Former Territorial Court Judge Soraya Diase Coffelt announced Saturday she will run for governor as an independent candidate in the 2014 general election.
In front of some 70 enthusiastic supporters at Emancipation Garden, Diase Coffelt outlined what she said were the five key points in her platform: education, economic development, energy, tourism and public safety.
Children and education are at the top of the list, she said, and she spent a good portion of her speech talking about illiteracy and poverty.
“I want to be known, and I will earn the distinction of being your education governor,” she said. “I will make a major push in our education system to have students taught not only what they need to learn if they want to attend college, but also employable job skills, so that they can get a job immediately when they graduate from high school.”
Diase Coffelt refers to what she calls “career” education, which she says can ultimately reduce dropout rates and crime among the youth.
“Not every student can afford college or wants to go to college. There needs to be a stronger emphasis on teaching focused on careers at our schools, starting at middle school. A young man and a young woman not interested in college should be able to take classes in middle school and in high school that will lead to a career in a necessary technical field,” Diase Coffelt said.
Diase Coffelt also talked about providing opportunities for small business owners, referring to the experiences of her late husband, Gordon Coffelt, who built one of the first gas station and convenience stores on the island.
“To open small business, a person usually needs startup money. As your governor, I will examine what loans are available from the private and public sectors and make sure that money is made available for small business. I will ensure that opportunities are created for new small businesses in the Virgin Islands,” she said.
After earning her bachelor’s and law degrees on the mainland, St. Thomas-born Diase Coffelt returned to St. Thomas in 1981 and worked as a law clerk in the Virgin Islands Superior Court (then Territorial Court). She started a law firm in 1985 and practiced law for eight years before being appointed as Superior Court judge in 1993. She held the position until 2003, occasionally serving as appellate court judge.
Diase Coffelt’s campaign drew attention to her volunteer work in the community and abroad, including being a member of several boards, including the Board of Governors of the V.I. Bar Association; the V.I. Committee of Bar examiners; and the Board of Trustees of Legal Services of the V.I. She was recently honored by the Virgin Islands Bar Association for creating the Moot Court Competition, an annual interscholastic competition for high school students.
The campaign also points to her volunteer work as lay children’s minister and her missionary trips to Honduras and Peru.
Other planks in Diase Coffelt’s platform include accelerating the Water and Power Authority’s shift to propane as its primary fuel source, expanding historical and cultural tourism by promoting art, book and music festivals, and continuing education for police officers and the establishing a state-of-the-art forensics unit.
Diase Coffelt is the first independent candidate to announce a bid for governorship in the 2014 elections. There was no mention of a running mate in Saturday’s announcement.
She joins Moleto A. Smith Jr., who in January announced he is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.