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HomeNewsArchivesBrian McLernan is Running for a Seat at the Constitutional Convention

Brian McLernan is Running for a Seat at the Constitutional Convention

May 21, 2007 — For the past 53 years, the lives of every man, woman, and child in the Virgin Islands have been structured by a document, written without their input, by a group of people who do not live here. The Organic Act of 1954 is cumbersome and oppressive. It can not be amended by the people governed under it. While it allows certain rights and privileges, it remains a grim reminder of colonialism.
Congress realized the basic inequity of life under the Organic Act and, in 1976, charged the Virgin Islands with the responsibility to create a constitution not only for, but also by the people residing in the USVI. Since that legislation 31 years have passed and we have conducted our third and fourth constitutional conventions, but we have failed to enact a document ensuring the basic rights of democracy for ourselves and our progeny.
The fifth Constitutional Convention must be the last. We no longer have the luxury of procrastination. Our vibrant society demands institutions and structures of government that are responsive to the needs of all of our people. We must elect convention delegates who represent the broad tapestry of the people who live here. No one group can claim any monopoly on the insights necessary to construct a better governing document for us. This time it must be "All a we".
Once our convention is formed, priority must be given to discussion of significant threads that underlie the warp and woof of the fabric of our lives. Some of these issues are:
• The shape and configuration of the Territorial Government. I favor municipal governments with more autonomy in local matters. Too often, petty interisland bickering short-circuits essential projects. Local government would reduce waste as well as pettiness.
• The makeup and scope of our Legislature. Our current legislative institution is a disaster. It is too large. It is too costly. It is wasteful. It is inefficient. Currently our legislators spend 25% of their energy doing the people's business and 75% grandstanding for reelection. I favor an 11 member, part-time legislature that would meet for no more than 90 days per year, to discuss ways and means an and develop items for referendum . Legislators would represent specific districts, in which they reside, and one of them would be elected solely by the voters of St. John. Legislative terms should be six years with three or four seats contested at each general election. Lame-duck sessions would be eliminated.
• Taxation. The cost of living in the VI is more than 20% higher than the average on the US mainland. The gross receipts tax is an inflationary burden that contributes to this problem and must be replaced. Real property taxation, another problem caused by macromanagement from Congress, has endangered many a Virgin Islander's ability to keep ancestral property. Salaries of elected officials should be set in the constitution and amended by referendum.
Finally, the Virgin Islands has been my home for more than thirty years. I have taught English and Social Studies to two generations of public school students and so, I am acutely aware of the need to constitutionally guarantee a quality education to every child.

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