June 8, 2001 By the end of the final public hearing Thursday night on the issue of reducing the number of senators, it was clear that legislators won't approve the proposal. What is less clear, however, is whether lawmakers have taken to heart the message sent by voters last November when they overwhelmingly voted to thin the Senates ranks from 15 to nine.
The hearing held by the Government Operations, Planning and Environmental Protection Committee on St. Croix the last of three throughout the territory lasted more than four-and-a-half hours and saw a mixture of support and opposition to the proposal from the approximately 30 people in attendance.
For the most part, though, senators were opposed to scaling back their numbers, no matter how many voters went to the polls in support of such a proposal.
According to John Abramson Jr., supervisor of elections, the territory has about 54,000 registered voters. Approximately 33,000 went to the polls last November and just more than 15,000 supported the proposal to reduce the number of senators.
"The referendum, in my opinion, is simply a opinion poll," said Sen. David Jones. "We must be careful not to let emotion dictate to our intellect. I think the 15,000 people . . . who voted for this initiative were well-intentioned and wanted change because they are sick and tired . . . But I must say I respectfully disagree. I disagree that this bill will result in what the people want: responsible government."
Even if the effort to reduce the number of senators had gone to voters as an initiative, Raymond "Usie" Richards, former chairman of Joint Board of Elections, noted that the measure failed to receive 50 percent plus one of the votes, the standard needed for enactment.
Abramson said that instead of undertaking election reform on a piecemeal basis, an effort should be launched to convene a constitutional convention and address the issue as a whole, including the idea of districting and numbered seats.
"This is an election-reform issue," he said. "Anything short of a constitutional convention is a waste of time."
Sen. Celestino White has long opposed cutting the number of senators because it would negatively affect the ratio of constituents to representatives. He noted that if the Legislature were reduced to nine members, five members would be needed for a quorum and just three senators could determine issues for the entire territory, a point made by The Source last November.
"I am not placing the decision-making of 110,000 people in the hands of three people," White said.
Because Thursdays committee meeting was a public hearing, no action could be taken on the bill. The committee will consider the proposal at a future meeting and either send it on to the Rules Committee or kill it.
In attendance Thursday were Sens. Jones, White, Donald "Ducks" Cole, Emmett Hansen II, Adelbert Bryan, Carlton Dowe, Norman Jn Baptiste and Almando "Rocky" Liburd.