WHEN the news first broke that Carl T.C. Gutierrez was eyeing the public auditor position, many people found it hard to believe. Really? Carl Gutierrez for public auditor?
But clearly, the Gutierrez camp is taking the public auditor race seriously. Gutierrez even resigned his chairmanship of the Democratic Party just to ensure his candidacy would not be questioned. But then again, that's not too much of a concession. Everybody knows Gutierrez is the real power behind the Democratic Party, with or without the chairmanship.
All the earlier OPA-related media reports now make sense, from incumbent Public Auditor Doris Flores Brooks' desire not to have an OPA primary to erstwhile OPA candidate Zenaida T. Asuncion-Nace's sudden decision to withdraw from the race. The Gutierrez camp must have been planning this move for a long time and word may have leaked out about their plans. Brooks herself admitted she was not surprised by Gutierrez's move, having heard rumors about the former governor's plan.
Earlier, Brooks asked the Legislature to cancel the primary for uncontested public auditor, citing the cost it would entail. Taking out the primary could have hurt Gutierrez's chances to run for the OPA post. Only 4 percent is needed for a write-in candidate to be placed on the ballot at the primary level, whereas in a general election, a write-in may fall under the 50 percent plus one rule.
Needing only 4 percent for the OPA primary, Gutierrez would need just about 2,000 votes to make it to the general election. “And Carl can get 2,000 votes in his sleep,” Democratic Party executive director Carlo Branch told K57's Ray Gibson in an interview.
So why is Gutierrez running for public auditor at all? Isn't the OPA post, ummm, a step down for the former two-time governor?
But come to think of it, there is method to this seeming madness. For one, Gutierrez can't run for Guam delegate to Congress as had been speculated early on. That would take him on a direct collision course with that other icon of the Democratic Party, Madeleine Z. Bordallo. A run against Bordallo would split the already factionalized Democratic Party and possibly do irreparable harm. Besides, didn't they just shake hands recently for the sake of party unity?
Gutierrez also cannot run for senator, though he would definitely be a shoo-in. He's been there and done that, even becoming Speaker of the Legislature. To run again for senator? Now that would be demeaning.
But an election without Carl, as my good friend and colleague Mar-Vic Cagurangan pointed out, would be like eating Chamorro food without finadene. Besides, the Democrats really need Carl's presence this election season with all the talk about replacing incumbent Democratic senators, especially the so-called “Fab Five.”
So what is the best way for Gutierrez to remain relevant this political season? The Office of Public Accountability, while seemingly a minor post in the grand scheme of things, has now become probably the most strategic elective office in this era of cost-cutting and GovGuam streamlining. Because of GovGuam's financial problems, numbers and statistics have become the primary issues facing the island's politicians.
As the Calvo administration works to improve GovGuam's fiscal condition and generate enough revenues to keep operations going (while at the same time paying off GovGuam's debts), OPA's role will be crucial in the debates and discussions that are sure to follow leading up to the gubernatorial election in 2014. It will be a game of numbers - of which set of numbers to believe - and if Gutierrez decides to run again for governor in 2014, the OPA would be the perfect perch from which he can watch over the Calvo administration and launch his candidacy.
Running under the slogan “Everybody is Accountable,” Gutierrez said he decided to throw his hat into the ring because OPA has “failed” during the last year and a half to hold everybody accountable.”
If he wins, Gutierrez has vowed to go after Guam's insurance companies, specifically Calvo's SelectCare, which is owned by the family of Gov. Eddie Baza Calvo.
Of course, skeptics are scoffing at the notion of Gutierrez serving as the island's public auditor. “What does he know about auditing,” one Gutierrez critic sniffed.
But the requirements to run for public auditor state that candidates can either be a certified public accountant; an attorney at law; or have at least five years of experience in the establishment or enactment of government budgets. Gutierrez has pointed to the last requirement as his main credential, which qualifies him to run for public auditor, having participated countless times in the crafting of GovGuam's budget during his days at the Legislature.
And then there is the issue of partisanship. Brooks has charged that Gutierrez would “politicize” OPA which is supposed to be non-partisan - to which the Gutierrez camp responded that Brooks herself displayed partisanship when she was running for public auditor.
To be fair, Brooks has been even-handed during her time as public auditor, even locking horns with her fellow Republicans in Adelup and the Legislature during the many debates about GovGuam's deficit.
Nevertheless, Gutierrez's entry has added extra spice to this year's election. That plus the fact there is certainly no love lost between these two candidates who have faced off before when Brooks ran for lieutenant governor in 1994 with gubernatorial candidate Tommy Tanaka who was eventually defeated by Gutierrez.
And, of course, it was the Brooks-led OPA which conducted the audit that eventually led to the filing of charges against Gutierrez and former Government of Guam Retirement Fund Director John Rios.
So there is enough history between these two candidates to make the OPA race interesting. And if only for this grudge match, this year's election should be worth watching.