Clarence Payne Clarence Payne wants Legislature to lead by example
Published: January 10, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - Incoming V.I. Senator Clarence Payne said he considers himself fortunate to have run unsuccessfully in 2010 for the 29th Legislature but to have won a seat in the 30th.
In an interview at The Daily News last week, Payne said he is undaunted by his role as a rookie senator set to take office in a comparatively inexperienced Legislature and during a term that will include the lame duck period of Gov. John deJongh Jr.
"That could be because I'm a rookie, but that's a good thing because I'm optimistic," Payne said. "I don't have the baggage."
Coming off of a 29th Legislature that was beset by allegations, even from some of its own members, of dysfunction and corruption, a fresh start has been a rallying cry for a number of incoming senators, including Payne.
"The 30th Legislature is currently organized on the premise of leading by example," Payne said. "We are going to focus on fiscal responsibilities. We know we are going to have to operate on a much more frugal basis."
Payne said he will work with the incoming senators to streamline the Legislature's financial practices and implement procurement rules that resemble those followed by other government agencies.
"The level of accountability has to increase," he said. "It has to increase."
When asked about potential specific steps to increase transparency in the government - such as creating an online database of all government expenditures, similar to those maintained by many states on the mainland, or strengthening the territory's open records law by including a time line and stiffer penalties for breaking the law - Payne said he would consider those options.
"I think in the Virgin Islands we're getting better, but it has been a problem for public records to be public," Payne said. "And I like the fact that community organizations are demanding more. I like the fact that people are pushing our elected officials to be more transparent.
"I love community activism. I think that has to be a part of any progressive society," he said. "There's nothing wrong with people demanding their rights as citizens in a free society. There's nothing wrong with that."
Payne, who said he has a passion for public service, identified two major goals for his rookie Senate term: stabilizing the V.I. economy and controlling what he described as a health care crisis in the territory.
Payne's ideas for righting the economy center on a jobs plan that includes finding work for young men who have or are at risk for dropping out of the work force and becoming part of the criminal element. He said the hiring push must come from the local and federal government working with the private sector.
"We don't have a choice," Payne said. "It's one of those situations where if we don't do this we know what the outcome is going to be. And it's much more expensive to house them in criminal institutions, with court proceedings, than to give them job training and employment. Far more expensive."
In terms of health care, Payne said he sees out-of-control costs and the rise in diabetes and hypertension as the two biggest problems for the territory. He described the imminent Affordable Care Act as a visionary, but not perfect, way to begin addressing health care costs, and he said he wants to help set up diabetes and hypertension awareness programs throughout the territory.
"Prevention, testing, nutrition, education - all the entities in a preventive mode pertaining to these two very controllable diseases," Payne said.
Payne's two main responsibilities within the 30th Legislature - chairman of the Health, Hospitals, Human Services and Veterans Affairs Committee and liaison to the U.S. Congress - should afford him an opportunity to work toward those goals.
He said he has spent a lot of time since the election researching veterans programs, meeting medical professionals and getting up to speed on the Affordable Care Act.
"I think that I have to get my wheels running in those areas because it's a prevalent committee," Payne said. "It's the one committee that affects every ounce, every area of the Virgin Islands."
Payne said he likely would be one of the Legislature's two ex-officio members on the V.I. Public Services Commission and that he plans to press for a Committee of the Whole hearing by Feb. 1 to bring V.I. Water and Power Authority officials before the new senators to discuss the territory's soaring energy costs.
"The 30th Legislature is very determined to bring some concrete resolution, with the help of all the entities mentioned, to bring this energy crisis to a screeching halt," Payne said.
Payne closed the interview by encouraging the community to become and remain involved in the 30th Legislature.
"We are going to have an open-door policy to the public - a 'mi casa, su casa' attitude," Payne said. "So come on in, show up between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. to do your business. Call us, come in, come to the public hearings. We're going to have a very updated way of letting people know how we're getting stuff done."
- Contact Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.Age: 49
Education: Bachelor's degree in sociology and criminal justice from Norfolk State University, 1988; master's degree in clinical social work, 1996.
Most recent occupation: District Manager of the Juvenile Unit at the V.I. Human Services Department, from October 2007 to present.