Dec. 15, 2004 Senate President David Jones banged his gavel shortly after 2 p.m.Wednesday, and the 25th Legislature was no more. However, it hardly went quietly into the afternoon it was accompanied with lots of bangs and a few whimpers.
The special session was called by Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards, in his capacity as acting governor, to act on St. Croix horse racing contract only, but, that's not quite the way it turned out. While Jones tried to convene a Committee of the Whole to take testimony from the race track representatives, the senators insisted on having their say on a number of issues.
Since Gov. Charles W. Turnbull vetoed several major pieces of legislation last month, the newly formed Senate majority has been trying to amass enough signatures to petition Jones to call a session to attempt an override of Turnbull's vetoes. The majority had managed to get seven of the eight signatures they needed. Jones has remained adamantly against the idea, and no minority senators would sign the petition.
Sens. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg motioned for a Senate session Thursday to hear the rezoning of the Bovoni landfill to allow for a tire shredding operation to commence. Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, who had circulated a petition that had gathered all but one signature needed, joined Donastorg in making a plea to do something now to prevent any more cases of dengue fever, which is spread by the mosquitoes which breed in the tires at the landfill.
Jones ruled Donastorg's motion out of order. He said, "You're not the only ones concerned about Bovoni. The governor can deal with the situation by executive order immediately. The governor is going to address this matter."
After the Committee of the Whole meeting, things took a sentimental turn as Jones brought the 25th Legislature to its close. Donastorg asked Jones for five minutes for each senator to make his farewell remarks. Jones allowed three minutes, which most senators completely disregarded anyhow.
Noting "some things never change," Donastorg said some housecleaning matters should be cleared up. He reminded Jones of a May memo in which he had said restrictions would be put on the Legislature in light of a $500,000 reduction in its 2004 budget. Donastorg asked Jones to justify off-island travel, "even to Alaska," and other expenses. He said, the 25th should disclose all expenses. And he cautioned those senators leaving the body to "make sure you don't burn bridges."
Donastorg's remarks were followed by an outpouring of admiration for Jones leadership, some of it from his strongest antagonists. Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, who had for the last two years opposed Jones on most issues, said, "Not to give roses after the death, you have displayed yourself as a consummate politician. You have shown backbone and vision."
Jn Baptiste was disappointed that Richards had to call Wednesday's session. "It weakens us, after we failed. We could have called this body into session."
Outgoing senators expressed thanks to their colleagues for their support. Sen. Carlton Dowe thanked them for supporting his capital projects issues and the Supreme Court legislation. Sen. Emmett Hansen II said, "It's ironic that some feel nothing was done. I thank those who supported my bills over the governor's vetoes the Home Ownership and the Infrastructure Acts."
Sen. Louis Hill was philosophical. "Life is a cycle, and we have learned much in the last two years." He called Jones a "brilliant statesman and a diplomat."
Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. had some last minute levity. "I want you four new senators out there to see how Sen. Roosevelt David is dressed today. He's on his way in a black suit and red tie." (In the majority's press conference, red and white was the costume.)
Turning serious, White said, "The 25th Legislature was less than productive." He said to the senators-elect, "What is coming in the 26th is a road map to show you how it should be done." Turning to Jones, he said motioning to several of Jones' Democratic colleagues, "Your biggest joy is severing ties with these guys."
Sen. Usie Richards was critical of the 25th Legislature. "I don't want to leave the impression that all is well. No other Legislature in V. I history has failed to pass a budget with a 10-member majority."
Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd noted several accomplishments on his home island of St. John, and he warned the new senators about working with White, "who has served well. He has been my majority leader, in my two presidencies. He can work you up and then turn you around easy, so be prepared."
Senators-elect Craig Barshinger, Pedro Encarnacion, Neville James and Juan Figueroa Serville attended the session as observers.
Liburd continued noting accomplishments on St. John, "a new dock, new community center, road paving, and I got you those cars. Barshinger said he would not use the cars, so I give them to you, President Berry."
Liburd told Jones that "Though we have disagreed, you served with great dignity."
Barshinger said later that as senator-at-large he is entitled to one car for each island. "I don't need a car on St. John," he said. "So I will either give it to an educational organization or a non-profit; someone who needs it." He said on St. Thomas and St. Croix he will leave the vehicles for staff use. The cars cannot be turned in because they are on a lease agreement, he said.
Jones listened to the comments, sometimes smiling, sometimes looking sad. As the senators were steadily disappearing from the floor, Jones thanked his staff and the Legislature central staff. "I wish I could have gotten the raises for you. I am sorry."
He added, "But know that I love each and every one of you."
And that, with the resounding bang of Jones' gavel, was that.
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