The Source asked every senatorial candidate ten questions, to fairly give every candidate an opportunity to tell our readers about themselves where they stand on some of the most pressing issues of the day. You can see all the candidates’ responses and more election news here.
Irvin “Pudna” Mason was raised on St. Thomas, where he graduated from high school. He went to Norfolk State University. He is running to represent St. Thomas as an independent.
Here are the responses from Mason:
What will be your top priority as a legislator and why?
Mason: My top priority as a legislator is to prepare this Territory for the future. For me that means expanding our ability to respond to natural and manmade disasters, providing futures for our young people through expanded educational systems that includes vocational education, building a robust marine industry that will provide jobs, providing adequate and appropriate care for those who face daily mental and physical challenges and finally, implementing a performance based system that encourages government workers to do their best.
The V.I. government had ongoing deficits before the pandemic hit and now faces a sharp loss in revenue due to a significant decrease in tourism. How can the territory avoid a fiscal shortfall that could force cuts to services and government layoffs in order to pay creditors first?
Mason: First, we must stop all non-critical expenditure of funds. No raises should be given until the pandemic has ended and the Territory has had the opportunity to reboot its economy. Second, we must identify and pursue all federal monies that can help us sustain critical public services like public safety, healthcare, and education. Next we need to support the private sector, particularly tourism based businesses during the pandemic and especially after the pandemic. This can best be done by fortifying the Department of Tourism’s efforts to attract new tourism markets as well as by strengthening existing relationships with the cruise and airline industries. And finally we need to broaden our tourism product. We can no longer depend solely on the “sun, fun and sand” tourism market to meet our economy’s financial needs. We must diversify and develop new tourism products that include ongoing series of specialty attractions, like Kentucky Derby level horse racing or international triathlons or educational conferences that will draw thousands of visitors specifically for those events. This will expand our tourism base beyond the traditional visitors we have had over the years.
How will you help make government more transparent?
Mason: Our government has a series of checks and balances already in place that are not followed. For instance, we have a Sunshine Law that spells out what the government should be doing as well as the procedures to be used and the conditions under which information shouldn’t be shared. A good example might be patient confidentiality. We need to follow the law. Additionally, we need to change our perspective of the media’s purpose. The media is not an adversary. The media’s role is to keep the population informed. As legislators, our job is to do the people’s business. If we are doing the people’s business then as Senators we should welcome and engage the media so that our constituents are fully informed about what we are accomplishing on their behalf. By embracing the media on a regular basis residents will be fully knowledgeable about: 1) the progress being made on an issue, 2) inherent challenges being experienced, 3) the expected timelines and 4) the potential cost.
The V.I. Legislature has on many occasions enacted unfunded mandates, from mandatory swimming classes or the unfunded Durant Tower project in Frederiksted, that never occur due to the lack of funding. Will you vote for mandates that government officials have testified require funding that is not provided in the legislation?
Mason: My background in Emergency Management causes me to be exceedingly realistic. It makes no sense to propose a project if no identifiable funding exists to support it; regardless of how well intended the project may appear. Now is the time when Virgin Islanders must become more grounded in what we can and cannot actually achieve with the financial resources we have, in the here and now. I will only propose projects where I can identify realistic, sustainable funding sources that are immediately available.
The territory has around 120 boards and commissions at present, most of which are unable to make quorums and many, like the Civil Rights Commission, the Maritime Academy Board, the Commission on Caribbean Cooperation and the V.I. Wage Board, have not operated in many years. Would you ever vote to create another board or commission and if so, under what circumstances?
Mason: The challenges we face with our boards and commissions is not the ability to find and recruit well qualified individuals to serve, but instead, on the overbearing scrutiny and unpleasant public examination that candidates are subjected to during the review process. We have a plethora of highly trained and experienced persons available to us. But over the years we have treated people so badly that they now choose not to participate in public service because they don’t want to undergo the harsh treatment. We need to give people a chance to prove themselves. If we provide such opportunities we would have no problem filling all of these boards and commissions.
What would you propose to address the collapse of GERS in light of the $3 billion-plus shortfall and projected exhaustion of all funds between 2020 and 2024
Mason: GERS is by far the greatest challenge facing the Territory. 8.700 annuitants depend on their retirement income to sustain their way of life. At this point, it will take extraordinary initiatives to save the system; if it can be saved. As a Senator I plan to explore all options available through the federal government. While we may not be able to restore GERS to its former financial stability, it may be possible to find federal funding sources to help GERS annuitants. I will be researching ways in which we can protect the quality of life of our GERS annuitants, such as financial support for housing, food, healthcare or transportation expenses. While these measures may not put “cash” into the hands of annuitants, it may sustain them by balancing the funds they are no longer receiving from GERS with benefits that they would have paid for out of their monthly annuity. As for future government retirees, I recommend the government move to a system, such as 401(k)’s where retirement accounts cannot be accessed to fund local government operations.
Where do you stand on medicinal marijuana and what is the Senate’s role in getting it on the market and generating tax revenue?
Mason: Any medicinal product has a purpose and a place. If appropriate oversight is formulated and adhered to, medicinal marijuana should posed no greater challenge to the public than any other pharmaceutical medication currently available in the Territory. I believe the Legislature’s role in making it available to the public and enabling it to generate revenues could be fashioned after the licensing, regulatory oversight and prescriptive processes already implemented with other medications.
What fuels violent crime in the territory and what should the government, nonprofit organizations and residents do to help alleviate it?
Mason: I am a firm believer that the root cause of crime results from individuals not being able to see a future for themselves. We can turn this scenario around by making sure that our youth have the proper guidance, training and discipline they need from a very young age. As adult role models it is incumbent upon us to provide youngsters with both the mindset and the skill sets to understand how to achieve goals and the patience to persevere. We must provide children with activities that are both challenging and meaningful so that they are inspired to become active participants in building their own futures. We must consistently help them create their own vision of their future. We must also acknowledge them, teach them and demonstrate approval or disapproval for correct or incorrect behavior all the way into their adulthood. We must help them understand there is a place for them in our Territory now and in the future.
Climate change is a growing threat to Virgin Islanders with a myriad of effects ranging from an increase in tropical storms to more severe health issues as a result of warming temperatures. What types of policies will you support to educate the community on the risks of climate change and to increase the territory’s preparation and mitigation efforts?
Mason: Climate change is an issue that will play a dominant role in the V.I.’s future. One change that I believe will be influenced by climate change is how we use our land and water resources throughout the Territory as the ocean water level rises. Our beaches and all structures adjacent to water must be carefully scrutinized as water levels rise. For instance, water level increases will influence usage at our docks, the St. Thomas waterfront, various low lying areas such as Frenchtown, our mangroves, all of our beaches and possibly the St. Thomas airport runway which in the 1990’s was extended into the open water. We may need to become very proactive with respect to conducting engineering and oceanographic studies to see how stable all of our structures are currently and what steps we may need to take to maintain and fortify these public structures. This, of course will also create a need to identify funding to take necessary steps to protect, repair and upgrade all of these structures.
Why do you want to be a Virgin Islands legislator and why should voters choose you over other candidates?
Mason: I already have a life-long track record of serving the people of the Virgin Islands. My passion is helping others. As a VITEMA trainer I’ve spent years teaching residents the skills they need to survive natural and manmade disasters. I’ve given thousands of hours of time and expertise as a volunteer with the St. Thomas Rescue during holidays, weekends, and in the middle of the night. I am there when people are in need. From a political standpoint I have seen and experienced many things in the V. I. that I believe can and should be done differently. Furthermore, I believe that by having the courage to make changes, we can do better. I say said “Enough Is Enough”. The time is right for someone to organize our citizens to make meaningful changes. I truly want to be that person. I want to make life better for every Virgin Islander.