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St. Croix Senate Candidates Spar at Rowdy 'Senate Showdown'

A dozen candidates made Thursday’s second half of the "Senate Showdown 2010" a sometimes raucous, sometimes rowdy and occasionally giddy five-hour marathon, but it was never dull, as the hopefuls vied to capture the attention of voters.

The candidate forum, sponsored by the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with JKC Communications, featured the 21 candidates running for the Senate from St. Croix and the three seeking the at-large seat randomly divided into four panels. The first two panels took their turn before the audience Tuesday, and the remainder of the candidates squared off Thursday. The event was held at the conference room of the V.I. Cardiac Center at the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital.

Thursday’s first panel was made up of Kendall Petersen, Samuel Fleming, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Neville James, Naomi Joseph and Usie Richards, all seeking election from St. Croix. The second panel was composed of St. Croix candidates Ronald Russell, George Moore and Terrence "Positive" Nelson, and at-large candidates Craig Barshinger, Lorilei Monsanto and Alecia Wells.

Tuesday’s initial gathering had been a 3-1/2 hour session in which the 11 candidates quietly and soberly answered the questions from former Sen. Holland Redfield. By contrast, on Thursday the final 12 candidates went through their paces for more than five hours. While there was little infighting, they were occasionally loud and aggressive, sparring with moderator Redfield over the format or the wording of specific questions.

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One of the standard features of the chamber-sponsored debates has been the "quick fire" rounds in which candidates are asked to respond yes or no to a string of issues. In the past, and as recently as Tuesday night’s session, candidates have dutifully given the one-word answers to such questions as "Do you support the Diageo and Cruzan deals?" "Do you support a mandatory death penalty for a person convicted of killing a law enforcement officer or for the rape and murder of a child?" or "Should the board of education be empowered to hire and fire the commissioner of education?"

But Thursday several candidates objected to the format, most notably Sens. Usie Richard and Terrence "Positive" Nelson and former Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, complaining that the one-word answers oversimplify difficult issues that require careful articulation; or they simply ignored the format and tried to provide longer answers, oblivious to Redfield’s chiding. Richards called the quick-fire format insulting.

Throughout the night many of the quick-fire questions received such answers as "Yes and no," "Maybe," or in several instances, "I can’t answer that in one word" from a majority of the field.

When Redfield, reading from the prepared list, asked a question about privatization of government services prefaced with the comment that many believe the government will be unable to continue providing the services it does now at current levels, Barshinger chided him for "a typically loaded chamber of commerce question."

"It’s not a certainty, and your question makes it sound like ‘Here’s the answer!’" he said.

Russell agreed, rejecting the questions premise and saying he does not believe privatizing government functions serves the people they are meant to help.

Comments on the issues by the dozen candidates included the following:

  • Kendall Petersen said he would champion efforts to get some or all of the money collected by U.S. Customs Service returned to the territory, would support investing in wind, solar and other alternative energy systems, and when asked about the guns coming into the territory, said the federal government, which patrols the coasts and air, should give more authority to local law enforcement because local officers know the area better. "Nobody can protect my house better than me," he said. He also called on the territory to develop alternative industries, especially agriculture and aquaculture, and aim education at fostering the skills needed for young people to keep busy and get jobs in those industries, with an emphasis on vocational education from elementary school on up.

  • Sen. Usie Richards did not support granting peace officer status and immunity to officers from federal agencies such as the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. "A relationship is not a one-way alley," he said, "It’s a two-way street." It’s not enough for local officials to respect the feds, he added. "A relationship requires the respect of the federal government for the local government." He said the problem with the PSC isn’t necessarily that its members ought to be elected, it’s that "they need individuals who understand the process and what they’re supposed to be regulating." In supporting approaching Congress for the return of gas excise money to the territory, he said, "We’re not begging for something, we’re asking for something we’ve earned."

  • Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, seeking to return to the Senate after serving from 1987 to 2003, loudly proclaimed her leadership skills and record of accomplishment during her previous stint in office, saying "LEAC was stopped by me" in 2003 but since she left office it came back. She also said some of her initiatives had not garnered majority support because colleagues didn’t want her to get credit for a victory. On the question of public safety, Hansen said, "I don’t believe in building more prisons. I believe in prevention." Investing in sports, music and the arts to keep young people engaged in a positive way is a good way to start, she said.

  • Naomi Joseph took exception to a question asking how the candidates would help persuade local unions to accept concessions to current work rules in the name of economy. "It hurts me when people are asked to take cuts, have to take the consequences of bad decisions by the government," she said. A former union representative when working for the police department, Joseph noted that the government payroll has been reduced from 13,000 to 10,000, and said "to ask for more is unfair." She complained that the territory isn’t allowed to control its own borders but the federal government isn’t living up to its responsibility for keeping guns out. Containers come into port and receive only cursory inspections at best, she said.

  • George Moore repeated several times his support for an alternative energy system called Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion. a system that uses the temperature difference between surface and deep water to produce electricity. Moore said OTEC has the potential to provide a clean and practically limitless power supply for the territory at a much lower cost than residents currently pay for petroleum-powered generators.

  • Sen. Neville James cautioned the chamber that while making the taxes on business "more equitable" and the territory more "business friendly," the reality is that taxes pay for necessary government services. "You need funds to meet all the obligations of the masses," he said. He called granting peace officer status to federal agents "a no, no, no," and expressed support for the notion of electing judges and the attorney general.

  • Lorilei Monsanto, running for the at-large seat, came out in support of a sales tax to replace the gross receipts tax, saying, "I deal with tourists every day, and they all wonder why we don’t have one," she said. She called for the privatization of the Waste Management Authority, saying it already contracts out most of its services and serves primarily as a contract administrator. She suggested the schools should work more closely with the Department of Labor to keep better track of where future jobs will be found, so they can prepare students for them. She said she would support the proposed constitution, without amendments, and backed a longer school day and/or school year.

  • Alecia Wells, running for the at-large Senate seat, said she supports alternative energy sources including "geothermal, solar and the cleanest oil we can get." The territory’s young people need positive activities to keep them from turning to gangs and violence. She also supported the proposed constitution as written and agreed to the benefit of a longer school day and/or school year. Education reform should focus on training young people for the future with more emphasis on vocational education. "Teaching the kids how to take a test is not at all what I’m interested in," she said.

  • Ronald Russell promoted what he called the Federal Energy Bailout Plan, in which the islands would need to pressure the federal government to return a share of the gasoline excise tax to the territory, which could be used to subsidize the LEAC. (The other candidates voiced similar plans.) He suggested moving the Technical Park from the purview of the University of the Virgin Islands to the Economic Development Administration. While people may cringe at the idea, he said, one way to help get guns off the streets is to increase searches by police. "We need to have the community embrace searching," he said.

  • Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson said that with the territory’s infrastructure in disrepair and the potential for economic growth, construction will be one of the fastest growing employment sectors in the coming years, and schools need to be ready to train people to fill those jobs. A base-fuel for the territory needs to be clean, economical and reliable, he said, and currently only petroleum meets the latter criterion. He said he doesn’t support privatization of government services.

  • Sen. Craig Barshinger said the easiest short-term way to lower power costs in the territory is to replace the diesels that would operate far more efficiently than the current generators, reducing the mount of fuel needed by 30 percent and paying for themselves, he said, in two to three years. He said the public safety problem isn’t necessarily the presence of guns, it’s the people who use them. "We have to look at why young men want to find their manhood at the end of a barrel." He also opposed extending the school day and school year.

  • And then there was Samuel Fleming, a trim, mild-mannered, pleasant-looking man who has lived on St. Croix 29 years and is making his second run for the Senate. He repeatedly said that the key for improvement is for all the parties to work together – "No one person can do it," he repeated – and often gave answers that didn’t match the question asked. In his closing statement on why voters should choose him, he ran out of time as he was explaining that no matter how many worldly possessions you have, "if you don’t have your health you don’t have anything." He was signaled that time was up before he could explain what that had to do with serving in the Senate.

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A dozen candidates made Thursday's second half of the "Senate Showdown 2010" a sometimes raucous, sometimes rowdy and occasionally giddy five-hour marathon, but it was never dull, as the hopefuls vied to capture the attention of voters.

The candidate forum, sponsored by the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with JKC Communications, featured the 21 candidates running for the Senate from St. Croix and the three seeking the at-large seat randomly divided into four panels. The first two panels took their turn before the audience Tuesday, and the remainder of the candidates squared off Thursday. The event was held at the conference room of the V.I. Cardiac Center at the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital.

Thursday's first panel was made up of Kendall Petersen, Samuel Fleming, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Neville James, Naomi Joseph and Usie Richards, all seeking election from St. Croix. The second panel was composed of St. Croix candidates Ronald Russell, George Moore and Terrence "Positive" Nelson, and at-large candidates Craig Barshinger, Lorilei Monsanto and Alecia Wells.

Tuesday's initial gathering had been a 3-1/2 hour session in which the 11 candidates quietly and soberly answered the questions from former Sen. Holland Redfield. By contrast, on Thursday the final 12 candidates went through their paces for more than five hours. While there was little infighting, they were occasionally loud and aggressive, sparring with moderator Redfield over the format or the wording of specific questions.

One of the standard features of the chamber-sponsored debates has been the "quick fire" rounds in which candidates are asked to respond yes or no to a string of issues. In the past, and as recently as Tuesday night's session, candidates have dutifully given the one-word answers to such questions as "Do you support the Diageo and Cruzan deals?" "Do you support a mandatory death penalty for a person convicted of killing a law enforcement officer or for the rape and murder of a child?" or "Should the board of education be empowered to hire and fire the commissioner of education?"

But Thursday several candidates objected to the format, most notably Sens. Usie Richard and Terrence "Positive" Nelson and former Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, complaining that the one-word answers oversimplify difficult issues that require careful articulation; or they simply ignored the format and tried to provide longer answers, oblivious to Redfield's chiding. Richards called the quick-fire format insulting.

Throughout the night many of the quick-fire questions received such answers as "Yes and no," "Maybe," or in several instances, "I can't answer that in one word" from a majority of the field.

When Redfield, reading from the prepared list, asked a question about privatization of government services prefaced with the comment that many believe the government will be unable to continue providing the services it does now at current levels, Barshinger chided him for "a typically loaded chamber of commerce question."

"It's not a certainty, and your question makes it sound like 'Here's the answer!'" he said.

Russell agreed, rejecting the questions premise and saying he does not believe privatizing government functions serves the people they are meant to help.

Comments on the issues by the dozen candidates included the following:

  • Kendall Petersen said he would champion efforts to get some or all of the money collected by U.S. Customs Service returned to the territory, would support investing in wind, solar and other alternative energy systems, and when asked about the guns coming into the territory, said the federal government, which patrols the coasts and air, should give more authority to local law enforcement because local officers know the area better. "Nobody can protect my house better than me," he said. He also called on the territory to develop alternative industries, especially agriculture and aquaculture, and aim education at fostering the skills needed for young people to keep busy and get jobs in those industries, with an emphasis on vocational education from elementary school on up.

  • Sen. Usie Richards did not support granting peace officer status and immunity to officers from federal agencies such as the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. "A relationship is not a one-way alley," he said, "It's a two-way street." It's not enough for local officials to respect the feds, he added. "A relationship requires the respect of the federal government for the local government." He said the problem with the PSC isn't necessarily that its members ought to be elected, it's that "they need individuals who understand the process and what they're supposed to be regulating." In supporting approaching Congress for the return of gas excise money to the territory, he said, "We're not begging for something, we're asking for something we've earned."

  • Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, seeking to return to the Senate after serving from 1987 to 2003, loudly proclaimed her leadership skills and record of accomplishment during her previous stint in office, saying "LEAC was stopped by me" in 2003 but since she left office it came back. She also said some of her initiatives had not garnered majority support because colleagues didn't want her to get credit for a victory. On the question of public safety, Hansen said, "I don't believe in building more prisons. I believe in prevention." Investing in sports, music and the arts to keep young people engaged in a positive way is a good way to start, she said.

  • Naomi Joseph took exception to a question asking how the candidates would help persuade local unions to accept concessions to current work rules in the name of economy. "It hurts me when people are asked to take cuts, have to take the consequences of bad decisions by the government," she said. A former union representative when working for the police department, Joseph noted that the government payroll has been reduced from 13,000 to 10,000, and said "to ask for more is unfair." She complained that the territory isn't allowed to control its own borders but the federal government isn't living up to its responsibility for keeping guns out. Containers come into port and receive only cursory inspections at best, she said.

  • George Moore repeated several times his support for an alternative energy system called Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion. a system that uses the temperature difference between surface and deep water to produce electricity. Moore said OTEC has the potential to provide a clean and practically limitless power supply for the territory at a much lower cost than residents currently pay for petroleum-powered generators.

  • Sen. Neville James cautioned the chamber that while making the taxes on business "more equitable" and the territory more "business friendly," the reality is that taxes pay for necessary government services. "You need funds to meet all the obligations of the masses," he said. He called granting peace officer status to federal agents "a no, no, no," and expressed support for the notion of electing judges and the attorney general.

  • Lorilei Monsanto, running for the at-large seat, came out in support of a sales tax to replace the gross receipts tax, saying, "I deal with tourists every day, and they all wonder why we don't have one," she said. She called for the privatization of the Waste Management Authority, saying it already contracts out most of its services and serves primarily as a contract administrator. She suggested the schools should work more closely with the Department of Labor to keep better track of where future jobs will be found, so they can prepare students for them. She said she would support the proposed constitution, without amendments, and backed a longer school day and/or school year.

  • Alecia Wells, running for the at-large Senate seat, said she supports alternative energy sources including "geothermal, solar and the cleanest oil we can get." The territory's young people need positive activities to keep them from turning to gangs and violence. She also supported the proposed constitution as written and agreed to the benefit of a longer school day and/or school year. Education reform should focus on training young people for the future with more emphasis on vocational education. "Teaching the kids how to take a test is not at all what I'm interested in," she said.

  • Ronald Russell promoted what he called the Federal Energy Bailout Plan, in which the islands would need to pressure the federal government to return a share of the gasoline excise tax to the territory, which could be used to subsidize the LEAC. (The other candidates voiced similar plans.) He suggested moving the Technical Park from the purview of the University of the Virgin Islands to the Economic Development Administration. While people may cringe at the idea, he said, one way to help get guns off the streets is to increase searches by police. "We need to have the community embrace searching," he said.

  • Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson said that with the territory's infrastructure in disrepair and the potential for economic growth, construction will be one of the fastest growing employment sectors in the coming years, and schools need to be ready to train people to fill those jobs. A base-fuel for the territory needs to be clean, economical and reliable, he said, and currently only petroleum meets the latter criterion. He said he doesn't support privatization of government services.

  • Sen. Craig Barshinger said the easiest short-term way to lower power costs in the territory is to replace the diesels that would operate far more efficiently than the current generators, reducing the mount of fuel needed by 30 percent and paying for themselves, he said, in two to three years. He said the public safety problem isn't necessarily the presence of guns, it's the people who use them. "We have to look at why young men want to find their manhood at the end of a barrel." He also opposed extending the school day and school year.

  • And then there was Samuel Fleming, a trim, mild-mannered, pleasant-looking man who has lived on St. Croix 29 years and is making his second run for the Senate. He repeatedly said that the key for improvement is for all the parties to work together – "No one person can do it," he repeated – and often gave answers that didn't match the question asked. In his closing statement on why voters should choose him, he ran out of time as he was explaining that no matter how many worldly possessions you have, "if you don't have your health you don't have anything." He was signaled that time was up before he could explain what that had to do with serving in the Senate.