Tregenza Roach Chance to speak at U.N. conference changed Tregenza Roach's path

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ST. THOMAS - Senator-elect Tregenza Roach does not consider himself a typical politician.

"I never wanted to be a senator. I always wanted to be a poet," Roach said.

However, he changed his perspective between 2006 and 2008 when he was working with the University of the Virgin Islands on a public education campaign about the Fifth Constitutional Convention. As part of that work, the United Nations invited him to speak at a seminar on decolonization in Indonesia.

The 27 hours of travel in each direction gave him a lot of time to think about the issue and where the Virgin Islands is today.

He came to a realization.

"If you believe that you can help frame public policy in a way that can help, you should do it," he said.

So, in 2008, he ran and lost.

In 2010, he ran again and lost again.

But, he did not feel defeated, he said.

Roach was on the fence about running for a third time - unsure about whether he was up to campaign and its physical and emotional toll - but a combination of people asking him to run, and his feelings of dissatisfaction with the people representing him, helped him make the decision.

Roach is a laid-back kind of guy. The type of person who always seems unruffled and at ease.

When asked about the challenges he expects to face in the 30th Legislature, he takes a Zen approach.

"I don't create problems for myself before they appear," he said.

As one of the few senators outside the Democratic majority - and the only independent in the St. Thomas-St. John District - Roach acknowledges that he may have a harder time passing legislation through the body.

However, that concern is minimal, Roach said, and overall he remains optimistic, saying that he is going in with good relationships with senators who are in the majority as well as others who are not.

Roach said education, business development, energy, agriculture and general quality of life issues, including consumer protections, are what he plans to address in the 30th Legislature.

In recent years, he has taught at UVI, where many students coming out of the territory's public schools seek higher education. He also worked as legal counsel to the V.I. Education Department for eight years and served as executive director of the V.I. Board of Education for two years.

"I've had a lot of opportunity to look at the statutes that govern education in the territory," Roach said.

Changes are needed, and the laws must be cleaned up and clarified to better serve the public, he said.

High energy costs also must be addressed by moving toward greener technologies, he said, and the territory's energy crisis is affecting businesses, which impacts the entire economy.

"We have to really look at the way we support our business community," he said. "We need those jobs, taxes, to sustain our own economy." Roach said entrepreneurship must be encouraged, as well as agriculture, which is business as well.

He is excited about the aquaculture farming of talapia at UVI and at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School, and says that is exactly the kind of business that needs to be developed in the territory.

"Plant food, support yourself," he said.

Rather than working on new legislation, Roach believes his legal background could be useful in revising the V.I. Code and making the territory's laws better. Many of the territory's laws cannot be enforced because the language is too vague, or just badly written, he said.

"We have a lot of law, a lot of rules and regulations," he said. "The question is how do we make sure it's enforced?"

Roach acknowledges that addressing the territory's fiscal crisis also will be a challenge.

He said limited resources force legislators to set clear priorities and find creative solutions. In looking at various department budgets, some items just do not make sense, he said. In the Education Department budget, he questions why the government is still spending millions to contract a third-party fiduciary.

"It was not intended to be a long term thing," he said.

Balancing fiscal restraint while stimulating economic growth is difficult, but not impossible, he said.

"I'm certainly going to approach spending conservatively," Roach said.

Roach understands the need for government transparency and the importance of making records available to the public.

"I do believe in transparency in a very real way," he said. "My habit has always been to be as open as possible."

He said one of his political platforms was to bring more public input into crafting public policy. Too often, the public is made aware of a new bill or policy only after it has been drafted. Making public records available and honoring the people's right to know is a big part of that, he said.

"It's public money, it's not mine," he said.

A world traveler, Roach said he has visited all the continents except Antarctica and Australia.

"So, I'm not looking for the government of the Virgin Islands to send me on any travel," he said.

However, Roach does not entirely rule out taking trips as a senator.

"Travel should really be clearly linked to some legislative agenda," Roach said.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email Age: 53

Education: College of the Virgin Islands, 1977-1979; bachelor's degree in journalism from University of Missouri 1981; juris doctorate from the University of Connecticut-Hartford, 1989.

Most recent occupation: Adjunct professor at the University of the Virgin Islands, 1999-present.

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