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BAPTISTE: NOT ABOUT TO BE INTIMIDATED

April 14, 2001 – Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste stands erect, at an almost military posture, adding imaginary inches to his stature. In the few short months of his second term, the diminutive senator has managed to find himself on more big, political hots seats than some lawmakers do in a career. Or would care to.
First, there was his alienation from the Democratic Party, which in January stripped him of his committee vote for what was considered his defection from the party. Next came the rumors of his break from the powerful majority bloc senators of the 24th Legislature. The icing on the cake was his infamous imbroglio with the Senate's cherished rabble rouser, Adelbert Bryan
What is a St. Lucian schoolboy from the small village of Micout doing now as secretary of the 24th Legislature stirring up Virgin Island politics? Baptiste reflects, leaning forward a bit, arms folded. "When I was about 15, I founded the first cricket club at home," he says.
An inauspicious, if public-spirited, start.
He shifted gears after graduating in 1976 from the then-College of the Virgin Islands with a bachelor of arts in Spanish and secondary education. He returned to St. Lucia to teach, but, seeing political need, founded the St. Lucia Action Circle.
He moved back the Virgin Islands to embark on a 19-year career as a foreign-language teacher at Central High School. On St. Croix, he co-founded a branch of the St. Lucia Association and became active in the high school Parent-Teacher Association. He says that experience served as the impetus for him to run for public office so that he could effect changes in education.
Now, back to center stage. Sen. Bryan, never known for hiding his light under a bushel, stated publicly in March that naturalized citizens should not be able to hold public office in the Virgin Islands. Although two of the other majority senators were not "born here," Baptiste was the only one who sat up and took notice of Bryan's remarks. (Donald "Ducks" Cole is a native of Nevis, and Alicia "Chucky" Hansen was born in Puerto Rico.)
Baptiste publicly criticized Bryan's position as offensive and said he would accept nothing less than a public apology. "Actually, I asked for more than just an apology," he says. "There were several things I asked relative to his remarks. We had a discussion, and he made me to understand it was his personal philosophy, that no offense was intended. I asked him to make a public statement to that effect. Clearly, that was not done."
A fine line between philosophies and responsibilities
However, Baptiste continues, "I respect people's personal philosophies, though sometimes I think they are inappropriate – downright wrong at times." He says he would not like to see Bryan "allow his philosophy to cloud his vision, to interfere with the execution of his duties."
One of those duties could occur soon. When the governor's nomination of Cecil Benjamin as Labor commissioner comes up for Senate confirmation, "that could create some problems," Baptiste says solemnly, hands folded steeple style. Benjamin, the long-time head of the American Federation of Teachers union on St. Croix and now serving as acting Labor commissioner, is not a native Virgin Islander.
"It's important for people to understand that the majority didn't come together from Bryan," Baptiste says. "He just happened to be one of the eight senators with a common vision. It would be most unfortunate if one were to use his disparaging remarks, 'Bryan's antiques' as we say, to become the sole excuse for breaking up the majority. I do believe if it becomes necessary to sanction Bryan, we should do the right thing."
He concedes that Bryan has not furthered his – Baptiste's – political career. "No, but I am guided by my convictions, principles of righteousness that my religious upbringing inculcated in me," he says, in one of several allusions he makes during an interview to his Seventh-day Adventist faith.
He declines to mention specifics about the alleged rift within the majority, saying only that "it was misplaced focus. In other words, I wasn't the pivotal element for all the rumblings. I won't comment further on that."
Baptiste is comfortably set in the 24th Legislature, along with his majority colleagues. He has an allotment of "about $250,000" plus another $50,000 as legislative secretary and $45,000 to run his committee. He employs a staff of eight.
Staying with the party and the majority, for now
With both the Eastern Caribbean and the Democratic vote in possible jeopardy from actions of recent months, Baptiste expresses little concern about re-election. Admitting to differences with others in the party, he says, "I intend to continue being a registered Democrat. Unless I find it unfavorable, I will run as a Democrat." He adds that his focus now is simply on "getting the job done. When we get to that point, I hope the record of my accomplishments will be the basis of my re-election. My focus is on changing the territory's socio-economic paradigm."
In a burst of perhaps unplanned candor, Baptiste explains, "If this majority should prove to me it is unable to effect this change, that would be my reason for leaving the majority."
Senate approval of legislation creating a military museum and veterans memorial complex on St. Croix is one of Baptiste's major accomplishments. First introduced in the 23rd legislature, the bill to establish the complex was unanimously approved in March.
"It's not only for veterans; it would be a tourist attraction, as well," Baptiste notes with pride. The bill requires the government to donate land for the structure, and Baptiste says funding will come from private and personal donations he has lined up, as well as federal grants and appropriations by the Legislature.
One of his proposals guaranteed not to be so popular, especially with the business community, is for a "sin" tax on luxury items, with proceeds to fund a school program.Called the Teacher Recruitment and Training Act, it has yet to see light on the Senate floor. Although Baptiste is in his second term as Education Committee chair, he couldn't muster a quorum for his last committee meeting to hear the bill.
Education is motivation for diverse efforts
Why a "sin" tax? The always-serious senator looks even more somber, hands once again folded steeple style. "That was legal counsel's idea. I had called it the Consumption Tax, a British term, but she changed it." Baptiste wants the funds for an ambitious teacher recruitment and scholarship program, but admits he may have trouble getting there via this route.
The tax would be levied on "non-essential" items including liquor, cigarettes and cars costing over $25,000. Baptiste says maybe the automobile ceiling could be raised to $35,000. He acknowledges that taxing cigarettes and liquor could effect the economy negatively. "These are concerns," he says, "and that's why I'm not special ordering the bill to the floor now." He is, meanwhile, in contact with the U.S. Department of Education seeking to identify other funding sources for the teacher-recruitment and scholarship program.
Baptiste is hosting a youth symposium on St. Croix in May for elementary and junior high school students, similar to one Sen. Lorraine Berry holds annually for high school students on St. Thomas. In fact, Baptiste says, Berry inspired him: "She said she had done the symposiums on St. Croix before and invited me to join her. I'm very grateful to her."
Baptiste held his first symposium last year, underscoring his philosophy that "It's easier to build a child than to repair a man." This year's program will parallel Berry's, which centered on teenage sexual abstinence, but
with an added element. "Simply saying 'back off' ( to sexual predators) might not be enough," he says. "We should teach them the self defense."
The 48-year-old senator speaks with a precise British accent, much more softly in person than on the Senate floor. He talks fondly of his wife, Irene; daughter, Mandisa, 18, a Central High School senior ("her name means love"); and son Ambakhisye, 20. Displaying religious conviction again, he expresses gratitude for his family, adding, "God has pulled me from the jaws of death on occasions with no explanation."
Occasions of what sort? "On motorcycles," Baptiste says solemnly, citing accidents from which he miraculously survived.
In a corner of his sparsely adorned office stands a large cardboard box. From it he pulls a rendering of the planned veterans complex. Would he like to pose with it? The immediate response, with a smile: "Yes, of course."

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April 14, 2001 - Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste stands erect, at an almost military posture, adding imaginary inches to his stature. In the few short months of his second term, the diminutive senator has managed to find himself on more big, political hots seats than some lawmakers do in a career. Or would care to.
First, there was his alienation from the Democratic Party, which in January stripped him of his committee vote for what was considered his defection from the party. Next came the rumors of his break from the powerful majority bloc senators of the 24th Legislature. The icing on the cake was his infamous imbroglio with the Senate's cherished rabble rouser, Adelbert Bryan
What is a St. Lucian schoolboy from the small village of Micout doing now as secretary of the 24th Legislature stirring up Virgin Island politics? Baptiste reflects, leaning forward a bit, arms folded. "When I was about 15, I founded the first cricket club at home," he says.
An inauspicious, if public-spirited, start.
He shifted gears after graduating in 1976 from the then-College of the Virgin Islands with a bachelor of arts in Spanish and secondary education. He returned to St. Lucia to teach, but, seeing political need, founded the St. Lucia Action Circle.
He moved back the Virgin Islands to embark on a 19-year career as a foreign-language teacher at Central High School. On St. Croix, he co-founded a branch of the St. Lucia Association and became active in the high school Parent-Teacher Association. He says that experience served as the impetus for him to run for public office so that he could effect changes in education.
Now, back to center stage. Sen. Bryan, never known for hiding his light under a bushel, stated publicly in March that naturalized citizens should not be able to hold public office in the Virgin Islands. Although two of the other majority senators were not "born here," Baptiste was the only one who sat up and took notice of Bryan's remarks. (Donald "Ducks" Cole is a native of Nevis, and Alicia "Chucky" Hansen was born in Puerto Rico.)
Baptiste publicly criticized Bryan's position as offensive and said he would accept nothing less than a public apology. "Actually, I asked for more than just an apology," he says. "There were several things I asked relative to his remarks. We had a discussion, and he made me to understand it was his personal philosophy, that no offense was intended. I asked him to make a public statement to that effect. Clearly, that was not done."
A fine line between philosophies and responsibilities
However, Baptiste continues, "I respect people's personal philosophies, though sometimes I think they are inappropriate – downright wrong at times." He says he would not like to see Bryan "allow his philosophy to cloud his vision, to interfere with the execution of his duties."
One of those duties could occur soon. When the governor's nomination of Cecil Benjamin as Labor commissioner comes up for Senate confirmation, "that could create some problems," Baptiste says solemnly, hands folded steeple style. Benjamin, the long-time head of the American Federation of Teachers union on St. Croix and now serving as acting Labor commissioner, is not a native Virgin Islander.
"It's important for people to understand that the majority didn't come together from Bryan," Baptiste says. "He just happened to be one of the eight senators with a common vision. It would be most unfortunate if one were to use his disparaging remarks, 'Bryan's antiques' as we say, to become the sole excuse for breaking up the majority. I do believe if it becomes necessary to sanction Bryan, we should do the right thing."
He concedes that Bryan has not furthered his – Baptiste's – political career. "No, but I am guided by my convictions, principles of righteousness that my religious upbringing inculcated in me," he says, in one of several allusions he makes during an interview to his Seventh-day Adventist faith.
He declines to mention specifics about the alleged rift within the majority, saying only that "it was misplaced focus. In other words, I wasn't the pivotal element for all the rumblings. I won't comment further on that."
Baptiste is comfortably set in the 24th Legislature, along with his majority colleagues. He has an allotment of "about $250,000" plus another $50,000 as legislative secretary and $45,000 to run his committee. He employs a staff of eight.
Staying with the party and the majority, for now
With both the Eastern Caribbean and the Democratic vote in possible jeopardy from actions of recent months, Baptiste expresses little concern about re-election. Admitting to differences with others in the party, he says, "I intend to continue being a registered Democrat. Unless I find it unfavorable, I will run as a Democrat." He adds that his focus now is simply on "getting the job done. When we get to that point, I hope the record of my accomplishments will be the basis of my re-election. My focus is on changing the territory's socio-economic paradigm."
In a burst of perhaps unplanned candor, Baptiste explains, "If this majority should prove to me it is unable to effect this change, that would be my reason for leaving the majority."
Senate approval of legislation creating a military museum and veterans memorial complex on St. Croix is one of Baptiste's major accomplishments. First introduced in the 23rd legislature, the bill to establish the complex was unanimously approved in March.
"It's not only for veterans; it would be a tourist attraction, as well," Baptiste notes with pride. The bill requires the government to donate land for the structure, and Baptiste says funding will come from private and personal donations he has lined up, as well as federal grants and appropriations by the Legislature.
One of his proposals guaranteed not to be so popular, especially with the business community, is for a "sin" tax on luxury items, with proceeds to fund a school program.Called the Teacher Recruitment and Training Act, it has yet to see light on the Senate floor. Although Baptiste is in his second term as Education Committee chair, he couldn't muster a quorum for his last committee meeting to hear the bill.
Education is motivation for diverse efforts
Why a "sin" tax? The always-serious senator looks even more somber, hands once again folded steeple style. "That was legal counsel's idea. I had called it the Consumption Tax, a British term, but she changed it." Baptiste wants the funds for an ambitious teacher recruitment and scholarship program, but admits he may have trouble getting there via this route.
The tax would be levied on "non-essential" items including liquor, cigarettes and cars costing over $25,000. Baptiste says maybe the automobile ceiling could be raised to $35,000. He acknowledges that taxing cigarettes and liquor could effect the economy negatively. "These are concerns," he says, "and that's why I'm not special ordering the bill to the floor now." He is, meanwhile, in contact with the U.S. Department of Education seeking to identify other funding sources for the teacher-recruitment and scholarship program.
Baptiste is hosting a youth symposium on St. Croix in May for elementary and junior high school students, similar to one Sen. Lorraine Berry holds annually for high school students on St. Thomas. In fact, Baptiste says, Berry inspired him: "She said she had done the symposiums on St. Croix before and invited me to join her. I'm very grateful to her."
Baptiste held his first symposium last year, underscoring his philosophy that "It's easier to build a child than to repair a man." This year's program will parallel Berry's, which centered on teenage sexual abstinence, but with an added element. "Simply saying 'back off' ( to sexual predators) might not be enough," he says. "We should teach them the self defense."
The 48-year-old senator speaks with a precise British accent, much more softly in person than on the Senate floor. He talks fondly of his wife, Irene; daughter, Mandisa, 18, a Central High School senior ("her name means love"); and son Ambakhisye, 20. Displaying religious conviction again, he expresses gratitude for his family, adding, "God has pulled me from the jaws of death on occasions with no explanation."
Occasions of what sort? "On motorcycles," Baptiste says solemnly, citing accidents from which he miraculously survived.
In a corner of his sparsely adorned office stands a large cardboard box. From it he pulls a rendering of the planned veterans complex. Would he like to pose with it? The immediate response, with a smile: "Yes, of course."