Editor's note: For the complete text of the minority caucus' mission statement go to the end of the article.
Jan 4, 2005 – The Senate minority caucus plans to enhance revenues, fix the roads, improve education, build a sports complex, develop tourism, reform the Government Employees Retirement System, bring the crime rate down, establish a Latin music festival and restore integrity to the government.
Senator-elect Neville James was master of ceremonies at a press conference Tuesday at Pier 69 in Frederiksted as the caucus unveiled its agenda. Sen. Roosevelt David is the minority caucus leader. The other members are senators-elect Craig Barshinger, Pedro Encarnacion, Juan Figueroa- Serville; and Sens. Louis P. Hill and Ronald Russell.
This caucus was formed after three Democrats broke off from the Democratic majority to form an independent majority. The rebel senators were evidently displeased with the choice of Hill as senate president.
One of the break-away senators, Lorraine Berry, became president of the new majority. At the time she was chair of a committee considering sexual harassment charges against Sen. Usie Richards. Richards became part of the new majority and, subsequently, Berry's committee let Richards off with a reprimand.(See "Richard's Accuser Unhappy With 'Slap on the Wrist'").
Russell has since questioned whether Richards can hold a seat in the 26th Legislature. Russell said the seating of Richards might be in violation of the Revised Organic Act because Richards has been found to have committed "a crime involving moral turpitude." Richards, on his side, has filed a lawsuit against the Senate committee which had said he was guilty of sexual harassment.
Russell was the first to speak, after James, at the conference. Russell said, "We need to restore integrity to the institution. We need to respect our fellow human beings men and women."
He also touched on specifics of the minority's agenda. He said, "We have problems with education we have to solve." He said teachers must have the power to control the school environment, the vocational school on St. Croix was under used and students in the Virgin Islands should be educated so their SAT tests scores were as high as the students on the mainland.
In James's opening remarks he pointed out that neither he nor Russell, who had experience as the chairman of the Senate Education Youth Committee, were appointed by the majority to the Education Committee. James, who has worked as an employee of the Education Department, said, "This makes no sense. Politics is at play."
James said that crime and jobs were the big issues during the election and the minority caucus would work hard at creating jobs and bringing down the crime rate.
Another specific, that Russell touched, was the establishment of a V.I. Supreme Court. He said the bill that passed the legislature last year designated the court be on St. Thomas. Russell said, "I am of the belief that we should share the wealth." He said, if St. Croix was the site of the court, a bit of a boost would have been given to the island's economy.
Even though Barshinger is from St. John and Hill and David are from St. Thomas, all speakers emphasized what they would do for St. Croix. James did say that the minority "would not ignore St. Thomas and St. John."
Barshinger, who defeated Almando "Rocky" Liburd as senator-at-large, mentioned problems on the other islands. He said parking was a big concern on St. John and a towing policy would have to be enforced. "We have vehicles that have not been moved in six months." He said St. Thomas had a severe traffic problem. "St. Thomas is a victim of its own success."
He also referred to the recent death of a second grader who was run over by a truck. He said he is working on a law concerning trucks in residential areas.
Barshinger joined Russell saying the park system on St. Croix needed improvement. He said, "Biking and hiking are healthy. People should be able to do them."
Hill said that reforming the GERS would be a first item of business for this caucus. He said the minority would present a plan to the majority and challenge it to have a bill passed within the first 100 days of this session. "Let us see who is serious about reform."
Hill also said that the Commission on Aging needed to be re-established. He said the government needed to look at "how we treat and provide for the elderly."
The 31-year-old Figueroa-Serville stuck with his campaign promise to reach out to the youth of Virgin Islands. He said he was working on a youth-outreach bill he would be introducing into the legislature. He said youth were the most valuable resource of the Virgin Islands and some mechanisms had to be introduced to allow them to flourish as entrepreneurs.
Figueroa-Serville, like several of the other caucus members, asserted his support of both the William and Punch and the Golden Gaming development projects. He also said he was going to give support for a Heritage Park to be built in the Salt River area, a sports complex in Frederiksted, and a Latin music festival.
He emphasized his Hispanic heritage, saying that 30 percent of St. Croix was Hispanic. He said, "The Hispanics must become a vital component of the island's economic engine. When the Hispanics thrive, everyone thrives."
Encarnacion said he would rely on his experience as Fire Services Director to work on improving all emergency services. He said, "Safety is the key to all prosperity."
According to Encarnacion, officials in every public safety department are now worried whether their departments will get adequate funding.
He also emphasized improvements were needed to the infrastructure on St. Croix. He said, "It is time for our roads to become good roads. It is time to bring St. Croix back to life."
David was the final speaker of the conference. He referred to the nine-issue agenda passed out in a program to the estimated 90 people attending. He said it showed on what caucus members would focus. The issues included public safety, the economy, human services, education, housing, election reform and women's issues.
He referred to the majority's press conference last month. He said, "They brought nothing. They said nothing. And they will do nothing."(See "New Coalition Blasts Negativity, Praises Each Other").
David also emphasized bringing a higher level of efficiency to government and bringing more help to small businesses through fully-staffed Small Business Administration offices and encouraging more small businesses to become involved in Economic Development Commission programs.
David said that Delegate Donna Christensen was supportive of this caucus. In his closing remarks, James said Gov. Charles Turnbull and Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards expressed support for the caucus also.
Here is the complete text of the minority caucus' mission statement .
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