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Home Commentary Op-ed V.I. Needs Ballot Initiative for Legislative Districts, Retiree Group Says

V.I. Needs Ballot Initiative for Legislative Districts, Retiree Group Says

Mary Moorhead appearing before the V.I. Legislature on July 11, 2016. (V.I. Legislature photo by Barry Leerdam)
Mary Moorhead appearing before the V.I. Legislature on July 11, 2016. (V.I. Legislature photo by Barry Leerdam)
Mary Moorhead appearing before the V.I. Legislature on July 11, 2016. (V.I. Legislature photo by Barry Leerdam)
Mary Moorhead appearing before the V.I. Legislature on July 11, 2016. (V.I. Legislature photo by Barry Leerdam)

Mary Moorhead is president of St. Croix Government Retirees Inc., a retired educator and the current vice chair of the V.I. Board of Education.

St. Croix Government Retirees, Inc. is as anxiously concerned about the status of the Government Employees Retirement System as every member should be.

After frustratingly exhaustive studies and discussions, we have concluded the most remediable component of the imminent calamity is the lack of parity in representation. Consequently, this body has commenced with the necessary steps for an Initiative petition to bring responsibility and accountability to the investment we have made in the GERS.

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Article IV of the United States Constitution guarantees a republican form of government. The 1954 Revised Organic Act decreed a republican form of government with the structure it established for the U.S. Virgin Islands. Most particularly in the manner the Organic Act is able to mimic the two houses of Congress in a unicameral legislature. At the U.S. Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, Delegate Edmund Randolph of Virginia expressed the sentiment of the convocation in stark words when urging the creation of a Senate to check the House of Representatives. Such was the intent of incorporating check and balance in a small single chamber legislature, at-large senators checking district senators.

The petition for an Initiative seeks to restore the republican form of government to the Legislature of the Virgin Islands by way of reapportionment, establishing a reapportioned structure that categorically assigns responsibility to every senator for which they will be accountable.

Checks and balance are fundamental to the republican form of government. The three branches of government check and balance each other. According to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, the check and balance within the first branch of government will provide the “cure” for good government.

The current apportionment or structure of our legislature is void of this essential principle of the republican form of government intended by the Constitution of the United States. One at-large senator checking fourteen district senators is a mockery of the system advocated by the Founding Fathers.

Our Initiative proposes to return check and balance to the Legislature of the Virgin Islands. It addresses a configuration of six at-large senators and nine district senators as the foundation of the continual resolution between at-large and district senators. Check and balance becomes the impetus that brings continual resolution to an agreement both parties can live with. This is accomplished because check and balance requires the passage of any measure by the Legislature to have the affirmative vote of a majority of at-large as well as district senators.

Three senators who are bonafide residents of the island of St. Croix shall be elected at-large by the qualified electors of the Virgin Islands as a whole, and three senators who are bonafide residents of the island of St. Thomas shall be elected at-large by the qualified electors of the Virgin Islands as a whole. The six at-large senators shall serve for a term of four years.

The initiative proposes to remedy the imparity of representation by establishing five legislative districts in place of the prevailing two districts. The five districts are to be St. Croix east and west, St. Thomas east and west, with St. John once again being a district with its own senator. The other four districts shall each have two senators exclusively accountable.

Imparity of representation arises from the heretical dismissal of checks and balance. The republican form of government requires the opposition of geography versus population, at-large senators representing the territory as a whole contending with district senators representing the people individually. As a result of the unorthodox political engineering that brought us the current apportionment, recent natural disasters left shaken residents mainly searching for their senators.

Our contemporary legislative structure sits on two districts, St. Croix being one and St. Thomas together with St. John being the other. One at-large senator purportedly being responsible for the territory, and fourteen district senators responsible and accountable to the people, seven for each district.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, residents of western St. Croix were unable to locate a senator. The Government Employees Retirement System has no oversight. Is the single territorially elected senator to be held responsible and accountable for GERS? What of the Water and Power Authority? Isn’t that another territorial issue?

The legislative apportionment or structure now in place has proven itself dysfunctional and unacceptable. The first branch of government is the repository of the responsibility given to it by way of elections. We, the people, entrust them with the responsibility of speaking and acting in our stead as our representatives. But in our peculiar legislative configuration, there is no distribution of the responsibility entrusted to it, no appointing whatsoever of the responsibilities and accountabilities, just seven senators assigned to each of two districts on an at-large basis, with no specific responsibility to a town, residential community, or any area of the islands district. Similarly on the territorial level, there’s no oversight committee to hold agencies accountable. As an organization of retired government employees, we are alarmed at not having a single senator we can call on to provide us with updated information. The system is on the brink of insolvency. We have 15 generously compensated senators with not one of them responsible for anything territorially or by district.

The republican form of government is a representative government. Ideally our 15-member lawmaking body should be structured with six at-large senators and nine district senators in nine legislative districts, with each district senator having the sole responsibility for a district. In the interest of minimal adjustments, this organization has opted for five districts with two senators sharing responsibilities in each of the four districts on St. Croix and St. Thomas. This should be viewed as a first step to minimize confusion and mostly because the Election System would be tasked with too many reforms in one step. Not only would the Election System have to create proportionally equal districts, it would also have to reconfigure from two election district boards to five.

If the 50 states can be proportionally divided into four hundred and thirty-five Congressional districts, with just one member of the House of Representatives responsible and accountable for a ratio of more than seven hundred thousand people per district, pray tell, where is the logic in having seven senators represent an island district of maybe fifty thousand people? Every senator shall have an assigned responsibility they will be accountable for.

As if we needed additional verification, the recent hurricanes pounded us with all the offensive confirmation we could possibly require to validate the dissimilarity between our representation and that of the republican form of government in the United States we are supposedly copying.

It is our much considered conviction that the lack of responsible representation has a deleterious impact created by a woeful lack of oversight, causing mismanagement and a total absence of maintenance throughout government. Our effort entails the canvassing, agitating and panoply of strategies and tactics deployed in electioneering. We have to believe the population of the Virgin Islands is as aggrieved as retirees.

We are soliciting signatures for an Initiative to protect our investment as retirees of the government. However, a republican form of government and the responsible and accountable representation it engenders will make for a better managed and productive government. Reapportionment will not only have us in concert with Washington, D.C., but also the world of representative governments, near and far.

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