Ballot question on senators' terms could lead to more self-government
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First, let's cut to the chase. We cannot get to the mountain top unless the U.S Congress grants us permission, or unless we mature enough to establish firmly our own governing constitution.
Is it an obtainable idea to petition Congress to allow the territory to elect its senators to serve four-year terms? The Revised Organic Act of 1954 is, and will remain, our governing law of the Virgin Islands until such time as we can get it together in presenting an acceptable V.I. Constitution document to the U.S. Congress and the U.S. president that does not offend the relative parts of the U.S. Constitution. It is hoped that we can accomplish this goal when we try for the 6th time.
Think about how such an achievement would reduce our having to beg the U.S. Congress and the U.S. president for their approval to obtain our hope to be fully self-governed.
Furthermore, the Virgin Islands, as an unincorporated territory, is subject to the power of Congress, which is empowered to make suitable rules and regulations to govern the territory pursuant to Article 4, Section 3, of the United States Constitution. (Government of the Virgin Islands v. Rijos, D.C. V.I. 1968, 6 V.I. 475, 285, F.Supp.126.)
Congress is empowered to make all necessary rules and regulations concerning the territory of the. Virgin Islands. (Territorial Court of the Virgin Islands v. Richards, D.C. V.I. 1987, 673 F.Supp. 152, affirmed C.A. ed 1988, 847 F.2d 108, certiorari denied, U.S. 109, S.Ct. 390, 102 L. Ed.2d 551 (1988).
In 1966, 47 years ago, Congress granted the territory authority to increase the number of senators from 11 to 15, to be apportioned as provided by Virgin Islands law. Equally, 43 years ago, Congress said that we could elect our governor.
Furthermore, although the apportionment plan required a senator elected "at large" to be a resident of St. John (in addition to seven senators elected from District of St, Croix and seven senators from the District of St. Thomas and St. John), the "at large" senator had to be counted as a representative of the entire territory and not as a representative of St. Thomas and St. John (Markoe v. Legislature, C.A. 3d, 1979, 16 V.I. 95.)
In my opinion, the legal mechanism is in place for all senators to be elected at large, but the electorate must agree to such a political decision. One senator expressed that there should be staggered terms. In my view, this makes effective political sense because it has the potential to reduce complacency.
Moreover, the Revised Organic Act of 1954, section 5(b): The legislature shall be composed of 15 members to be known as senators. The apportionment of the Legislature shall be as provided by the laws of the Virgin Islands: Provided, that such apportionment shall not deny to any person in the Virgin Islands the equal protection of the law: And provided further, that every voter in any district election or at-large election shall be permitted to vote for the whole number of persons to be elected in that district election or at-large election as the case may be. Until the legislator shall provide otherwise, four members shall be elected at large, five shall be elected from the District of St. Thomas, five from the District of St. Croix, and one from the District of St. John as those districts were constituted on July 22, 1954.
As I wrote: Let's cut to the chase. What we are looking for is slapping our face.
Because the Revised Organic Act of 1954 Section 6(a) states: The term of office of each member of the legislature shall be two years ... a referendum by the electorate is required. I believe that the U.S. Congress will approve, and the president will sign into law, amending Section 6(a) of our Revised Organic Act of 1954. I further believe that it is the intent and desire that Congress will grant us the authority, provided that there is a clear majority of qualified voters who favor a four-year term for V.I. elected senators.
What should also be given consideration is electing our delegate to Congress for a four-year term as well. Both approaches would be less costly to the election process.
There will be different perspectives on this community political question. However, I refer to the past to assist me in my future direction.
We sometimes have the tendency to make comparison with salaries paid to public servants in the U.S. Virgin Islands as compared to salaries to such public servants in the other jurisdictions as well as in the United States, but what is seldom taken into consideration is the cost of living in the USVI as compared to other U.S. areas. For example, almost anything that comes to mind for purchase is at least 30-40 percent higher in the USVI than in most other areas, And our population, about 110,000, (depends and who is counting) has very little to do with the high costs of living here. Despite all this, this is true home for most of us.
Sometimes we refer to the territory as the "melting pot," where no one culture is distinguished from another - which is not true; I see us more like a salad bowl where cultures are distinct, yet added together to make one coherent group.
Placing the political question -whether senators should be elected to a four-year term - as a referendum on the 2014 ballot is the correct road to more self-government.
In my view, all 15 senators should be elected at large with staggered terms to be fixed by the legislature. The necessary law is in place. It's our vote.
Let's cut to the chase.
- Capt. Al M. Donastorg Sr (Ret.), St. Thomas