5 Feb 2019

Guam ushers in era of change and responsibility

6:41 pm on 5 February 2019

Lourdes Leon Guerrero is already a history-maker and now she wants to be known as an agent of change.

Ms Leon Guerrero, affectionately known as Lou, was inaugurated as the ninth elected Governor of Guam just a month ago.

Lou Leon Guerrero

Lourdes Leon Guerrero and Josh Tenorio. Photo: Twitter/ @NCSLorg

The history making came in the form of Ms Leon Guerrero officially becoming the first maga'håga or female leader of the US territory.

In November's gubernatorial election, she just passed the threshold of 50 percent of the vote needed for victory but polled almost twice as high as her nearest rival, Republican Ray Tenorio.

During her inaugural address Ms Leon Guerrero promised change.

"Change will make us a stronger, better Guam for everyone who calls our island home."

Change already seems to have arrived, not only in the form of Ms Leon Guerrero but also by her running mate Josh Tenorio becoming the first gay Lieutenant Governor.

Lourdes Leon Guerrero

Lourdes Leon Guerrero Photo: White House official photo

The election victory also means a Democrat-led administration is in power for the first time in 16 years.

Even more significantly, women dominate the local legislature, occupying 10 of the 15 senate seats, the highest proportion in history.

Ms Leon Guerrero paid tribute to the strong women in her life and trailblazers throughout Chamorro history.

"Today belongs to them, to our mothers and our grandmothers but most of all it belongs to our daughters and to the belief that if you are committed and you work hard you can be the change you wish to see and spread that change like the sea that washes onto our shores," the maga'håga recently said.

Ms Leon Guerrero told RNZ Pacific all the women in the senate were highly capable individuals.

"The women have committed to working really hard so we can show that women can do it and do it even better I think."

But the road ahead for Ms Leon Guerrero holds some obstacles.

Challenges await new governor

A former director of the Bank of Guam, who was once a nurse, Ms Leon Guerrero said while campaigning she noticed a rising crime rate was the biggest issue people wanted addressed.

"We met with people on the beach, we've met with people in their homes, in their kitchens, we met with people in community groups and the foremost concern they had was safety. Feeling safe at home, feeling safe in the streets and feeling safe in the business community" she said.

Ms Leon Guerrero said building a compassionate and understanding society was important in addressing safety and she pointed at the provision of government services to the most needy as a way to improve the situation.

Guam SWAT officers execute a search warrant at a property on Chalan Dogga in Dededo on the 15th of July 2017.

Guam SWAT officers execute a search warrant at a property on Chalan Dogga in Dededo on the 15th of July 2017. Photo: Norman M. Taruc/The Guam Daily Post

The governor also said one of her biggest challenges was to turn around the public perception of the government.

She looked to tackle this problem within her first few weeks in power, announcing that the dormant Guam Ethics Commission would be activated.

A 1996 law created the body to investigate complaints against the government but it remained inactive, until now.

"I want to assure our people that our leaders have high integrity and our leaders are ethical and that is something that people are wanting," Ms Leon Guerrero said.

"They want a leader that is honest, they want a leader that they can trust."

Another long-running issue the Guam government will continue to deal with is the US military build-up on the island.

The number of military personnel on Guam has been steadily increasing with thousands of troops being relocated from Japan.

This has been greeted with disapproval by many community groups who hold environmental and cultural concerns. Recently the military proposed expanding a 'danger-zone' around a small arms firing range which threatened to restrict local fishermen and boaters.

Towards the end of his term Ms Leon Guerrero's predecessor, Eddie Calvo, publicly added his voice to the opposition.

However, Ms Leon Guerrero said a fine balance needed to be found.

Guam is strategically important to the United States, housing both an Air Force and Navy base. Here, a US F-16 flies along the island's coastline.

Guam is strategically important to the United States, housing both an Air Force and Navy base. Here, a US F-16 flies along the island's coastline. Photo: US Department of Defense

"Strategically we are the first line of national defence… over here with China, North Korea. Where we are geographically is very significant and important to our military and defence and our security."

The military build-up had to be seen in that context, the governor said.

"But we also want to make sure that the military understands where our community is coming from when we are very protective of our environment, our culture, the integrity of our land, the safety of our people."

Ms Guerrero said communication was key to moving forward and that she had appointed experienced advisors to help keep channels open.

Communication was also ramping up around recent visa restrictions implemented by the US federal government.

Construction worker on Guam

Construction worker on Guam Photo: Guam Department of Labor

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security removed the Philippines from the H-2 temporary worker programme which Guam heavily relied upon.

A 40 percent overstay rate on the US mainland triggered the ban but the Guam governor claimed the situation was different there.

"Guam is seeing about three-to-five percent which is very minimal."

Ms Guerrero said she intended to send a request to Washington to have the territory exempted from the ban because homes and developments had been delayed.

"We went from like 3000 construction workers to now literally zero and it's definitely impacting our economy and the cost of construction, the cost of building homes," she said.

So many trials lie ahead for Ms Guerrero but she has told the people of Guam that now is the time to confront them.

"We won't solve them all today, tomorrow or even 100 days from now, but we will solve them together.

"The era of responsibility is here. Now is the time for change."

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