inspired by the public protests of huge raises for top elected officials that the 24th Legislature approved on Dec. 23. He said he is asking legislative counsel to look into the legality of banning a lame-duck Senate — that is, one deliberating after a new membership has been elected, but before it takes office — from passing any legislation. Such sessions traditionally see legislation passed by senators who are going out of office and have nothing politically to lose or gain by their votes.
Hill also said it's about time for the territory to develop and establish a land and water use plan, something Turnbull also had called for in his 24th Legislature address but failed to follow through on. Such plans have been proposed, developed and debated for more than two decades but never adopted. Many senators, past and present, have advocated plans in their campaign vows, only to see them fade into the sunset.
White, ever the chamber comedian, wasn't taking gracefully to his loss of majority leadership, but he used it to his advantage. "Don't let them punish me," he pleaded, "when it comes to my budget." He said Malone was his nephew and, looking straight at the freshman senator, repeated his plea for mercy, which received the anticipated laughter.
Jones pledged to distribute the Senate's resources "fairly and equitably" regardless of political affiliation. The 24th Legislature, in the eyes of current majority members, treated its minority members poorly, giving them meager budgets both individually and for the committees they chaired. Although Liburd promised throughout his tenure to make the individual budgets public, he never did so.
Jones, speaking later in the day, said his budget would be "transparent" and that his office would release the information "as soon as it is available."
Dowe, a champion of capital projects and one of those who voted against the controversial pay hikes for the governor, lieutenant governor and senators, said the raises "would not have been an issue if we had moved on some of the capital projects that are here languishing. They are what will move us forward."
Donastorg, frequently at loggerheads with his colleagues, reminded everyone that "power was created not to hurt people, but to help people." Newly returned to the Democratic fold and named to chair the powerful Finance Committee, he added that he bears "no malice" toward any of his colleagues.
Berry, in tears, spoke of her vote supporting the raises. "I let you down," she said to those in the audience. "I voted against my conscience because I am a team player." She advised the new senators: "Please, vote your conscience."
Berry initially had defended her vote but, in the face of increasing public outcry, changed her stance last week, saying she would support a bill to repeal the raises which Malone had said he would sponsor, or, should he not do so, introduce her own.
After the lawmakers had had their say, Jones gave them another go-round. "I may be opening a Pandora's Box," he said, "but I will allot another three minutes for anyone to finish their thanks." Colleagues quickly proved him correct as they carried on past the three-minute time, thanking everyone but the neighborhood dogcatcher.
The Senate chamber and well were filled with family, friends, staff and supporters, with an overflow crowd watching the session on a giant television screen set up outside the Legislature Building beneath a gaily striped white and yellow tent. The inside audience included a plethora of former senators, among them Carol Burke, Judy Gomez, Bingley Richardson, Attorney General Iver Stridiron and Stephanie Scott-Williams.
The session ended on a poignant note with Jones saying he wanted to dedicate his term as president to his mother, Jean Maynard-Dennis, who died two years ago. "She was very poor, but she was rich in spirit," he said wiping away tears. "Mom, I dedicate this term to you." As Jones fought back his tears, those present rose as one in a standing ovation.

Publisher&#
39;s note
: Like the St. John Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here