A quick swearing-in ceremony at Emancipation Garden was followed Monday by the official organization of the 33rd Legislature and the passing of the gavel from former Senator Myron Jackson to new Senate President Kenneth Gittens, who said that both sides of the aisle would work together regardless of differences in opinion.
Monday’s swearing in was punctuated by the same sentiments of unity, and, for many speakers and performers, hope for a brighter future. Even composer Gylchris Sprauve, who performed his original piece “Valiant Virgin Isles,” told the audience that he had brought over a contingent of singers from St. Croix in order to “model together the change we are hoping to see” between the two districts.
The message echoed those of Gov. Albert Bryan, Jr. and Lt. Gov. Tregenza Roach, who at last week’s inauguration spoke of strengthening the bond between St. Thomas-St. John and St. Croix, instead of furthering the division previously built by political interests.
Further aligning themselves with the new administration’s goals, the Senate’s new majority caucus has set a theme for the next to years of “restoring unity through vision and purpose,” with a focus on improving the quality of life for all resident through transparency, accountability and efficiency.
After the swearing in, senators and supporters moved to the Earl B. Ottley Legislative Hall and, taking the gavel Monday after the official organization of the Legislature was complete, Gittens added the word “respect” when referring to both majority and minority and describing how he anticipates the two sides working together.
“I will not promise you that we won’t have differences, but we will do our best to settle those differences behind closed doors and when we come to the forefront, we will represent you to the best of our ability and with much respect for each other,” he said to the audience watching the new Senate’s first session.
The day was an emotional one for Gittens, who spoke about the loss of his mother eight days before his first swearing in ceremony years ago. Gittens was moved by a photo placed on the desk of newly sworn in Sen. Allison DeGazon, who also recently lost her mother, and kept the photo in front of her throughout the day. A moment of silence followed in honor of several other Virgin Islanders – including media icon Irvin “Brownie” Browne – who died Dec. 28.
Personal reflections were also shared by the other senators, who, after being given three minutes of “personal privilege,” recognized friends and family members, and thanked campaign workers for supporting them throughout the election season. Some also shared their hopes for the next two years and their overall goal of restoring the public’s trust in the first branch of government.
The Senate also settled some business, approving a bill organizing the majority caucus, naming officers, committees and chairs, along with an extension of the State of the Territory Address to Jan. 28.
According to the bill, the majority caucus includes Gittens, Sen. Alicia Barnes, Sen. Oakland Benta, Sen. Marvin Blyden, DeGazon, Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory, Sen. Stedmann Hodge, Jr., Jackson, Sen. Jevan James, St. John Senator-At-Large Steven Payne, Sr. and Sen. Athneil “Bobby” Thomas.
All voted to approve the bill at roll call, along with Sen. Dwayne DeGraff. Sens. Janelle Sarauw and Kurt Vialet were opposed, while Sen. Novelle Francis abstained.
Frett-Gregory will also serve as the Legislature’s vice president, Barnes as secretary, DeGazon as liaison to Congress, Benta as liaison to the U.S. Interior Department and Hodge as liaison to the White House.
Committees (and their chairs) are:
– Rules and Judiciary (Barnes)
– Finance (Frett-Gregory)
– Health, Hospitals and Human Services (Benta)
– Education and Workforce Development (Hodge)
– Youth, Sports, Parks and Recreation (James)
– Economic Development and Agriculture (DeGazon)
– Government Operations, Consumer and Veterans Affairs (Thomas)
– Housing, Transportation, Infrastructure and Telecommunications (Blyden)
– Culture and Planning (Jackson)
– Committee of the Whole (made up of the full Senate)