Dec. 15, 2006 — The incoming "people's majority caucus," now has a new member: senior Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, who will also be heading the Senate's Committee on Health, Hospitals and Human Services.
The announcement was made late Friday afternoon by incoming majority leader Sen. Celestino A. White Sr., who called members of the media to say that Jn Baptiste had "joined the quest," bringing the nine-member majority up to 10.
"Sen. Jn Baptiste is a welcome member of the people's majority caucus," White said. "And we embrace him based on his experience, his ability to work hard and his ability to get things done."
Senators in the new majority were first glimpsed attending a closed-door meeting on St. Thomas soon after the general election. While the meeting has been described as a simple "celebration," nine out of 10 of the senators in attendance had signed on to be part of the new coalition majority.
While Jn Baptiste was seen at last month's meeting, he was not part of the majority lineup recently announced during a press conference on St. Croix.
When contacted Friday, Jn Baptiste said that he did not initially sign on to be a part of the majority because of his "concern for the people of St. Croix."
"At the meeting, I wondered how it is that a majority of senators, consisting of more individuals from St. Thomas, was going to deliver services to St. Croix," he explained. "But Sens. White and [Usie] Richards said that would not be a problem. Nonetheless, I chose not to sign the petition at the time, but never shut the door to negotiations with any member of the majority. I've continued to engage in discussions with Sen. White, even up to today."
Jn Baptiste said he was also motivated by the fact that two "important" Senate Committees (Health, Hospitals and Human Services; and Labor and Agriculture) had not yet been assigned.
"For the island of St. Croix, those two committees hold tremendous significance," he said. In terms of health-related issues, Jn Baptiste said that St. Croix is seeing an increase in certain degenerative diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension and various forms of cancer.
"It's the cancers that worry me the most," he said. "And I thought that it would be the best thing for my people, if I could chair that committee and leverage the limited resources we have to deliver the services that are needed."
Among the issues that may be on Jn Baptiste's agenda next year is the much-debated universal health insurance bill.
"Personally, I don't support the current measure that we're dealing with," he said, adding that if the committee "sets sail with a boat that is not seaworthy, then it will not have successful and smooth sailing during the journey ahead."
However, Jn Baptiste also added that universal health care is a pressing issue for the territory and should be addressed. "There are other models we can look at, and we will work to see how we can develop something that best serves the needs of our people," he said.
"It's definitely about delivering quality service above self," he added. "And in the end, I'm trying to serve in the best interest of those who elected me to service."
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