Gubernatorial and at-large Senate candidates answered voters’ questions and offered opinions at the “Respect My Vote” forum Monday night at 2+2 Restaurant on St. Croix.
People drifted in and out during the two-hour town hall meeting and by the end a standing-room-only crowd listened respectfully to plans and solutions from Delegate Donna M. Christensen and Soraya Diase Coffelt, who are running for governor, and Coffelt’s running mate John Canegata. Christensen’s lieutenant governor candidate, Basil Ottley did not attend the event.
The first hour was devoted to Ronnie Jones and Almando “Rocky” Liburd, who hope to be elected the 15th V.I. senator and represent the entire territory. Like most at-large senators, Jones and Liburd are residents of St. John. The discussion ranged from bottled water, job training, funding streetlights, the V.I. Water and Power Authority, and plans to build a medical school in the territory.
Neither candidate said they would privatize WAPA. Liburd said he would create a joint venture with the power company first. Jones said since the power company is moving to alternative energy, he would support WAPA’s conversion.
Regarding a divisive issue, Liburd said he would locate the medical school on St. Croix, while Jones did answer the question. He said it is “an honor” to have a medical school in the territory.
A constituent asked for solutions to the lack of water transport between St. Croix and St. Thomas/St. John, and Jones said two vessels were needed so that one boat doesn’t take all of the “battering.” Liburd said the territory should apply for federal funds to purchase a boat larger than a ferry because the water between the islands is often turbulent.
Liburd’s primary subject seemed to be producing and selling bottled water as a source of revenue for the territory. He said the income could be used to pay WAPA for streetlights and/or reduce the levelized adjustment energy clause.
Speaking about an unpopular bill recently passed by the Senate, Jones said the legislation for residents to foot the bill to keep streetlights burning should be repealed – if the governor signs the bill.
Jones said the territory’s “major issue” is an untrained workforce. A career and technical academy for students after high school could remedy the problem, he offered.
Another important issue to Jones was property taxes.
“The Senate has the ability to deal with it. You don’t need to take it off the backs of people whose properties are being over-valued,” he said.
Liburd outlined important issues as WAPA rates, the government retirement system and property taxes.
“The quality of life hasn’t been what it ought to be,” he said.
Both candidates gingerly answered a question about Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen’s ability to lead given her recent legal battles. Both basically said it is up to the voters.
“Everybody brings something to the office. She’s a fighter,” Liburd said “You decide who you want.”
During the second hour, the gubernatorial candidates discussed the economy, energy, WAPA and the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital, scheduled to lose certification this week.
Christensen said the economy and jobs are the territory’s biggest problems; while Canegata said energy is the most important issue. Coffelt added that WAPA should be regulated by the Public Service Commission.
Christensen agreed. “The PSC is not working as it should,” she said, adding that an agency similar to the federal PSC should be created to regulate the power company without the use of so many consultants “milking the government dry.”
Two audience members, emotionally asked for solutions, especially how to motivate hospital workers, and both candidates acknowledged that funding is the core ingredient to repair the institution.
Coffelt said “the structure” of the hospital needs to change, that personnel must be trained and waste and mismanagement have to be eliminated. Christensen added that JFL needs technical assistance to become fully electronic and that management problems have to be eradicated. The entire health care system needs to be reconfigured, she said, beginning with the Health Department.
“We need to inculcate a sense that we’re in this together,” she said.
Answering a question about reducing crime, Christensen and Coffelt agreed that police training was foremost and politics must be kept out of the Police Department. Christensen said she wants to expand technology and engage an agency to accredit the VIPD. Coffelt said she thinks officers should be called out of retirement to train a “rookie force.”
The voters’ forums continue from 6 – 8 p.m. every Monday until the election at 2+2. The events are hosted by the St. Croix Economic Development Initiative.