29th V.I. Legislature takes oath


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ST. THOMAS - The oath of office was taken, and the gavel was passed Monday as the 29th Legislature was sworn into office and held their first session of the term.

The day's events began in Emancipation Garden with a swearing-in ceremony that included rousing musical selections, a stirring poem and wise words from several speakers.

The Right Rev. E. Ambrose Gumbs, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Virgin Islands, used his invocation to detail the challenges faced by the incoming senators and pray for guidance for them in their work. He asked God to "give the senators a spirit of cooperation so they may work together for the common good."

David Jones, former senator and V.I. Senate president in the 25th Legislature, thanked outgoing Senate President Louis Hill for his service and welcomed incoming Senate President Ronald Russell.

V.I. Supervisor of Elections John Abramson Jr. read the certification of the election and V.I. Supreme Court Chief Justice Rhys Hodge administered the oath to all 15 senators.

After the swearing-in, the crowd moved across the street to the newly renovated - and freshly painted - capitol building for the first session of the 29th Legislature.

A moment of silence was observed at both the swearing in ceremony and the session to honor the victims of the shooting in Tucson, Ariz., which left six dead and 14 others injured.

Hill called the session to order, and new majority leader Sen. Celestino White Sr. moved a bill to organize the Senate and adopt the rules for the new term. It passed with the 11 votes of the new coalition majority - Sen. Carlton Dowe, Sen. Alicia Hansen, Hill, Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, Sen. Usie Richards, Russell, Sen. Sammuel Sanes, Sen. Patrick Simeon Sprauve, White, Sen. Alvin Williams Jr. and Sen. Janette Millin Young.

Sen. Craig Barshinger, Sen. Neville James, Sen. Terrence Nelson, and Sen. Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly voted against the measure.

Once the new majority officially was formed, Hill passed the gavel to Russell, who assumed the president's chair and presided over the remainder of the session.

"Let me smile, because it's a joyous occasion, and I want everyone to be joyous," Russell said.

He then gave each senator 10 minutes to thank their families and staffs and comment on their coming term in office.

Nelson said that times have changed for Virgin Islands politics but that he will rise above the fray and lead by example.

"Leadership does not mean dominance; it means setting an example and hope that others will follow," he said.

Barshinger said he was glad to be in the minority because it means he does not have to compromise his core values for the "team."

James said while Nelson, O'Reilly, and he were among the top vote-getters in the November election, they still ended up in the minority. The three St. Croix senators have formed the Next Generation Leadership team to work together inside and outside the halls of the Legislature, he said.

O'Reilly said the break was too long.

"I'm anxious to get back to work," she said.

She said the system that pits all St. Croix senators against each other in each election leads to bad blood when the term starts, and she is in favor of creating districts to foster a better working relationship with other senators once the term begins. She also promised to start a women's breast health program on St. Croix during her next term.

Malone said senators must recognize that communication is critical for a productive working environment.

"We are not going to agree on everything, but we have to compromise," he said. "Communication is the key."

Richards thanked the majority coalition for inviting him to join. He said it was not the first time people outside of his own ICM party invited him to form a majority coalition.

"I said, 'No, thank you,' then, but this time I said, 'Yes, thank you,'" he said.

He also said that joining the majority would not make him compromise his values.

Hansen told her fellow senators not to treat her differently because she is a woman. She also said fixing the problems at the V.I. Water and Power Authority is her top priority. By the end of her 10 minutes, she had the crowd riled up. When she shouted her campaign slogan, "Chucky is back," they leaped to their feet with cheers and laughter.

Sprauve said he is eager and pleased to work with the members of the 29th Legislature. He said the new majority will advance their agenda, which will focus largely on health care.

Young thanked her hardest campaign worker, her son Joshua, along with all the others who helped her win a seat in the Senate on her first time out. She said education will be her focus in the 29th Legislature, and she thanked her fellow majority members for giving her the chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Education, Youth and Culture.

"You have an advocate in me for education," she said.

Williams said he is prepared to work with every member of the V.I. government on the issues most important to him. Specifically, he said he will work on legislation to deny licenses to doctors who refuse to accept Medicaid or Medicare.

"Health care is not a privilege, it's a right," he said.

Dowe said children today are learning in different ways, and he will work to appropriate $6 million to supply electronic books to the V.I. Education Department.

White said the new majority will achieve great things in the next two years, and he revealed the majority's motto, "Your future, our mission."

"We are united in pride and in hope," he said.

Sanes said the 15 elected senators will bring back "the glory days" of the Virgin Islands.

"Every single member of the 29th Legislature is going to make their mark," he said.

Almost every senator thanked Hill for his leadership in the 28th Legislature, and Hill responded with his own gratitude once his turn came by thanking his staff, fellow senators, family and friends for their support.

Russell wrapped up the day, thanking his family and playing a song his youngest daughter recorded during his campaign. A luncheon followed the session, and a reception on St. Croix was held Monday night.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 774-7882 ext. 311 or e-mail alewin@dailynews.vi.

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Daily News photo by SEAN McCOY

Outgoing V.I. Senate President Luis Hill passes the gavel to incoming Senate President Ronald Russel on Monday. vi11senate_pd

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The 29th Legislature

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