SPEAKER of the Legislature Judi Won Pat may have gone just a bit too far with her weekly address last Friday. In it she suggested that those in the community who are advocating a part-time Legislature are somehow motivated by a desire to transfer the power of the people to the wealthy and elite. “The objective is deceptive and sinister,” she said.
Strong words, coming from a member of that same elite. For that’s exactly what our small Legislature has become, a gathering of the political “elite” who consider their election to the office to be a full-time job, and immediately set out to milk the maximum benefit for themselves from the office. In responding to the suggestions, Speaker Won Pat completely ignores one of the main points of the critics of a full-time Legislature, namely that being a senator should not be a public job, it should be public service.
Those who hold the top-elected positions on Guam should not receive paid vacations, sick leave, retirement or any other sort of public employee benefit. They should be paid for their work and that’s all. The whole notion of elected officials getting paid time off, sick leave and a lump sum payment at the end of their term for unused “leave” is expensive nonsense. That’s what contributes to the concept of elected office as a career choice, something like going into engineering or business or medicine.
Having a part-time Legislature would encourage more people to run for office, not less. Some of the critics of a full-time Legislature suggest we should reduce the size of the body even further, to seven or nine members. We do not agree with that.
Consideration of changing the Organic Act, or writing a constitution, providing for two chambers would also be a good idea.
The Mayors Council, whose members are much closer to the grass roots than the senators, could be the lower house.
By having a Legislature that meets only once or twice a year – with lawmakers paid a per diem stipend rather than a salary with benefits – we could save some money and encourage those elected to the body to go out into the community and work at a real job. That way, they are more likely to understand and fully appreciate what the community needs and wants.
There is nothing deceptive or sinister about advocating a part-time Legislature. On the contrary, it is an effort to reduce the cost and improve relevance of the lawmaking body. That’s a public discussion worth having.