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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, June 22, 2024


June 1, 2001 — Despite flubbing a main fact in his argument against reducing the size of the V.I. Legislature, Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole remains opposed to the idea.
The error involves a sister U.S. territory, Guam, which recently reduced the size of its legislature from 21 to 15 members.
Last week, Cole and reduction proponent Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg traded barbs about a bill that seeks to shrink the Senate from 15 to nine. Although 87 percent of Virgin Islanders who voted in the referendum last November favored reduction, the 24th Legislature’s majority, of which Cole is a member, sent Donastorg’s bill back to Cole’s Government Operations, Planning and Environmental Protection Committee.
In defending his opposition to the bill last week, Cole pointed to Guam, which like the Virgin Islands is a U.S. territory. Cole said Guam had 21 members in its legislature, which represents 153,000 people. That works out to approximately 7,285 persons per representative, or 4.76 percent of the population.
The Virgin Islands, he said, has 15 senators for a population of 101,809 — meaning 6,787 persons per representative, 6.67 percent of the population.
Reducing the V.I. Senate to nine would increase the number of persons per representative to 11,312, or 11.11 percent representation, Cole said. And this, he said, would violate the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the basis of the principle of "one man, one vote."
Donastorg, however, noted that in 1998 voters on Guam elected to reduce the size of their legislature from 21 to 15, and this was implemented last November. The new makeup gives Guam 10,200 people per representative.
"I wholeheartedly agree with Sen. Cole about one thing," Donastorg said. "We should indeed follow Guam’s example. Unfortunately, he has it entirely wrong."
Despite his error, Cole stood by his position Thursday. He said Donastorg’s proposal is both a reduction and a re-apportionment bill. According to an analysis of the bill done by Cole’s office, a reduction would exceed limits established by the U.S. Supreme Court for determining state legislative apportionment laws.
"We’re dealing with re-apportionment here," Cole said. "These issues were never explained to the voters."
Cole’s analysis also compared the territory to a number of Caribbean jurisdictions:
– The Cayman Islands, with one legislative body made up of 15 members, has a population of 38,000, thus having 2,533 people per representative.
– The British Virgin Islands, also a unicameral legislature, has 13 members for its 20,000 residents, which translates into 1,538 people per representative.
– Dominica’s unicameral legislature, made up of 31 members, represents 74,400 people, or 2,400 residents per representative.
Cole called the representation on the other islands "staggering" when compared to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
But Donastorg discounted all of Cole’s claims, saying that his bill doesn’t change the proportion of representatives for each island.
"We will have four St. Thomas-St. John senators, four St. Croix senators and one at-large senator. The proportions are unchanged," Donastorg said.
Furthermore, he said it is "unwise" to compare the V.I. Senate to other Caribbean island legislatures because most operate "under entirely different systems of government."
Cole's committee will hold public hearings on Donastorg's bill Monday on St. John, Wednesday on St. Thomas and Thursday on St. Croix. Donastorg had asked Cole to reschedule the hearings because he will be off-island; Cole refused.
Donastorg said Cole’s refusal is part of the majority’s effort to "kill the bill."
"I hope the community will continue to pressure our leaders to respect their wishes on this matter," Donastorg said.
Cole, meanwhile, said the hearings are aimed at discussing the issue in public, which wasn’t done prior to last year’s election.
"If the people choose to vote me out of office, they can go ahead," he said.

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