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The Contemporary Pacific 13.1 (2001) 203-211

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Micronesia in Review: Issues and Events, 1 July 1999 to 30 June 2000

No loss of life or serious damage resulted from two earthquakes in early 2000, but the fractures caused by the island's political quakes are all too evident. After nearly fourteen months of tension, the US Supreme Court swept away the uncertainty regarding the reelection of Governor Carl T C Gutierrez and Lieutenant Governor Madeleine Z Bordallo, which was disputed by former governor Joseph Ada and his running mate, former senator Felix Camacho. The Ada-Camacho team claimed that the winning margin in the 1998 election was not "a majority of the votes cast in any election" as required by the Organic Act of Guam, because blank ballots and improperly marked ballots should have been included in determining a majority. This was the narrow opinion of both the US District Court of Guam as well as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Gutierrez-Bordallo successfully appealed to the US Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously in their favor in January 2000. The court stated that "any election" must mean, in the context of the entire section of the relevant portion of the Organic Act, an election for governor and lieutenant governor only, rather than the "general election." Therefore, blank ballots and ballots on which candidates cast votes for both gubernatorial teams were not to be included in determining a majority. The court drew a clear distinction between the total number of persons who actually voted for governor and lieutenant governor and the total number who went to the polls. Obviously, Gutierrez-Bordallo [End Page 203] had won the election and a run-off contest was not required.

This political fracture was not completely closed, since a second suit filed by Ada-Camacho had only recently been settled by the Guam Supreme Court. Among other things the suit alleged that the 1998 gubernatorial election was rife with voter fraud. However, Superior Court Judge Manibusan ruled that there was little evidence of fraud. Guam's Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the Manibusan ruling in July 2000.

Another set of rumblings evolved between the Guam Legislature and Governor Gutierrez over the government's budget. The fifteen-member legislature, dominated by twelve Republican party senators, insisted on very tight spending, whereas the executive complained throughout the period under review that government services to the people were suffering because of insufficient legislative appropriations. This debate came to a head in September 1999 with a near shutdown of government services. Continued debates throughout the first half of 2000 centered on the filling of vacancies for nurses at the Guam Memorial Hospital. This financial tug-of-war between the legislature and the governor involved a fair amount of finger-pointing and lack of trust.

The Guam Legislature responded to a shortfall in operational revenues by passing legislation establishing early retirement incentives for government employees. Senator Mark Forbes' initiative had to go through several revisions to eliminate problems with the language. Initially, the Retirement Board opposed the bill and even filed suit over some confusing provisions. In late January, Governor Gutierrez expressed skepticism about the arrangement that had been implemented, stating he had to borrow some $30 million to meet the mandates of the law (PDN, 28 Jan 2000, 7). In June, he labeled the arrangement "Forbes' folly."

The Guam Legislature also froze executive branch hiring to contain costs. Personnel costs declined with the departure of a fair number of government employees, but so did employee levels. Throughout the year under review, Governor Gutierrez attempted to persuade the legislature to lift its freeze. In response, the lawmakers maintained that their law granted the governor authority to hire in essential areas such as nursing, teaching, and police work. This contest was finally resolved in a most unlikely way when both the governor and the lieutenant governor were off island. Speaker and Acting Governor Tony Unpingco issued an executive order authorizing the hiring of nurses and teachers (PDN, 26 May 2000, 54). Although this was a popular decision, the attorney general claimed that Unpingco's order violated...