It is Necessary to Educate the Public on Adopting a V.I. Constitution

Gwen-Marie PhD, president of League of Women Voters VI Inc.

The League of Women Voters of the USVI (LWV VI, Inc) noted with interest your Source article dated May 21, 2020 that included the comments of Ms. Mary Moorhead, a former VI constitutional convention delegate, regarding Senator Myron Jackson’s Bill #33-0292 that calls for a Referendum Question to be placed on the ballot in November’s General Election.  As was noted, the referendum question asks voters to choose whether or not a constitutional convention should be called to adopt the Revised Organic Act of 1954 (ROA) as the constitution of the USVI.

Like Ms. Moorhead, LWV VI Inc. reasoned that since the ROA was already approved by Congress, there should be little, if any, reason for its disapproval. Since Congress requires that a constitution be vetted and approved by the people, a constitutional convention is proposed by the bill.

That Bill #33-0292 has been approved by the Legislature and signed by the Governor without broad public input, does not in any way negate opportunity for broad public discussion of the referendum question before the vote in November. This was a concern for the former delegate.  Rather, the 13 senators who voted in support of the Bill joined Senator Jackson in strongly impressing on the LWV VI the importance of public engagement, discussion and education.  Creating a public education plan to do so is a formidable assignment, but LWV VI is committed to working toward the fulfillment of this responsibility.

As a former delegate, Ms. Moorhead was rightfully concerned about success of a 6th convention, given the failures of the previous five.  LWV VI believes that to succeed this time around we must learn lessons from the past failures, no matter how painful. Reviewing reasons for those failures, LWV VI identified (as have others) the following:

  1. Some versions demonstrated insufficient acknowledgment of U.S. sovereignty.
  2. Provisions in some versions conflicted with federal laws or the U.S. constitution.
  3. There was an unwillingness of some delegates to accept that certain elements proposed would not gain congressional approval.
  4. Some versions conflated issues of political status with the constitution, failing to differentiate between the constitution as an organizing document for government versus political status which describes our relationship with the federal government. This was of concern to some voters.
  5. There was insufficient voter turnout or insufficient votes in favor of the proposed constitution.

The League invites all interested in working toward this goal to join in the public education program.  We ask all others to keep an open mind and learn why many in the community already believe this is the most expedient first step to finally claim a constitution for our Territory.

We are disappointed that we were not invited to provide a comment regarding Ms. Moorhead’s comments in your otherwise interesting article, but we take this as an opportunity to do so and ask that our comments be shared with the community.

Thank you.

Gwen-Marie Moolenaar, PhD, President, LWV VI Inc.