In 2016, it appeared that the V.I. Republican Party was self destructing, with different factions holding separate conventions and electing different officers and calling each other nasty names.
All that went away with the election of Donald Trump, putting one group in the driver’s seat. This year it is V.I. Democratic Party members going at each other.
The prime issue to split the party faithful into two warring factions is the seating or non-seating of Kevin Rodriguez, as the senator-elect to the 32nd Legislature. The feuding, as was the case in last year’s Republican brawl, has resulted in a barrage of press releases and letters to the editor.
The ruckus really got rolling after Democratic Party District Chair, Edgar “Baker” Phillips issued a June 15 new release. It reportedly called for Senate Democrats to leave the party if they had not voted to seat Rodriquez.
The Majority Caucus immediately raised objections In a joint statement it said that “the District Chair’s position does absolutely no good for anyone – Mr. Rodriquez, the party, or the electorate.”
Phillips statement, which the Source did not receive, reportedly said Sens. Myron Jackson, Marvin Blyden, and Jean Forde should no longer consider themselves part of the Democratic Party Executive Committee.
When the Source on Tuesday asked former Delegate to Congress and Democratic state chair Donna Christensen about Phillips news release she responded, “I only have heard of it, but I know the senators have an attorney and have said they will sue any paper that prints it.”
Phillips did not deny sending the news release to certain media sources, but said it was not an act of retribution.
Phillips and other Democrats are also concerned about elected senators passing a bill that removes the option of block voting for a party by just clicking on the party symbol. Democrats have a distinct advantage with this because the majority of Virgin Islands voters are Democrats.
The bill passed by the Legislature in March and signed by the governor in April has been wrongly construed to say it removes all party symbols from the ballot. According to the summary, the bill “deletes the provision in section 523 that allows for voting on the electronic voting system for all candidates running in a political party by voting for the political party symbol.”
Christensen is trying to throw cold water on the flames that could engulf her party. On June 29 she sent a news release with the first line saying, “Any talk about demise of the Democratic Party is premature and perhaps wistful thinking!”
In the release, she acknowledges that the votes by Democratic senators against seating Rodriquez was “a body blow to the Democratic Party.” But, she added, “The party is not about one candidate or senator or groups of either. And each elected official should act in accord with the laws of the land and their conscience. Yes, we support those running on the party ticket and platform. We take positions and urge but cannot dictate that they be adhered to. We do not remove individuals from our party but actions are weighed in terms of future support.”
However, the issue is not going to fade quietly into history yet.
On July 3, the Democratic Party of the Virgin Islands and three of its officers from the St. Thomas- St. John District filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court to stop the Board of Elections from certifying and the Legislature from seating the winner of the April 8th special election – Senate-hopeful Janelle Sarauw. The opinion of the officers – Phillips, Glen Smith and Luis “Tito” Morales – is that there was no vacancy until June 28th, so the special election held prior to that was invalid.
Christensen signed the news release that announced the filing.
The fight over the whether Rodriquez or Sarauw should be seated is continuing at the Board of Elections.
The vote on June 28 had eight senators voting not to admit Rodriquez while six voted to admit him. Sens. Blyden, Forde, Novelle Francis, Jackson, Neville James, Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Sammuel Sanes and Kurt Vialet – all members of the body’s Democratic majority caucus – voted against seating Rodriquez, a member of their party. Voting to admit him were Sens. Dwayne DeGraff, Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, Janette Millin Young, Positive Nelson, Tregenza Roach and Brian Smith – all members of the minority caucus except for Smith.
On June 29 Jackson forwarded a letter to the board of elections informing the board of the Legislature’s action.
On June 30 Positive T.A. Nelson, leader of the legislative minority, also wrote a letter to the election board saying, “ My members and I believe that the resulting communication required of the Legislature is that we inform you that a vacancy presently exists in the body. (Title 2 Virgin Islands Code Section 111). Any other representation of the Legislature’s action made by President Jackson is false and without the support of any official action taken by the body.”
On Wednesday, Arturo Watlington, chairman of the St.Thomas/St.John District Board of Elections, responded to Jackson’s letter. He wrote that he had another letter that informed him that the action Jackson was requesting – that the prevailing candidate of the April special election be certified as the winner – was not exactly the action taken by the Legislature, and the board would be considering all factors at its next meeting.
Late Wednesday the Source received a letter under the Democratic Party stationary from Christensen saying in the first paragraph, “The Democratic Party of the Virgin Islands Islands vehemently disavows the statements made in the press release of 7/3/17 of the St. Thomas District Chair of the Party, Mr. Edgar Baker Phillips. While it was not circulated in the newspapers, it has apparently been widely distributed on social media. It was not sanctioned by the Territorial Committee and there is no evidence that it was supported by the St. Thomas District Committee.”