The Source asked every senatorial candidate ten questions, to fairly give every candidate an opportunity to tell our readers about themselves and 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.
Dwayne DeGraff is running for reelection as an independent to represent St. Thomas/St. John. Degraff grew up in Savan on St. Thomas and after high school worked as an auto mechanic in the police motor pool. In 1987, DeGraff joined the V.I. Police Department, retiring in 2013 after 26 years. He joined the V.I. National Guard and in 2006 was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq with the 786-Headquarters Unit.
DeGraff was first elected to the Senate in 2016.
Here are the responses from DeGraff:
What will be your top priority as a legislator and why?
DeGraff: My top priority as a re-elected legislator will be to continue to evaluate and enact legislation to generate new revenues for the territory. By creating new revenue streams independent of tourism and enhancing our agricultural, marine, and technology industries, we may lessen the continued practice of overly taxing our local base.
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?
DeGraff: I believe we must focus on generating new revenue through the industries mentioned above by establishing global partnerships with a focus on the Caribbean region. We also have the technology available to us to enhance and continue to attract new e-commerce to the territory.
How will you help make government more transparent?
DeGraff: I will continue to be vigilant in the oversight process of the government to address mismanagement. To be transparent, the government must be inclusive. Public information must be forthcoming, easily available, and accessible. One such legislation I sponsored during my tenure, Bill 33-0297, and is now Act 8309, provided for the regulation of the use of credit cards for government purchases. The Act requires the Government to promulgate rules and to report monthly to the Legislature on the use of credit cards. Accessible information provides for public empowerment and decisive decision making.
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?
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?
DeGraff: Yes, I will vote to create another board or commission only if that board includes persons who have subject matter expertise in the board that they are being appointed to. However, there should be a full review of all existing boards and commissions to determine their legitimacy, whether they should be combined, or whether they should be restructured.
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?
DeGraff: Recently, the Governor stated that the administration collected an estimation of $60 million over the allotted 2020 fiscal year budget. I sponsored Bill 33-0418, which was recently supported and passed by my colleagues. This bill provides that the Government submit 50% of the excess of the 2020 fiscal year budget overage to GERS. Ultimately, the bill will require the Government to issue at least $30 million to the GERS in 2020. Further, the bill also provides that the Government pay to the GERS up to $50 million after the 2021 fiscal year budget has been satisfied. The GERS can realize an approximation of $80 million from this legislation. I urge the Governor to approve this bill.
Where do you stand on medicinal marijuana and what is the Senate’s role in getting it on the market and generating tax revenue?
DeGraff: I stand in support of medicinal marijuana. Currently, I am the only remaining Senator who co-sponsored Act 8167 – The Virgin Islands Medical Cannabis Patient Care Act. Since the enactment of the bill, board members were submitted by the Governor and were confirmed by the Senate. The Legislature has fulfilled its obligation and the bill is now in the hands of the executive branch to implement.
What fuels violent crime in the territory and what should the government, nonprofit organizations and residents do to help alleviate it?
DeGraff: What fuels violent crime in the territory is a lack of education and job opportunity. I supported Bill 33-0344 to bolster the vocational education programs in our schools. Although the bill was held in committee, the bill intended to create a public-private partnership between our schools and licensed professionals like electricians, carpenters, mechanics, and any other licensed practitioner that would have supplemented the career and technical center programs. This type of legislation would have provided opportunities for entrepreneurship, structure, and bolstering of our private sector. I believe we should have a stronger collaborative relationship to foster trust between non-profit organizations, our residents, and our law enforcement community.
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?
DeGraff: Hurricanes Irma and Maria reminded us that climate change is an environmental issue that requires not just global action but also local participation. As a Legislator, I am willing to support policies that allow for using several options for renewable energy such as waste, water, wind, and solar. I will further encourage rebuilding energy-smart rather than traditionally, and moving from emission vehicles starting with our government and their instrumentalities to reduce our carbon footprint.
Why do you want to be a Virgin Islands legislator and why should voters choose you over other candidates?
DeGraff: Many candidates say to choose “me” because I can get the job done. But the truth of the matter is that one Senator cannot do it by themself. I remember a few years ago someone said to me people simply want honest and fair representation.
I have started a job that the people entrusted me to represent them and there is a lot more work to accomplish. For all of my adult life, I have honorably served this territory by spending 26 years in the Police Department serving as a police officer, sergeant, and later deputy chief. I also spent 22 years in the Virgin Islands National Guard with a tour in Bagdad, Iraq, and thus far, served two terms as your Senator. I am truly humbled and grateful to continue to serve this territory. Listed below are a few of my accomplishments:
1. Provided legislation that supports revenue generation for the GERS, with a projected estimate of $80 million toward the system;
2. Provided a funding source for our public transportation system;
3. Sponsored legislation for the installment of portable water for the Estate Bovoni area that will provide new revenue for WAPA;
4. Supported legislation to provide water sources for agriculture;
5. Provided for opportunities for homeownership;
6. Provided legislation to support our veterans, seniors, and disabled population;
7. Supported our Virgin Islands National Guard by providing for benefits, insurance coverage, and comparable compensation to those serving in the armed forces of the United States during territorial active duty;
8. Provided for transparency and fiscal responsibility by sponsoring legislation for the use of credit cards for government purchases;
9. Supported legislation to bolster our vocational education program;
10. Provided 49 summer students with job opportunities in their career field of interest.
I have served with integrity and courage to ensure that the future of the territory remains globally competitive and locally progressive. I am #5 on your ballot. Thank you for your support and your vote.