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Candidates Face Off at Senatorial Showdown

Oct. 28, 2008 — It was a night of lots of questions, lots of answers and not many disagreements as at-large candidates for the V.I. Senate faced off at Island Center Tuesday in a candidate forum sponsored by the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce.
Because 23 candidates are seeking the seats, the organizers decided to break them into four panels rather than try to squeeze them all onto the stage at the same time. On Tuesday the first two panels took questions from the moderator, former Sen. Holland Redfield. The remaining candidates will face the questions from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, also at Island Center. The event was seen by a small audience in the center, and was broadcast live on radio stations Sunny 95.5 and WSTX-AM, and on public television station WTJX.
The first round consisted of Norman Jn Baptiste, Neville James, Sammuel Sanes and Jimi Weber. The second panel was made up of Kendall Petersen, Bernard Hamilton, Dwain Ford, George Moore and Samuel Fleming.
The candidates were given two minutes each to answer questions on controlling energy costs, improving the St. Croix business environment and helping new businesses get settled, cracking down on crime and improving the St. Croix work force. There was also a series of "quick-fire" questions, in which the candidates were asked for yes-or-no answers on issues.
It was the quick-fire questions that elicited most of the few disagreements among the candidates.
Ford was the only candidate to support privatization of WAPA. Asked whether the Virgin Islands should petition the Environmental Protection Administration to ease standards that would allow WAPA to burn lower-grade fossil fuels, which are less expensive but burn dirtier, Ford, Baptiste, James and Sanes all said yes, while Webber, Petersen, Hamilton and Moore said no.
All candidates agreed that a government subsidy was the best shot-term solution to out-of-control energy costs, with Moore calling WAPA's levelized energy-adjustment clause (LEAC) fuel surcharge "a killer," because it is "killing businesses." All the candidates want to see the LEAC reduced or eliminated.
On economic issues, all the candidates agreed that the territory's system of acquiring a business license is too costly and cumbersome. Baptiste urged cutting the fee in half and eliminating it altogether for new businesses just starting out. All candidates agreed with the idea of having a single place to go to acquire the necessary permits and licenses, and a fixed timeline so the process doesn't run on into infinity.
"There's too much red tape," Sanes said.
Baptiste also suggested removing the gross receipts tax with a sales tax or value-added tax. James called for subsidies for new businesses just getting started.
All candidates backed alternative energies, singling out wind, solar, tidal and more exotic possibilities. Sanes suggested WAPA be encouraged to replace the petroleum fuel it now uses with liquefied natural gas, which he called cheaper, more transportable and safe. Similarly, Ford touted the use of compressed natural gas. Moore called for utilizing ocean-thermal energy conversion, which he said uses the differences between warm and cold layers of the sea to generate electricity.
All candidates agreed that education is the answer both to improving the V.I. work force and in bringing down crime. Weber suggested a return to community schools, saying that while they may be more expensive, they'll do a better job both teaching and socializing the island's youths to have better citizeship and work skills.
"There are economies of scale in large schools, but they don't work," he said.
Each panel took questions for an hour and a half.
Thursday's session will include candidates Naomi "Sandra" Joseph, Lilliana Belardo De O'Neal, Usie Richards, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Ronald Russell, Craig Barshinger, Iotha Ineta Thomas, Carmen Wesselhoft, Diane Capehart, Nellie Rivera-O'Reilly, Adelbert Bryan, Gonzalo Rivera, Wayne James and Michael Thurland. The session begins at 6 p.m. and will be broadcast live both on the radio and television stations that aired Tuesday's event.
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