The Source asked every senatorial candidate ten questions, to fairly give every candidate an opportunity to tell our readers about themselves where they stand on some of the most pressing issues of the day. You can see all the candidates’ responses and more election news here.
Jonathan P. Tucker is running on the Democratic Party ticket to represent St. Thomas/St. John. Tucker describes himself as an African by birth and a Virgin Islander by blood. He is the grandson of Lionel Steele and Ina Harrigan-Steele. Jonathan grew up in Warren E. Brown on St. Thomas and has family ties to Savan’s Steele family. He has a bachelor’s in computer science from the University of the Virgin Islands and has been an information technology professional for more than over 23 years . He is currently V.I. Bureau of Internal Revenue deputy director of technology and processing and has held this position since 2012. From 2007 to 2012, Jonathan was the management information system director for the Office of the Lieutenant Governor. Before entering government service, Jonathan was the IT Manager for Choice Communications. During the 2020 General Election campaign and in compliance with Title 18 of the VI Code, Jonathan is currently on leave from the Bureau of Internal Revenue.
Here are the responses from Tucker:
What will be your top priority as a legislator and why?
Tucker: My top priority will be the diversification of the USVI economy.
The hard lesson we must learn from the COVID-19 pandemic is that the USVI’s sole dependence on the Tourism sector is ill-advised. The USVI must immediately take steps to diversify the economy. The USVI must leverage current investments to maximize the benefits and economic opportunities for local businesses. For example, the GVI’s 100 million dollar investment in the VINGN fiber network should be promoted globally, and the GVI must work harder to entice technology companies to come to our shores. The same effort and resources that the GVI engaged in bringing Diageo to the Virgin Islands should be deployed to attract tech firms to move their call center operations to the USVI. The GVI must work with stakeholders like the RT Park, EDA, VINGN, WAPA, BIT, local ISPs, the Office of the Delegate, and the 34th Legislature to develop strategies to expand the technology sector and market the USVI as the Caribbean’s tech gateway to the world. As a Senator in the 34th Legislature, I will work with my colleagues to expand the technology sector and develop this sector as a viable economic development engine in the USVI.
The V.I. government had ongoing deficits before the pandemic hit and now faces a sharp loss in revenue due to a significant decrease in tourism. How can the territory avoid a fiscal shortfall that could force cuts to services and government layoffs in order to pay creditors first?
Tucker: The GVI must fully execute bond refinancing initiatives to maximize savings and improve the GVI’s bond rating. These savings would provide resources to fund some critical needs. The GVI must continue to safeguard bond payment obligations like the bond payment lockbox currently employed. With an improved bond rating, the GVI could secure pension obligation bonds, if economically feasible.
How will you help make government more transparent?
Tucker: As a Senator in the 34th Legislature, I will introduce legislation mandating that a government portal be established, and all three branches of government use the portal to publish financial reports online. The Bill would name financial report stewards for each branch. For example, the Executive Branch financial reporting stewards would be OMB and DOF for central government agencies. Semiautonomous agencies would also be required to publish reports online via the portal.
The V.I. Legislature has, on many occasions, enacted unfunded mandates, from mandatory swimming classes or the unfunded Durant Tower project in Frederiksted, that never occur due to the lack of funding. Will you vote for mandates that government officials have testified require funding that is not provided in the legislation?
Tucker: No, I will not vote for unfunded mandates. The Legislature must ensure that all Bills that require funding are adequately funded. For legislation requiring funding, Bill sponsors must be required to identify a funding source and include the funding source in his or her bill request.
The territory has around 120 boards and commissions at present, most of which are unable to make quorums and many, like the Civil Rights Commission, the Maritime Academy Board, the Commission on Caribbean Cooperation, and the V.I. Wage Board, have not operated in many years. Would you ever vote to create another board or commission and if so, under what circumstances?
Tucker: Yes, I would; however, I would also ensure that a full assessment is completed of the current boards and commissions. Where possible, I would propose consolidating boards or commissions that have similar or close to similar missions.
What would you propose to address the collapse of GERS in light of the $3 billion-plus shortfall and projected exhaustion of all funds between 2020 and 2024?
Tucker: We must grow the USVI economy. The problem with the GERS is the lack of contributions. With growth in the USVI economy, the plan sponsor–the Government of the Virgin Islands–can increase its contributions to the system. The government must implement a moratorium on future unfunded mandates. The government must also protect the benefits of current retirees. The government must reduce the vesting period from ten years to five years. The GVI must improve its bond rating to explore the possibility of securing pension obligation bonds, if economically feasible.
Where do you stand on medicinal marijuana and what is the Senate’s role in getting it on the market and generating tax revenue?
Tucker: Science has proven the benefits of medicinal marijuana. The Legislature’s role is to ensure that USVI citizens’ health, social and economic interests are protected.
What fuels violent crime in the territory and what should the government, nonprofit organizations and residents do to help alleviate it?
Tucker: The catalysts for violent crime are many. Economics, poverty, joblessness, drug wars, gang wars, psychosocial risks and more all contribute. The GVI must consider these factors and develop programs to counter act them. No one program could ever address all the determining factors of violent crime; however, the GVI must work with stake holders to develop a myriad of programs designed to capture and keep at risk populations from harm (i.e. becoming perpetrators of violent crime or becoming the victims of violent crime.)
Climate change is a growing threat to Virgin Islanders with a myriad of effects ranging from an increase in tropical storms to more severe health issues as a result of warming temperatures. What types of policies will you support to educate the community on the risks of climate change and to increase the territory’s preparation and mitigation efforts?
Tucker: As a Senator in the 34th Legislature, I would support developing 5, 10, and 20 year plans for the USVI. In order to develop plans for economic growth, the impacts of climate change must be included in the GVI’s risk assessment. The USVI plan would be publicly available.
Why do you want to be a Virgin Islands legislator and why should voters choose you over other candidates?
Tucker: In this time of unprecedented crisis, we need an unprecedented response. Doing nothing exacerbates the crisis. Asking the same old questions preserves our pain. We need leaders who are equipped to pull our territory out of the clutches of crisis. I believe that I am such a leader.