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.
Born and raised on St. Croix, Samuel “Sam” Carrion has worked in the public, private and non-profit sectors, including as a senior policy advisor in the Office of the Governor, where he worked with many local and federal government agencies to help coordinate hurricane relief efforts. He also spent more than 10 years as an interpreter and judicial assistant at the Superior and District Courts.
Carrion says he has also operated both retail and hospitality businesses and is active in community organizations.
Here are the responses from Carrion:
What will be your top priority as a legislator and why?
Carrion: The obvious top priority for all of us must be ongoing efforts to address public health, economic, and social concerns related to the coronavirus. We must do much more preparation for living with COVID-19 longer term then is occurring now, as we truly do not know when we will eradicate this virus.
My top priority otherwise is pushing hard for the expedition of hurricane recovery projects.We desperately need the new schools, hospitals, roofs, and other infrastructure improvements promised to us. Unfortunately, no significant project has yet gotten underway. These initiatives would also provide a much-needed economic boost. As a former Policy Advisor at Government House, I helped coordinate relief efforts following the 2017 storms and I remain incredibly dismayed by the lack of progress locally in moving these critical recovery efforts forward.
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?
Carrion: As noted, getting our major hurricane recovery construction projects underway will provide a significant economic boost to the Virgin Islands. The pandemic has created new opportunities in tourism if we take more serious steps necessary to control transmission of the virus locally and promote the Territory accordingly. However, we must also work hard to diversify our economy. I will propose an aggressive recruitment of technology sector enterprises given the incredible opportunities available here. As the world moves towards a more remote workforce model, there is no longer a need for a company to be based in a major city. Finally, it is also critical that this Government operate more efficiently and I will work toward greater accountability by scrutinizing spending, contracts, leases and grant management.
How will you help make government more transparent?
Carrion: I will review current transparency laws to assure compliance and determine what, if any, new legislation may be necessary. Laws are only as good as their enforcement and I believe the Legislature can exercise more oversight authority in this regard. I am especially concerned about the lack of information available on government contracts and leases – it seems we learn about a new problematic situation nearly every week. Light is the best disinfectant.
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?
Carrion: There is no way to realistically predict what may be necessary going forward. However, I wholeheartedly agree that we presently have too many boards and commissions. While we surely don’t need a new commission to address this issue, as your Senator I will push for a cooperative review by the Legislative and Executive branches to make recommendations as to which of these entities could be eliminated or their duties consolidated and support the necessary legislation.
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 2023.
Carrion: We must start by implementing some basic reforms at GERS that will not impact benefits of current retirees or those nearing retirement given the commitment made to these workers and their lengthy service to our community. One example of a simple reform is raising the salary cap on GERS contributions. Currently, workers only pay a percentage to GERS up to the first $65,000 of any government salary. As we now have many employees being paid significantly more than this, increasing this cap would provide the system with an immediate and regular infusion of new funds. Internal reforms are also required, GERS itself does not operate efficiently. It is clear that we need new, independent revenue sources for GERS and I support efforts to direct any monies generated from cannabis sales to the system, but projections in this area may have been overstated. I will also support efforts to take advantage of lower interest rates to refinance this Territory’s debts and direct savings to the GERS, but strongly believe we must work towards a better deal than recently proposed.
Where do you stand on medicinal marijuana and what is the Senate’s role in getting it on the market and generating tax revenue?
Carrion: I support medicinal marijuana as a matter of compassion – cancer patients and those that suffer from many ailments find relief with cannabis. Further, this is a matter that the people of the Virgin Islands have approved via referendum. That said, Senators must exercise much more aggressive oversight in pushing the Executive Branch to move the Territory’s medicinal marijuana program forward.
What fuels violent crime in the territory and what should the government, nonprofit organizations and residents do to help alleviate it?
Carrion: Violent crime is fueled by a growing gun culture, the illegal drug trade, failure to rehabilitate those associated with lesser crimes and lack of economic and social opportunity. It is imperative that we take a more aggressive, grassroots approach to addressing gun crimes and domestic violence, while forming stronger partnerships between local law enforcement and the community organizations and federal agencies that can assist us. With a greater emphasis on conflict resolution, economic and educational opportunity, and support for struggling families, we can work to prevent crime and violence in our neighborhoods by addressing many of its root causes. This is a community problem and, as your Senator, I will work to engage the entire community in finding solutions, to include strengthening partnerships with our churches and the non-profit groups that have a track record of success in crime prevention. Project Safe Neighborhood has been successful in many cities throughout the U.S. and can provide a viable model for crime prevention in the Virgin Islands. We must also establish viable rehabilitation programs for those in the criminal justice system and steer these offenders toward a better life.
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?
Carrion: I will push to revitalize and fund the U.S. Virgin Islands Climate Change Council, created by Executive Order No. 474-2015 during the previous Administration to ensure that that climate change adaptation policy and planning is conducted in a coordinated manner. The council was doing great work and these local experts are best equipped to make specific recommendations as to preparation and mitigation, as well as to help launch a public information campaign. The U.S. Virgin Islands remains exceptionally vulnerable to climate change and we have already experienced its adverse impacts to human health and the environment in the form of massive hurricanes, increased periods of drought, coral die-offs, dust storms, etc. We also have some national non-profit organizations ready and willing to assist us with this issue and, as your Senator, I will be calling upon these entities. Finally, the Virgin Islands must begin a meaningful transition to alternative energy, as even our small power plants contribute to global pollution.
Why do you want to be a Virgin Islands legislator and why should voters choose you over other candidates?
Carrion: I made the decision to run for office as I want to do more for St. Croix. We are a community in crisis and I know we can do better. We must. It is time for new vision in our legislative body. We can’t vote for the same candidates and expect different results.
In this time of social, health and economic challenge, I offer innovative and independent minded leadership. My loyalty is to the people of St. Croix.
I pledge to work hard to address hurricane recovery, public health, government accountability, WAPA, workforce development, economic diversification, resource conservation, consumer protection and anti-violence measures.
I will utilize my broad experience in commerce, government, and the non-profit sector to help move these islands forward. My history of extensive work in the community, and my professional experience in both the private sector and in the Executive and Judicial branches is largely unmatched by my fellow aspirants.
I was born and raised on St. Croix and I am the father of four school-age children and the caretaker of elderly relatives – making me all too familiar with some of the issues we must address. My message remains one of hope, compassion, and commitment. We can and will get through this difficult period together!