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Constitutional Convention Delegates Make Headway Amidst Squabbling

Jan. 28, 2009 — Coming off a bad first day hampered by fighting and the lack of a quorum, delegates to the Fifth Constitutional Convention pulled it together Wednesday in enough time to approve two more sections for their final document.
Debate throughout the morning hit on some sore topics and got a bit confusing once delegates starting piling on multiple amendments to various motions. But in the end draft language proposed by the Executive Branch and Citizenship committees was adopted in its entirety. As usual, most of the concerns raised over the two proposals came back to the issue of native rights, and whether the convention should continue to exclude certain groups of people by creating separate classes within the local population.
Whether the convention is stepping beyond its powers and violating the U.S. Constitution was also a concern for several other delegates, who questioned the legality of a motion seeking to add language prohibiting the sale or transfer of the Virgin Islands to any other country. In the end, the language was approved, with votes in favor by delegates Rena Brodhurst, Adelbert M. Bryan, Gerard Emanuel, Mario Francis, Lois Hassell-Habtes, Stedmann Hodge Jr., Gerard Luz James II, Clement "Cain" Magras, Mary Moorhead, Kendall Petersen, Claire Roker, Michael Thurland, Elsie Thomas-Trotman and Alecia Wells.
Voting against: delegates Craig W. Barshinger, Douglas Brady, Douglas Capdeville, Francis Jackson, Thomas K. Moore, Richard Schrader and Robert Schuster. Delegate Lisa Williams abstained.
The only other significant change made during Wednesday's session was the convention's decision to move to the preamble the definitions for "ancestral native Virgin Islander," "native Virgin Islander" and "Virgin Islander."
"The preamble, as far as I'm concerned, is a beautiful document," Thurland said. "It contains who we are as a people, and who we could be coming out of that history. In this part of the document everybody can read about who we are, and we can let them know that we are a strong people coming out of a strong history."
Since the language for the preamble has already been adopted, it is now up to the Preamble, Anthems and Symbols Committee to review the proposed definitions and find a way to work them into the document, according to Hassell-Habtes, the committee's chairwoman.
With the definitions removed, the section on citizenship now consists of an article on environmental protection, including the establishment of an agriculture/mariculture authority, an open-beaches clause and a section stating that all submerged, filled and reclaimed lands within the territory are public, collectively belong to the people of the Virgin Islands and shall not be sold or transferred.
A request made by Capdeville early in the meeting to take out language calling for the governor to be a born Virgin Islander sparked some heavy debate about whether the delegates continue to violate the equal-protection clause under the 14th amendment, or whether individuals with dual citizenship should be allowed to run for the position. (See "Proposed Constitution Might Include Elected Attorney General.")
"Apparently, we are as a people so insecure in ourselves that we're afraid of someone else from the outside coming in here and being governor," Brady said, eliciting loud gasps from several other delegates.
"You don't want to compromise — you just want to have it your way," Emanuel responded. "I only want native borns, but I'm willing to compromise. Not just because we failed the other four time and yes, this is the fifth time and we must pass the constitution, but not at any cost. What you're asking me to do is take out my heart, and then pass the constitution."
Emanuel's attempt to find a common ground by creating a specific window in which both native Virgin Islanders and citizens not born within the territory could run for governor failed, and was followed by a motion from Barshinger to completely eliminate the controversial requirement.
"You all are allowing some delegates to dismantle this territory," Bryan said after the motion was made. "Don't you see the hypocrisy? He voted for Delegate Emanuel's native-born thing, and then boom, tries to kick it out."
"That's because he compromises, and you don't," Barshinger responded.
"The only compromise I have for you is a stick of dynamite," Bryan said. "You don't come near me."
As the convention began to delve into language proposed by the Legislative Committee on the makeup of the Senate, some delegates began to leave the room, killing the quorum and forcing the president to adjourn a few hours ahead of schedule. After the announcement was made, Bryan and Williams reappeared, but when the suggestion was made to continue with the meeting, Bryan quickly left the room again, saying that the meeting had already been adjourned.
Delegates instead discussed when and where the next session would take place.
"I hope the next meeting will be executed successfully, with everyone coming prepared and ready to work," Moorhead said. The next session will take place Feb. 17-18 on St. Croix, she said.
Meanwhile, the convention will have a kiosk set up at the upcoming St. Croix Agricultural Fair, and will hand out copies of all the sections adopted up to this point, Moorhead said.
Absent from Wednesday's session were delegates Arnold Golden, Violet Anne Golden, Myron Jackson, Eugene Petersen, Charles W. Turnbull and Lawrence "Larry" Sewer.
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Jan. 28, 2009 -- Coming off a bad first day hampered by fighting and the lack of a quorum, delegates to the Fifth Constitutional Convention pulled it together Wednesday in enough time to approve two more sections for their final document.
Debate throughout the morning hit on some sore topics and got a bit confusing once delegates starting piling on multiple amendments to various motions. But in the end draft language proposed by the Executive Branch and Citizenship committees was adopted in its entirety. As usual, most of the concerns raised over the two proposals came back to the issue of native rights, and whether the convention should continue to exclude certain groups of people by creating separate classes within the local population.
Whether the convention is stepping beyond its powers and violating the U.S. Constitution was also a concern for several other delegates, who questioned the legality of a motion seeking to add language prohibiting the sale or transfer of the Virgin Islands to any other country. In the end, the language was approved, with votes in favor by delegates Rena Brodhurst, Adelbert M. Bryan, Gerard Emanuel, Mario Francis, Lois Hassell-Habtes, Stedmann Hodge Jr., Gerard Luz James II, Clement "Cain" Magras, Mary Moorhead, Kendall Petersen, Claire Roker, Michael Thurland, Elsie Thomas-Trotman and Alecia Wells.
Voting against: delegates Craig W. Barshinger, Douglas Brady, Douglas Capdeville, Francis Jackson, Thomas K. Moore, Richard Schrader and Robert Schuster. Delegate Lisa Williams abstained.
The only other significant change made during Wednesday's session was the convention's decision to move to the preamble the definitions for "ancestral native Virgin Islander," "native Virgin Islander" and "Virgin Islander."
"The preamble, as far as I'm concerned, is a beautiful document," Thurland said. "It contains who we are as a people, and who we could be coming out of that history. In this part of the document everybody can read about who we are, and we can let them know that we are a strong people coming out of a strong history."
Since the language for the preamble has already been adopted, it is now up to the Preamble, Anthems and Symbols Committee to review the proposed definitions and find a way to work them into the document, according to Hassell-Habtes, the committee's chairwoman.
With the definitions removed, the section on citizenship now consists of an article on environmental protection, including the establishment of an agriculture/mariculture authority, an open-beaches clause and a section stating that all submerged, filled and reclaimed lands within the territory are public, collectively belong to the people of the Virgin Islands and shall not be sold or transferred.
A request made by Capdeville early in the meeting to take out language calling for the governor to be a born Virgin Islander sparked some heavy debate about whether the delegates continue to violate the equal-protection clause under the 14th amendment, or whether individuals with dual citizenship should be allowed to run for the position. (See "Proposed Constitution Might Include Elected Attorney General.")
"Apparently, we are as a people so insecure in ourselves that we're afraid of someone else from the outside coming in here and being governor," Brady said, eliciting loud gasps from several other delegates.
"You don't want to compromise -- you just want to have it your way," Emanuel responded. "I only want native borns, but I'm willing to compromise. Not just because we failed the other four time and yes, this is the fifth time and we must pass the constitution, but not at any cost. What you're asking me to do is take out my heart, and then pass the constitution."
Emanuel's attempt to find a common ground by creating a specific window in which both native Virgin Islanders and citizens not born within the territory could run for governor failed, and was followed by a motion from Barshinger to completely eliminate the controversial requirement.
"You all are allowing some delegates to dismantle this territory," Bryan said after the motion was made. "Don't you see the hypocrisy? He voted for Delegate Emanuel's native-born thing, and then boom, tries to kick it out."
"That's because he compromises, and you don't," Barshinger responded.
"The only compromise I have for you is a stick of dynamite," Bryan said. "You don't come near me."
As the convention began to delve into language proposed by the Legislative Committee on the makeup of the Senate, some delegates began to leave the room, killing the quorum and forcing the president to adjourn a few hours ahead of schedule. After the announcement was made, Bryan and Williams reappeared, but when the suggestion was made to continue with the meeting, Bryan quickly left the room again, saying that the meeting had already been adjourned.
Delegates instead discussed when and where the next session would take place.
"I hope the next meeting will be executed successfully, with everyone coming prepared and ready to work," Moorhead said. The next session will take place Feb. 17-18 on St. Croix, she said.
Meanwhile, the convention will have a kiosk set up at the upcoming St. Croix Agricultural Fair, and will hand out copies of all the sections adopted up to this point, Moorhead said.
Absent from Wednesday's session were delegates Arnold Golden, Violet Anne Golden, Myron Jackson, Eugene Petersen, Charles W. Turnbull and Lawrence "Larry" Sewer.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.