Nov. 19, 2002 – With Saturday's absentee ballot count confirming a new Democratic Party majority in the 25th Legislature, the senators and senators-elect who'll wield power are wasting no time lining up the leadership of the body to be.
Knowledgeable sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said that Sen. David Jones of St. Croix has been chosen as Senate president, with Sen. Lorraine Berry as vice president.
Berry said on Tuesday that she could neither confirm nor deny any reports until Thursday, when she said the majority-elect will publicly announce the new Senate pecking order. Jones didn't return calls Tuesday. Both he and Sen. Roosevelt David of St. Thomas have been widely mentioned as presidential possibilities.
The Democrats met on Monday at an undisclosed location and reportedly will be continuing to hash over who will head what and with whom until they go public on Thursday.
In addition to the officers of the Senate itself, the majority determines who will chair and serve on its committees and who will function as liaisons to the White House and Congress.
Currently, there are 10 committees. However, this could change, as it is common practice to reorganize the committees when a new majority takes over.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, an independent candidate and a non-aligned senator, has publicly stated his desire to head the powerful Finance Committee. The eight Democratic senators could offer him that position, undoubtedly with the condition that he agree to become the ninth majority member. Donastorg garnered far and away the most votes of any senate candidate in the last two elections.
Berry told the Source last week that she had no interest in the Senate presidency, which she held in the 22nd Legislature, nor in chairing the Finance Committee, which she has done three times.
Sen. Douglas Canton Jr., who in both of his Senate runs has garnered the most St. Croix votes, said on Tuesday that he is looking forward to the new Legislature. He chairs the Health and Hospitals Committee in the 24th Legislature, and "my interest in health care is as strong as it's ever been, if not stronger," he said."We have significant challenges to be met." These, he said, include funding for Juan Luis Hospital on St. Croix and its proposed cardiac center.
The Democratic majority comprises Berry, David and incoming freshmen Louis Hill and Shawn-Michael Malone in the St. Thomas-St. John district; and Canton, Jones and newcomers Luther Renee and Ronald Russell on St. Croix.
Relegated to the minority are the 24th Legislature's top brass — Sens. Carlton Dowe, Rules Committee chair; Emmett Hansen II, Government Operations Committee chair; Norman Jn Baptiste, Senate vice president and Education Committee chair; Almando "Rocky" Liburd, Senate president; and Celestino White Sr., majority leader and Housing Parks and Recreation Committee chair.
Some of this minority could be lured into the new majority. Although the top posts will be taken by the majority, there are more committees than majority members at the moment.
Two of the Legislature's most enduring, vocal and controversial personalities will be notable by their absence in January: seven-term Sen. Adelbert Bryan lost to his nephew, Raymond "Usie" Richards; and eight-term Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen did not seek re-election, instead running unsuccessfully for governor.
Dowe said on Tuesday that no matter what side of the aisle he is on, it's the issues he will be working on in his second term. As a freshman senator, he pushed through much legislation affecting education. He has been fast on the track of the high school reaccreditation requirements, something he says he will continue to do.
"I'm also focused on capital projects; specifically I want to see through Addelita Cancryn Junior High School getting a cafeteria and a gymnasium," Dowe said. His efforts earlier this year resulted in improvements for the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School track and field facility and air-conditioning for the new Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School gymnasium.
Liburd, who is finishing his sixth term and the presidency of the 24th Legislature, said, "Whatever they give me, I will do. I know how the system works, and it's fine with me." Having spent 16 years teaching in the territory, Liburd said, he has a special interest in education, particularly in instituting a mandatory swimming program in the schools.
"It's terrible when these kids who live on an island don't know how to swim," he said. He said he has spoken to investors about building a pool at one of the high schools as a pilot project. Meantime, the St. Thomas Swimming Association pool in Estate Nazareth should be ready for community use soon.
Liburd spoke about the accomplishments of the 24th Legislature. "All the offices are computerized now," he said. "All the employees are trained." He said the new Legislature can "walk right in and find everything ready for them."
Emmett Hansen said he is looking forward to the new Legislature. "It's going to be a different dynamic," he said Tuesday. "We have perhaps better-prepared freshman senators than at any time that I can remember. The people coming in bring a wealth of experience and education to the table."
Hansen said he found himself once again in the position of not being invited to sit in on the majority meetings. In the 24th Legislature he started off as a member of the minority but switched over to the majority last year. "It's interesting — I wasn't invited last time, and I'm not invited this time," he said.
As far as his agenda, "All my issues will remain the same," Hansen said, "I want my constituents to be safe, and I want the infrastructure of St. Croix fixed. It doesn't matter what side of the aisle I'm on; I'm concerned about the issues."
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