Things look bleak for a draft V.I. constitution this year, with a seemingly deadlocked convention after a contentious meeting Saturday, but Senate President Ronald Russell holds out hope for a last-second game-changing goal by Wednesday's deadline.
Fifth V.I. Constitutional Convention President Gerard "Luz" James II said Monday he has no hope for the process, because there is too little time, too much acrimony, too many crossed wires and confusion and too few resources.
"I did the best I could with what I had," James said in a phone call with the Source Monday.
The Fifth V.I. Constitutional Convention completed the draft constitution in 2009. President Barack Obama forwarded it to Congress, along with a Department of Justice analysis raising questions about maritime boundaries, tax breaks aimed at native Virgin Islanders and other provisions.
Since then, the matter stood still, which James attributed to a lack of funding for travel and meetings. "I spent over $19,000 of my own money" to fly a handful of delegates to congressional hearings in Washington, D.C., in 2010, James said. He could not afford to pay for everyone's travel and no one else was offering, he said.
Russell's constitutional revision legislation, signed into law in September, reconvened the elected convention and gave it a panel of five attorneys, who drafted proposed changes to make the document legally sufficient. It set a final deadline of Oct. 31.
Although Russell's legislation called for the Legislature to provide its resources to the convention, there was little in the way of support in the short time since the passage of the legislation and Saturday's meeting, James said. For example, he said Saturday's meeting could not be held in the Legislature and they got access to the GERS rooms and equipment at the last minute, he said. The Legislature does not have teleconferencing and the delegates are split between islands, with no arrangements for traveling back and forth.
There was a sincere effort Saturday, but between very unreliable communications and 26 cantankerous delegates, each with a different view, progress was difficult, he said.
"I have to give credit to (convention delegates) Gerard Emanuel, Ann Golden and Doug Brady," James said. "Gerard, he really and truly tried. He walked up and down, talking with everyone. He tried to talk to (delegate Adelbert) Bryan to get him to calm down. When you have 30 different minds with 30 different ideas, it is not easy," he said.
In the end, every vote ended up deadlocked at 13 to 13, and he saw no likelihood of that changing, James said. "There is nothing that I see that can be done," he said.
James placed some blame on Russell's legislation, saying it was designed to fail, with too little time and an empty promise of help. "Russell created the debacle by bringing that bill, because he wanted to take control of the constitution," James said.
Sen. Craig Barshinger, who is a delegate to the convention, said Monday he thought agreement was possible with another meeting. "I will assure you a majority of the delegates wanted to respond to the concerns that President Obama and Congress raised," Barshinger said. But a chaotic meeting, poor, intermittent communications and a vaguely worded motion to accept the concerns of Congress all worked to prevent movement, he said, placing blame at James' feet.
Barshinger said he tried to arrange a followup meeting at the St. Thomas Legislature complex Monday and had made tentative travel arrangements through the Legislature. But Barshinger said he could not get through to James by phone or text, so nothing happened.
Jame said he did not respond to Barshinger's texts and messages because he saw no point or prospect of success. "Why try now to squeeze it into one day when I know it would be impossible?" he said.
Russell, for his part, said Monday he still held out some small hope the convention could produce something by the deadline.
"I don't think it is dead," Russell said late Monday afternoon. "I would recommend they replace their leadership through a petition and request they meet at the Legislature Wednesday on St. Croix."
"All they would have to do is adopt what the legal team proposed, and they have two days," he said. If not, the Legislature would "be responsible to determine how to proceed, but we will be guided by the people," he said. The Legislature could either establish a 6th V.I. Constitutional Convention, or go a different route altogether and perhaps appoint a constitutional writing body directly, or potentially it "could make the changes" itself, he said.