The Contemporary Pacific 18.1 (2006) 104-110
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Kelly G Marsh
The many issues and events to discuss for the year under review include privatization, the provision of health care, and budgeting the island's federally provided compact impact funds. Perhaps the most important undercurrent was preparations for the 2006 senatorial and gubernatorial campaigns.
Guam's public auditor and congressional delegate both ran uncontested and were easily reelected in 2004. Voters also chose to retain two Superior Court judges, Alberto Lamorena III and Steven S Unpingco, for another seven years. Republicans preserved their senatorial majority in the Guam Legislature, winning 9 of 15 seats. Returning Senator Joanne Brown was the fifteenth highest vote getter, retaining her seat after a recount determined her two-vote lead over the next candidate. The election results surprised some, as former Speaker of the Legislature Vicente "Ben" Pangelinan was denied his seventh consecutive term and ousted from the legislature completely. Republicans Mark Forbes and Joanne Brown were selected as Speaker and vice speaker respectively.
The community focused intently on two issues this year. The first was Proposition A, an initiative allowing controlled casino gambling. Much time, energy, and money were allocated to promoting the pros and consof the proposition. Billboards appeared. Commercials ran. Editorials emerged. Groups sponsored forums. Web sites thrived. Pamphlets were mailed (though challenged legally as incomplete). People debated. In the end, by a vote of 17,078 votes to 10,724, voters in the October 2004 elections soundly defeated another in a long line of proposals to allow gaming on island.
The other contentious issue of theyear concerned the health of the island's only civilian hospital, the Guam Memorial Hospital. Three physicians ran in the 2004 senatorial elections, illustrating how central and problematic the hospital issue had become. By early 2005, the island wassplit into two main camps. One faction held that the hospital administrators were competent but constrained by civil service and procurement laws as well as insufficient funding by the legislature. Advocates of this view saw themselves as victims of a witch hunt. The other camp believed that both administration and hospital managerial processes were grossly inept if not corrupt. The latter view prevailed, after months of investigation, public speculation, medical professional opinion, oversight hearings, as well as reports by the Guam Civil Service Commission and the [End Page 104] public auditor. They found an environment of intimidation, improper expenditures, illegal contracts, contracts without proper signatures, and more. By the summer of 2005, the hospital's chief pharmacist had resigned and its administrator and medical director were removed.
Mental health services were embroiled in an ongoing lawsuit filed against the Government of Guam (GovGuam) on behalf of several mentally disabled patients. The federal court found that GovGuam agencies had been violating patients' civil rights by not providing appropriate treatment. However, minimal progress was made in developing an appropriate system of care, despite a June 2004 court-issued permanent injunction requiring GovGuam to rectify this situation. By spring 2005, island government agencies were requesting a subsidy of $3 million in order to comply with the court order.
On a more positive note, Guam Memorial Hospital opened a cardio-catheter lab, an operating room suite used for open-heart surgery. This was a first for Guam, representing a major advance in the island's health care services. Prior to this, such procedures had to be administered off-island, typically in California or Hawai'i, incurring overwhelming debt for patients and their families.
Many remain skeptical despite some apparent improvements in Guam's economy, including a predicted doubling of US military spending, increased numbers of tourists, higher incomes, and rising rates of employment (PDN, 27 May 2005). The assessment of the state of Guam's economy is necessarily complex. What some may represent as positive gains are considered by others as controversial, more modest, or even negative. Some do not want an increased US military presence on Guam. Employment is still down from last year (PDN, 6 May 2005). Tourist spending has "dropped dramatically" in the last fourteen years (PDN, 13 June 2005). Incomes are up just "slightly...