Six St. John residents threw their hats in the ring last week, filing to become delegates to the upcoming Constitutional Convention, which will convene on July 23.
Four island residents — Paul Devine, Bruce Fielding, Elsie Thomas-Trotman and Alecia Wells — are in the running, along with 46 St. Thomas residents for a chance at district delegate seats.
At least two of the 13 district seats, for which only residents of the St. Thomas/St. John district can vote, must be held by Love City residents.
The two St. John candidates with the most votes then will automatically become district delegates, whether or not they finish among the top 13 candidates district-wide.
Former Senator at Large Craig Barshinger and V.I. Finance Department employee William Belardo, along with four St. Thomas residents, filed for a shot at the two district at large seats, which will be voted on territory-wide.
Constitutional Convention delegates will be decided in a special election on June 12. The convention will last for a year at most, at which point the document will go out for public vote.
If approved by popular vote, the document will be sent to the U.S. Senate and eventually the Presi-dent for a final okay. The document will replace the Revised Organic Act of 1954 if approved.
While the Love City candidates had different reasons to wade into the constitutional waters, each who were contacted felt compelled to take action. Thomas-Trotman and Wells could not be reached by press time.
No Political Motives
“Lots of things motivated me,” said Devine. “I got involved mostly because I kind of looked up the history of politics in the Virgin Islands and I didn’t like what I saw.”
“Also, the fact that there is no constitution except for the Organic Act and things I’ve read in the newspapers and seen over the years, prompted me to get involved,” Devine added.
Fielding decided to walk the walk instead of just talking the talk.
“One day I said, ‘hey, you are complaining and doing nothing about it,’ so I got involved,” said Fielding. “I’m not interested in getting involved in politics. I just think that this is supposed to be a representative democracy and I represent the working person.”
“They say they would like the delegates to represent a broad spectrum of our population and we really need working class people involved,” Fielding continued.
Barshinger also wanted to ensure all people in the territory were represented.
“I’m getting involved because I am concerned there will not be a good cross section of people in the Constitutional Convention,” said Barshinger. “The way the compensation is set up means that $50 a day will be paid to private industry persons whereas government workers will get their full salary.”
“This may result in a bias toward government workers and bias is not appropriate for writing a constitution,” Barshinger added.
The historical magnitude of the convention got Belardo to take action.
“I think it’s really important to have a constitution,” Belardo said. “The document will impact us as a people for generations to come.”
The document, which can address a wide range of issues from municipal governments to economic policy, should tackle government representation, according to Fielding.
Senate Seats, Recall Policy
“I would like to see the constitution address the number of senators,” Fielding said. “I would like to see districts with more direct representation so people are closer to the senators.”
Recalling elected officials should be easier, Fielding added.
“It is really important to me to make it easier to recall senators,” said Fielding. “Right now the way it is defined, it’s impossible to have a successful recall. Senators should have more accountability.”
Government should be empowering the people economically and capitalistically, explained Belar-do, the payroll director for the local government.
“I think when we went from our first set of leaders in the 1950s in municipal councils that we have set up a parasocialist system,” Belardo said. “Everyone depends on the state for employment, housing and social security benefits. We don’t understand the capitalistic ventures which are available.”
“We need to use the structure of government to empower us in economic ways — that is where the focus should be,” continued Belardo.
Getting Document Approved
The most important task will be actually getting the document approved, added Barshinger.
“First and foremost I’m concerned that we write a constitution and pass it and take that step toward maturity,” Barshinger said.
“At this point what I’m hearing is more local government such as island councils with elected mayors who can respond quickly and effectively when there is a problem in a community,” added Barshinger.
For more information regarding the Constitutional Convention, visit www.itsourfuture.vi, or contact Education Coordinator for the University of the Virgin Islands, Tregenza Roach at 693-1240.