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Former Sen. Gregory Bennerson Decries the State of Party Politics in the V.I.

Dec. 2, 2004 — The recent unraveling and make up of the new majority of the 26th Legislature shows the flaws of our political system. With no sub-districting, no unified platforms, no team building during elections, it is a wonder why any of us continue to express surprise at why every two years we suffer the grand sport of 'one-upmanship' before a new senate is sworn-in.
As a former senator, involved in the process of 'organizing' as we have attempted to call it, I believe I can share a unique view. As the saying goes, 'Been there, done that!'
It is clear that personality, and to some extent the philosophy of individuals, drives the process of organizing the Legislature. You must assume as a background that the lack of a strong party political agenda leaves elected senators, whether new or returning, to struggle to find consensus among individuals that competed during the 'free-for- all, first seven winners, at-large candidate winner- take- all' election. Throw in the emergence of the independent candidate, and divisive vehicles such as 'who barn ya,' 'who barn there;' 'who Hispanic,' ' who aren't Hispanic,' 'who for we,' ' who for whatever' and you have a clear recipe for struggle, disharmony, disrespect for one another, and a lack of clear strategy.
Sen. Lorraine Berry allegedly said, ' even though 10 of the 15 senators elected to 26th Legislature are Democrats, they do not have any political consensus.' She placed her observations for the record by stating that 'Democrats did not run on a common slate or process common ideals during the campaign. Forming a majority based solely n the party…would be political stalemate.'
Now if we are to step back for a moment and realize that those words and observations came from our senior senator, in essence they mean a lot! There is a clear lack of political statesmanship and political leadership within organized groups and individuals from all sides.
For a moment, let us take a look at national politics relative to the Democratic and Republican parties. The electorates are given clearly-defined agendas. Candidates for president, Senate, House of Representative, local elective offices, present themselves with a political party platform and a defined ideology. Coupled with an individual candidate's records of experience, and yes, personal appeal, voters are given clear choices. Add in political parties like the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, and others, and voters have a pretty fair idea what a candidate stands for. When they go to the polls they know what agenda would be pushed if their candidate gets elected. The selection of candidates from the same party simply means their agenda; their 'political consensus' will steer their course while in office, including during the period of organizing.
The converse is true here; starting with the Democratic Party, my party, which has shown a history of progress and organization over the years. Organizing along party lines was practiced not because of party alone, but because ideals, commitment and discipline was demonstrated, and the members expected no less. The stark reality is that organizing based on a party system is a practice that is conducted by most democracies worldwide in different variations. However, our recent times have proven that personal agendas and lack of willingness to sacrifice for the greater good has become the norm.
Tracing back to recent times, we can begin this slippery slide downward from the time when Sen. Ruby Rouse was overthrown, or maybe just before then. Never-the-less, we have moved towards the turmoil of today where we have been on a straight course to implosion. Put that together with a free-for-all election process, and you can for sure kiss cohesiveness good-bye. This is why such statement that alludes to shedding themselves from their registered party can be pronounced with no concern about what it means to organize.
On a side note, it is interesting to realize that there is one common denominator in recent legislative history that has been constant in all legislative controversies, and that is Sen. Berry herself has been there in the midst. That fact in itself suggests there are many who respect her. Meanwhile, many others despise her. For sure, she is a proven political survivor.
Now, to say our other parties within the territory are fairing better, would be like wishing the Titanic never happened. On one hand, the Republicans have failed to increase their membership rolls. Republicans have survived on the shoulders of individuals. The voters identify with Republican candidates by their popularity or lack there of, and not the organizations and/or ideals. On the flip side, the ICM suffer a similar fate, with very strong personalities that have not failed to show consensus ever since Gov. Cyril King and Gov. Juan Luis. While it would take chapters to explain the history of the general corrosion of party politics, the final result is that the overall party corrosion has given way to the rise of no party registration increases, no commitment, and no driven direction for development or political destiny. Senator-elect Terrance 'Positive' Nelson capsized the most recent legislative organizing process with the following statement: 'The fight that is going on is a Democratic party fight. We as no party members and ICMers are taking advantage of that to be wholly in the process.'
One of the telling comments out of the recent legislative organizing process, was to hear the saying that despite all of what is being reported with the organizing thus far, none of it is 'written in stone.' It is all fluid up until swearing in. Then again, what happens after swearing in could be anybody's guess. 'Unbelievable' is a word I often found myself saying when I sat in the 23rd Legislature. It seems ever so more applicable today.
Our times have shown that the lack of strong commitment to party, ideals, principles, and organization which leads itself to no sense of direction and no clear consensus. The very words of principles, integrity, and commitment are now equivalent to a four-lettered bad word. No one in their right mind would expect the organization of a political body to unify for true change when the leaders start from a foundation the does not believe nor practice 'leadership by example.' This is the process that the Senate continues to find itself in every two years.
The final analysis for voters is to recognize that there is much more to selecting our leaders than popularity. There must be common ideals, common organization, and commitment to principle. To shove the necessity for political parties aside may be glorious in the short term, but in the long term it has proven to be detrimental. While democracy is built on free choice, all choices come with consequences. Nothing from nothing equals nothing. Discipline must become a focal point, or we all will continue to witness the spectacle we have sadly come to expect. The era of freelance politics has dire consequences. What is your choice?

Editor's note: Gregory A. Bennerson, a high ranking Police officer and detective, was a senator from St. Croix in the 23rd Legislature. He ran unsuccessfully for the 26th Legislature.

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