In this series, the Source introduces the community to the platforms of senatorial and gubernatorial candidates and gauges their approaches to issues in the territory. The Source sent each candidate the same questions and is running the answers in the order in which the candidates responded. We aim to publish all the candidate’s answers prior to the Nov. 8 General Election, contingent upon the candidates providing their responses in time. Any candidate with questions or in need of a link to the questionnaire can email us at email@example.com.
This story covers the views and planned initiatives of Sen. Kurt Vialet and Sen. Janelle Sarauw, who are running for Governor and Lieutenant Governor:
Q: Why do you want to be a Virgin Islands leader, and why should voters choose you over other candidates? What are your top priorities for the territory and why?
We are seeking to continue our political leadership in the Virgin Islands because we have always believed in the people of this Territory. Our community is filled with hardworking people of faith and endless potential. Voters should vote #4 on their ballot because no other team has a stronger work ethic. We are the most prepared for ethical, bold leadership on Day One. As educators and Senators, we have devoted our lives’ work to creating a better, more progressive, and more accountable Virgin Islands. Most importantly, we have a proven track record of both success and integrity in our service to this community. Our top priorities for the Territory are Healthcare, WAPA, Education, Disaster Recovery, lighted and striped roads, and well-maintained parks. After listening to countless residents, these are the areas where the community wants to see immediate action.
Q: What fuels violent crime in the territory, and what should the government, nonprofit organizations and residents do to help alleviate it?
At its core, violent crime is a result of the lack of access to quality education, mental health and substance abuse treatment, stable housing, and quality jobs. When people do not have the ability to meet their basic needs, they might be tempted to turn to crime. The government has the obligation to create and sustain the social support infrastructure that meets the needs of the community to prevent crime and violence at its roots. The Vialet-Sarauw Administration will correct our failing education system to give students real opportunities for higher education and gainful employment. We will increase access to mental health, counseling, and substances abuse treatment services in schools and the community. We will increase youth intervention programs and revamp youth services at the Youth Rehabilitation Center. We will work to bring affordable private mortgage and homeowner’s insurance to the Territory as well as increase available housing stock to make homeownership a reality. As Senators, we passed Ban the Box legislation which allows convicted persons the ability to get a fresh start. We will implement that legislation to increase job opportunities for people who have paid their debt to society. This initiative will boost rehabilitation and reduce recidivism. From day one, our Administration will work to break the school to prison pipeline.
Nonprofits can support the community by offering mentoring and intervention services for youth offenders. They are also vital in combating poverty. Our Administration will increase support to nonprofits who provide services for victims of domestic violence, help reduce the effects of poverty, and provide community dispute resolution.
Residents can use their influence to empower their families and friends and hold them accountable for acts of violence. Many times, violence is a result of a situation that has been getting worse over time. Early intervention and resolving disputes in a peaceful way can prevent many disagreements from becoming violent. To assist in this effort, our Administration will hire more counselors and mental health professionals in schools and put our mental health service vans back into the community.
Q: How would you improve the territory’s electrical grid and implementation of renewable energy?
While the Territory’s electrical grid does need hardening, residents are suffering because of the high cost of their WAPA bills and frequent power outages. The Vialet-Sarauw Administration will hold WAPA officials accountable for the waste and mismanagement of federal and local funds. Our Administration will staff the Grants Division in the Office of Management and Budget to go after competitive bid opportunities in the $1.9 trillion Federal Infrastructure Bill. We will expedite the installation of the generators which have already been delivered to WAPA facilities. WAPA has repeatedly reported that the outages are a result of “minor mechanical issues”. We will increase oversight on proactive maintenance and inspections to prevent unnecessary outages. While WAPA has already started the process of converting St. Croix to solar energy, that process will take years. Our Administration will work to refinance the Vitol agreement to reduce the base rate of utility services in the short term as well as oversee the implementation of long-term energy solutions.
Q: How can the territory improve upon its tourism product to better compete within the Caribbean region and beyond?
- How would you improve the USVI’s taxi product? Do you think a service such as Uber could work here?
The Vialet-Sarauw Administration will continue to diversify and improve our Territory’s tourism industry by building on our successes with the UberSoca Cruise partnership and the creation of the Division of Festivals. Senators Sarauw and Vialet authored the legislation which created this boost to our tourism industry. We will increase festivals that highlight the culture, art, food, and talents of Virgin Islanders. We will nominate members to the Cultural Heritage Institute which supports the Division of Festivals. We will continue to support the rebuilding of our world class hotels through the Hotel Redevelopment Act. On St. Croix, we will rebuild the Fredriksted Fish Market and revitalize Fredriksted and the West End of the island. We will complete the dredging of the Charlotte Amalie Harbor and Schooner Bay and will promote more historic and eco-tourism throughout the Territory.
Our taxi drivers are a vital part of our tourism industry. They are the first ambassadors to our guests in the Territory. Each taxi driver is a business owner which supports our community. As such, we must protect the taxi industry. The Vialet-Sarauw Administration will support our taxi drivers by addressing the operational issues in the Taxicab Commission and supporting technology upgrades which will allow taxis to accept cashless payments.
Services such as Uber would damage the taxi industry which has allowed so many drivers to provide for their families. Issues with ride share companies such as regulation, reliability, consumer safety, and insurance would make it challenging to bring these companies to the Territory. The current state of the GIS system is an additional challenge that would make ride share companies incompatible with our tourism culture. Bottom line, we will continue to support and protect our taxi industry.
Q: What are your plans to promote agriculture in the territory? The Vision 2040 exercise identified agriculture and better food security as the top concern of its survey respondents. How can the USVI achieve this goal?
The Vialet-Sarauw Administration’s will perform a comprehensive audit of the Department of Agriculture. Farmers do not have leases for their land, records are not consistent, and there is no accountability for the lack of support for our farmers and fishermen. We will ensure the complete distribution of payments owed to fishermen and farmers from Disaster Relief funds and under the American Rescue Plan Act. We will increase public private partnerships that allow the agricultural community and agricultural nonprofits to be instrumental in policy creation. We will complete and implement the Agricultural Plan incorporating farmers and other agricultural experts in the process. We will support local farms to help scale their production by providing training and access to farming technology through the UVI RT Park. We will increase the use of locally grown food products in our schools and support Farm to Table programs for the public. To take advantage of the multitude of federal grants available to assist the agricultural community, our administration will prioritize putting the Grants Division of OMB to work.
Q: How should the territory balance development with environmental protection, especially given concerns around climate change?
– What do you envision as the future of the St. Croix refinery?
– Do you support an additional cruise ship dock in St. Thomas Harbor? Why or why not?
The Vialet-Sarauw Administration will prioritize a balance of responsible development and environmental protection to preserve our islands for future generations. Our current housing crisis demands that we continue to develop the island to provide much needed housing for our residents. Our Administration will refocus our contract bidding process to include the use of more green construction practices. Contractors will focus on reducing waste going into our landfills during the demolition process, using alternative energy sources during the construction process, and utilizing sustainably sourced building materials. Our Administration will also partner with UVI CELL to utilize their research on the construction needs of the Territory.
In light of the recent EPA findings and the refinery’s environmental, health, and operational issues, it is time to reimagine the St. Croix refinery. The Vialet-Sarauw Administration will explore repurposing the refinery into a green energy site. We will strategically develop a light industrial and manufacturing zone which will bring prosperity back to St. Croix with a much smaller environmental impact.
The Vialet-Sarauw Administration does not support an additional cruise ship dock in St. Thomas Harbor. St. Thomas is renowned throughout the world for the beauty of our harbor. Not only will a new dock destroy the aesthetic beauty of the harbor, it would mostly likely only be used during our high season. Our Administration will instead focus on completing the dredging of the St. Thomas Harbor to increase ship traffic and the safety of cruise ships entering St. Thomas.
Q: What is your position on Caneel Bay on St. John? Should it be redeveloped? Left in its natural state? A mix of the two?
The Vialet-Sarauw Administration recognizes and has reverence for the history of Caneel Bay. The site has gone from being land which was owned by our indigenous ancestors, to becoming a plantation, and then being developed into a famous hotel and resort. Caneel Bay is an important part of St. Johnian heritage. We support the redevelopment of the site by good corporate citizens. When the site is redeveloped, it should be done in a way to respect the site’s natural beauty and history.
Q: What will you do to support the territory’s marginalized and struggling communities?
– What would you propose to better support people dealing with mental illness, alcoholism, addiction, and homelessness?
– How will you support immigrant communities?
The Vialet-Sarauw Administration will continue our work supporting the Territory’s marginalized and struggling communities. Senator Sarauw authored the Women, Children and Families Act which supports families in healthcare, guarantees parents time off work to participate in their children’s schooling, and extends healthcare for incarcerated men and women. Sarauw also authored Act 8063 which extended prescription cost assistance to low-income residents and expanded the UVI CELL program to include training for appraisers and surveyors. Our Administration will continue supporting economically disadvantaged residents by increasing access to vocational skills programs, expanding our support of nonprofit organizations who serve marginalized communities, and fully implementing laws which end the cycle of poverty for our residents.
As a community, we must normalize the conversation surrounding mental health to increase the number of people who utilize existing mental health resources. The Vialet-Sarauw Administration will establish more mental health treatment facilities. We will create public private partnerships to create more adult day centers for our seniors and those living with disabilities. We will increase support for nonprofits that provide needed services and shelter for our homeless population and persons who are released from prison looking for a fresh start. We will also expand our support of nonprofits to create more halfway homes to support those in recovery from drugs and alcohol. As Senators, we appropriated $9 million for mental health services vans. These vans are not currently in use, but our Administration will get them back into the community providing much needed services. As our hospitals are rebuilt, we will also create functional in-patient mental health wards.
The Virgin Islands is a melting pot of immigrants from all over the Caribbean and the world. To support these communities, the Vialet-Sarauw Administration will staff more bilingual professionals in government offices and offer all government correspondence in Creole, Spanish and English. We will increase the availability of English as a Second Language classes in our schools and for adult learners. We will also work with local health clinics to expand much needed dental and podiatrist services for our immigrant communities.
Q: What can the government do to better assist and support seniors, as well as family members needing respite from caregiving?
To support and assist seniors and their caregivers, the Vialet-Sarauw Administration will increase vocational training and certification programs for Certified Nursing Assistants and Licensed Practical Nurses. We will rebuild skilled nursing facilities and get those facilities CMS certified so they can accept Medicaid benefits. We will develop more adult day centers through private public partnerships and expand EDA benefits to providers of senior services.
Q: What plans do you have to redevelop a framework for success for young people in the in the territory? This could include intervention services, education reform, and recreational facilities, among others.
– What plans do you have to help our LGBTGIA+ youth?
– Why should millennials vote for you?
The Vialet-Sarauw Administration has already begun laying the foundation for redeveloping the framework for success for our young people. We authored legislation to increase vocational and technical training programs. We will fully implement that legislation as our top priority. We will address learning loss by implementing the comprehensive assessment of students with entrance and exit exams. We will revamp the common core curriculum and place more emphasis on emotional and social learning programs and the Arts. We will ensure our parks are well maintained and we will reopen every community center and public library so that our youth can play and develop their imagination and interpersonal skills. We will better support our teachers to prevent burnout and ensure the complete distribution of funds the current administration has promised them. We will also revamp the Department of Education’s fiscal office to ensure that our federal grant dollars are being spent timely.
The Vialet-Sarauw Administration is dedicated to ensuring that all Virgin Islanders are valued and are protected under the law. Senator Sarauw has bravely shown all of us that it is possible to be committed to your faith and successful in public service while living openly and authentically. Sarauw authored the Equality Act which will ban discrimination against the LGTBQ community in our schools, public accommodations, and workplaces. Our Administration will also work to increase the Consolidated Grant Award which provides support services for the LGBTQ community.
The Vialet Sarauw team is the most progressive on the ballot. Senator Sarauw is a millennial and has experienced many of the struggles millennial residents face. Senator Vialet has spent decades instructing and mentoring the millennial generation and has two millennial daughters. We have spent our time as senators actively addressing issues that impact young people. We have passed the First Time Homebuyers Act to help make homeownership a reality and we have increased educational and technical training opportunities. Our Administration will continue building on these successes by addressing our energy crisis which will allow us to diversify our economy with a stronger tech industry. Beyond focusing on millennials, we will also identify and address the needs of Gen Z residents to get them ready for success in college and entry into the job market.
Q: What plans do you have to reestablish the libraries in the territory?
The Vialet-Sarauw Administration will use FEMA funds that have already been awarded to the Territory to repair and reopen the libraries. Libraries are eligible for many federal grants, but the Territory is not capturing and using the funds available. We will staff the Grants Division in the Office of Management and Budget with funding that has already been appropriated, but unused.
Q: How can we provide access to affordable healthcare for individuals and small businesses?
The Vialet-Sarauw Administration will first address the responsible spending of American Rescue Plan Act funds. The Virgin Islands is facing a Medical Assistance Program crisis which will drastically reduce Medicaid reimbursements for care at our health facilities. We will address this issue and uncompensated care by working with Congress to create a permanent solution for the Medical Assistance Program. Our Administration will strengthen an integrated healthcare system with both hospital-based and private providers to maximize the use of our resources. Our Administration will oversee the creation of fast-track emergency rooms and standalone emergency facilities in strategic locations on each island. We will prioritize the reopening of the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute on St. Thomas so our residents do not have to spend thousands of dollars to travel out of the Territory for cancer treatment. We will also extend EDA benefits to health insurance companies that will provide affordable health insurance for individuals and small businesses.
Q: What possibilities are available for the professional or educational development of individuals within the territory so that we can continue to retain and attract a qualified workforce?
The Vialet-Sarauw Administration will first address quality of life issues to retain and attract a qualified workforce. Professionals demand quality schools for their children, a quality, full-service healthcare system, and reliable utilities. We will strengthen our vocational training programs, establish magnet programs at our schools, and reestablish our school athletic programs so that our students can qualify for both academic and athletic scholarships. Our Administration will create on the job training programs that will help fill much needed skilled positions in our government. We will also continue to support the expansion of the UVI CELL program.