Sept. 4, 2005 — After eight months of what has often appeared a tenuous liaison, it looks as though the 26th Legislature majority may be shattering. Or not.
The majority bloc made it through winter months; they made it through spring B highlighted with a "political wedding" between Senate President Lorraine Berry and majority leader Celestino A. White consummated at Post Office Square in Carnival 2005 — and it began to look like they might make it through the fall months.
According to some sources, the marriage now appears to be on the rocks, after statements in the past few weeks by Sen. Norman JnBaptiste that he will leave the eight-member majority if his legislation is amended.
However, White, the groom in question, says otherwise. He told the Source late Sunday, "The consensus majority put in place Jan. 1 stands. I know nothing of any reorganization. There is no reason for reorganization. Senator Berry is the president, and she has been doing a simply outstanding job," White said. "She has demonstrated her ability and experience to get things done."
White continued, "Certainly, if something is not broken, why fix it? To make her president of a reorganized body makes no sense. I leave it to rumors. We stand squarely behind Senator Berry. These things are rumors. She has not indicated to me any displeasure. We have been meeting and we will continue to meet. People are not looking for instability in politics now."
Asked about JnBaptiste's remarks about leaving the majority if his Job Creation Act is amended, White said, "He has made it clear to me and all officers that he intends to remain with us. He was mad about a situation, and we met in caucus where these things are resolved, and we are satisfied."
But politics do make strange bedfellows.
Berry and Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson have proposed an amendment to Senate vice president Norman JnBaptiste's Emergency Job Creation and Economic Stimulus Act of 2005. The original legislation mandates that the Water and Power Authority enter into a purchase agreement with a small power producer on St. Croix.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull vetoed the bill, saying it infringed on the authority of WAPA and negatively impacted WAPA's ability to select a power provider. The Legislature overrode that veto in July.
After the override, Berry apparently had second thoughts, along with Nelson. They said they had been under the impression that after they voted for the override, they would later be allowed to make amendments.
They met with WAPA's executive director, Alberto Bruno-Vega, to discuss the legislation, and then drafted the amendment to which JnBaptiste vociferously objected.
Bruno-Vega, on the other hand, had been vehemently against JnBaptiste's bill, saying it would tie WAPA's hands in selecting an alternate power provider. ( See "WAPA to Comply with Small Power Order"). Bruno-Vega had said it would be like holding a gun to his head. He argued that it was written for one provider — Caribbean Energy Resources Corp.
Since that time, the marriage has appeared headed for the divorce court. Names have been called.
JnBaptiste has been furious over the amendment, saying it will, in effect, destroy his bill. He has been vocal in disparaging Berry, and Berry has publicly retaliated. While JnBaptiste has said in the Senate chambers that he will withdraw from the majority if the amendment passes, White has maintained that the majority will not break up, even after an often acrimonious meeting last Wednesday. (See "Amendment to Economic Stimulus Act Generating Plenty of Heat").
The amendment is the only item scheduled to be heard at a full session Wednesday. It is unusual to call a full session to hear only one piece of legislation.
Though none of the lawmakers contacted would go on record, reliable sources have confirmed that a Senate reorganization will be announced at Wednesday's session.
One senator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Berry is the only one switching allegiances. He said the rest of the majority sits tight, which, apparently, includes JnBaptiste.
Others have said that "anything" can happen between now and Wednesday. "It's up in the air," one lawmaker said.
As for Berry, she isn't committing. Interviewed over the weekend, the seasoned veteran, who is now serving her 11th consecutive term, said, "Politics is a spectator sport. People speculate. Anything is possible."
Berry said the intent of the session is to make amendments to the Job Creation and Economic Stimulus Act of 2005. "It is obvious we need to make amendments to the law so WAPA can send out new RFP's [Requests for Proposal]. I made a command decision to call the session because of the misinformation out there." And, like a true politician, she said, "If something else comes … a special order can come at any time. Anything is possible — you can cross that bridge then."
Berry further commented, "Politics is an exciting profession. You never get bored in the political arena."
If, indeed, a new majority is formed, it could, at least temporarily, overshadow the attention to the WAPA legislation, education or crime issues. For one thing, budget allotments will have to be adjusted to complement a new majority. Berry has yet to release the budgets of the current majority senators.
Then, there are likely new committee memberships to be formed, Senate officers to be appointed, and any manner of paperwork related to new majority power holders.
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