July 17, 2002 Not only is support for numbered seats in the Legislature growing among the legislators themselves and other politicians; the grassroots initiative now has its own web site, Numbered Seats.com.
Hugh Dalton, a spokesman on St. Croix for Citizens for Legislative Reform, the initiative's sponsor, said the Internet presence has been put up to "clear the air. We want to lay out the interactive part, the public forum of the web site, to answer any questions. We will publish anything anyone answers. It's an educational process."
The site home page reads: "Is numbered seats the perfect answer? We don't know … the webmaster of this site personally favors voting by geographic district. But we all believe that the present system is failing us, and something must be done."
Charles Gallo, a retired Crucian with a flair for web design, created the site, which has a menu of page options including "an overview," "the petition," "questions and answers" and "latest news," and "I'd like to help."
Senators Emmett Hansen II and Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg are the latest members of the 24th Legislature to get aboard the initiative bandwagon. Hansen said he will be recording a radio spot for the sponsoring group's "Did you Know?" radio campaign, which is under way on St. Thomas stations and will begin airing on St. Croix stations next week, according to Dalton.
In May, Hansen joined his eight majority bloc colleagues in voting for a bill to make all 15 senators elected at-large territorywide, a bill that Gov. Charles W. Turnbull vetoed in June. But Hansen said Wednesday that his vote then doesn't interfere with his endorsing the numbered seats initiative now. "I think it's a good move," he said of the proposal to have seven numbered seats in each district, while retaining the at-large senator who is the de facto representative of St. John.
Donastorg, long an outspoken foe of the legislative status quo, sponsored a referendum calling for a reduction in the number of Senate seats. The measure won overwhelming support in the last election but was turned down flat by the legislative majority. Donastorg said on Wednesday in a release, "You had a huge majority of voters supporting the legislature downsize, but my colleagues chose to blatantly ignore the wishes of the voters."
He added, "Reform is long overdue. The system now in place is simply not working for this community. We need only to look at the members of the 24th Legislature to see that something is terribly wrong with the process."
The other members of the 24th Legislature on record as supporting the numbered-seats initiative are Sens. Lorraine Berry, Douglas Canton Jr. and Roosevelt David.
As of Wednesday, Dalton said, Citizens for Legislative Reform had collected more than 1,300 signatures. A total of about 5,500, representing 10 percent of the territory's registered voters in each district, are needed to send the initiative to the Legislature, where senators have the choice of adopting it or seeing it put to a vote in a general or special election. (For an explanation of the initiative process, see "Push is on for numbered-seats petition signers".)
With stepped up marketing and signs of growing enthusiasm, Dalton said, he feels optimistic. Aiming to get the issue on the November ballot (and assuming it will not win Senate approval), "We have about a month, and we can still make it," he said. "We have a lot of events, and we're going to do lots of campaigning on St. Croix starting next week."
He said the best way for people to keep up with the events is to check the web page often. An online petition form can be accessed at the initiative web site or in the Source Data section.
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