Nov. 3, 2002 – It all depends on the Democratic turnout in Iowa, or maybe in Maryland or New Hampshire, but if the Democrats gain control of the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, and if Delegate Donna M. Christensen is re-elected, the Virgin Islands will be in a much stronger position than it is now in Congress.
There are two reasons for this:
– Christensen is a Democrat.
– If she is re-elected, she will be one of the more senior Democratic members of the House, and on Capitol Hill, with seniority comes power, particularly in the committee structure.
It is within the committees that most of the real work of Congress takes place. Christensen, seeking her fourth two-year term, is the ranking Democrat on the Parks and Public Lands Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee. As such, she would in all likelihood become the subcommittee chair should the Democrats capture the House and should she be retained in office.
Why is this important to the territory? As members of Congress without a vote, she and the other delegates are powerless on the House floor. They can speak, and perhaps persuade others of their positions, but there can be none of the alliance-building and horse-trading that go on day after day among the voting members of any legislative body.
But as a subcommittee chair, Christensen would wield substantial power. She would not only have a vote in committee, as she does now, but she would decide when the subcommittee meets and who testifies before it, and she would play a major role in deciding which bills are killed in committee and which move on for further consideration. She also would hire the staff for the subcommittee.
No national park can be expanded or contracted without the approval of Congress, and the road to such approval begins — and can end — with the Parks and Public Lands Subcommittee. Voting members of the House would seek Christensen's help in getting their parks or public land bills through the subcommittee, putting her in a position of strength to talk to them about issues of significance to the Virgin Islands.
But none of this will happen unless half a dozen seats in the House move from the Republican to the Democratic column, and the Bush administration is trying mightily to make sure that doesn't occur. And while Christensen is considered the front runner in the V.I. delegate race, there is no such thing as a sure thing until the votes are counted.
Christensen could benefit in another way if the Democrats wrest the majority away from the Republicans. Earlier this year she publicly supported California's Rep. Nancy Pelosi in her hard-fought battle to become the House Minority Whip — and was rewarded with a position within the Whip's organization. If the Democrats take the House, Pelosi would move up to Majority Leader, while the current party leader, Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, would become Speaker. Pelosi would be a valuable friend in a Democratic House.
Christensen would be neither the first insular delegate nor the first Virgin Islander to chair a subcommittee, but she would be breaking ground in other ways.
Delegate Ron de Lugo for years chaired the Insular and International Affairs Subcommittee (no longer in existence) of the House Interior Committee (now renamed the Natural Resources Committee), as Antonio B. Won Pat of Guam had done in the early 1980s.
Fofo Sunia of American Samoa is the only island delegate to have chaired a non-island subcommittee. His dealt with federal buildings — but he headed it for only a few months before being forced out of office by a political scandal. Now, his successor, Eni Faleomaveaga, if re-elected, would, like Christensen, stand to become chair of a Natural Resources subcommittee.
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