With the political season in full swing, public officials bidding for re-election are busy canvassing and holding food sales across the territory.
Looking back on his first two years as Senator at Large, democrat Craig Barshinger said giving St. John residents their political voices back has been his greatest accomplishment in the V.I. Legislature.
“I think the biggest accomplishment is that I’ve brought a focus back to St. John for the Senator at Large,” Barshinger said. “Since I really live here and and sleep here every night, I’ve focused on St. John’s needs.”
With two years of experience to draw from, Barshinger feels he is qualified to hold the Senator at Large position for a second term.
Beyond Status Quo
“I think the job is exciting and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I had an aptitude for this work of representing people,” he said. “I found that I am very patient and at the same time I have a drive and a fire to get beyond the status quo when that’s not where we as a people want to be. People want a representative who listens and then acts.”
“It’s not about who you know and who you’re related to,” Barshinger continued. “It’s about making progress for the people I serve.”
The best part of his job is giving people hope, Barshinger explained.
“I like seeing the hope come into people’s eyes when they have a problem and they realize that there is a solution and that they themselves can be a part of that solution,” he said. “I love to see hope and enthusiasm in people’s eyes.”
Public service is all about empowering the people, the senator added.
Ensure Quality of Life
“My main goal is to have St. John residents continue to realize what a blessed community we have,” he said. “And that we keep working together to ensure that St. John is the livable, beautiful place it always has been.”
“St. John residents from all walks of life need to continue to find their political voice, and I, as the Senator at Large, will pave the way for people to have that voice and influence over their own futures,” Barshinger continued.
As he makes his first re-election bid, Barshinger is dedicated to fostering a change in the nature of politics in the Virgin Islands, according to the Senator at Large.
“I think a major accomplishment for St. John has been the dozen town meetings we held over the past two years,” he said. “I think St. John residents are particularly interested in having their political voices be heard. We are moving away from the era of top down patriarchal rule to an era of participative democracy, and town meetings are an ideal way of encouraging this.”
The Senator at Large’s town meetings covered topics from water transportation to tire disposal.
“When tires were piling up in Cruz Bay and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources was telling the gas stations they could not hold those tires and the Waste Management Authority was telling them they could not get rid of them, a town meeting was able to focus attention and get action on the issue,” said Barshinger.
A similar outcry arose when the V.I. Port Authority tried to implement a new $4 each way barge fee and after a town meeting, VIPA representatives agreed to lower the fee to $1.50, Barshinger explained.
“That was a major accomplishment in that it came about because of St. John residents’ willingness to let their voices be heard,” he said.
The Senator at Large’s tenure has seen its share of trying times, as all of St. John did last summer with the report of an alleged hate crime.
Keeping Love City
“We had a Unity Rally when we heard reports of hate crimes in July 2005,” he said. “We brought together the community with clergymen and the U.S. Attorney Anthony Jenkins. We had a unity rally and march through town on August 5, 2005 to proclaim our commitment to keeping Love City, Love City.”
The alleged hate crime reports sparked a swelling of unrest across St. John and the Virgin Islands, but the hardest part was not knowing what actually occurred, according to Barshinger.
“I think that some people don’t realize how difficult that time was,” he said. “It was very hard for people to deal with the not knowing. We heard these terrible things were happening and the not knowing was a tremendous burden for the people of St. John, because not knowing we were unable to judge where the community was headed.”
“My approach was to affirm the things we all agreed on,which was that we value racial unity and support for all our brothers and sisters,” Barshinger continued. “And that we want to keep St. John Love City.”
Universal Health Care
The senator introduced and supported a number of bills throughout his two-year term including legislation dealing with sexual harassment and health care.
“We passed the sexual harassment law that protects men and women from sexual harassment,” he said. “In the legislature I will be continuing to push for universal health insurance for all employed persons in the Virgin Islands, and ultimately insurance for all persons because every Virgin Islander deserves the security and dignity that comes from having a health insurance card.”
Barshinger has also been hard at work on his five point parking plan which is: removing derelict vehicles from Cruz Bay; establishing a parking spot verification committee; constructing a multi-level parking facility near the Inspection Lane; creating a free Cruz Bay shuttle; and enjoying Cruz Bay again.
“The most important thing is we will be accomplishing steps three and four and nearing the completion of the five point parking plan by building a multi-level parking structure,” he said.
The senator has also been working to reduce electricity costs.
Lowering Power Bills
“We are going to bring electrical costs down by building a petcoke-burning plant which uses a by-product of oil refining that burns like coal but is much less expensive than oil and coal,” he said. “It takes about two years to do something like this, but I’ve got the legislation in place and it is the only immediately available method for knocking down costs from 20 to 25 cents per kilowatt hour to 10 to 12 cents per kilowatt hour.”
Lowering energy costs will affect all Virgin Islanders, Barshinger added.
“This is the single most impactful thing that I can bring in the 27th Legislature because it will affect every man, woman and child and will make our territory more attractive to business investors because power will be cheaper and more reliable,” he said.
Civil Review Board for VIPD
A civilian review board is needed in order to bring more accountability to the V.I. Police Department, according to Barshinger.
“The governor has vetoed this but I will be supporting the civilian review board,” he said. “It gives the public some direct access to the handling of complaints in the police force. It empowers the public to have more of a hand in the way the police force polices itself.”
“It comes as no surprise that there are a few bad cops in the police force and these few bad cops destroy the trust of the police both within and without the force,” Barshinger continued. “This must change and the civilian review board will help.”
Changing Education from the Top
While Barshinger is in favor of relocating the Julius E. Sprauve School, as far as problems within the V.I. Department of Education, changes need to come from the executive branch, he explained.
“I am urging my fellow Virgin Islanders to vote for John deJongh because the fixing of education is an executive branch function where our chief executive must have the will to hire a commissioner who will get the job done and be accountable for the results he or she obtains,” said Barshinger. “We will support the executive branch in any way that they request in order to give us the high quality education our students deserve.”
The senator is establishing island-specific committees to address skyrocketing property taxes, he said.
“I am anticipating that Delegate (to Congress Donna) Christensen will be successful in the repeal of the offending 1936 tax law that prevents us from setting our own fair property tax system,” he said. “I am putting together committees on all three islands to advise the legislature on how to come up with the ‘perfect’ tax system that will keep people in their homes even in the face of rampant development.”
If Christensen is not successful, Barshinger has a back-up plan.
“If for some reason the 1936 law does not get repealed, my legislation to abolish the land tax and tax improvements instead will save the day,” he said. “It is a misconception that there is nothing we can do locally to save our people from being taxed out of their homes.”
“Even today we can abolish the land tax all together and substitute an improvement tax which would be inherently fair and would not cause anyone to have to leave their home because someone built a huge, expensive mansion right next door to them,” the senator continued.
Bringing Home the Bacon
Barshinger has made a difference where it counts — the bottom line.
“I fought hard for St. John and made sure we got money that we needed for projects,” he said. “We appropriated $110,000 to purchase a mobile concert stage for St. John to be used for carnival and other outdoor performances. We got more than $1 million for roads and guard rails.”
“These are just some of the many things that I, as the Senator at Large, was able to fight for, for St. John and bring home their bacon,” Barshinger added.