March 19, 2003 – Delegate Donna M. Christensen has joined Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and a number of V.I. senators in calling for the Virgin Islands to develop its own constitution.
The comment was prompted, Christensen said in a release issued Thursday, by an editorial in The Avis last weekend calling for St. Croix to secede from the Virgin Islands and become a separate territory. The editorial called on Christensen to ask Congress to change the federal 1954 Revised Organic Act, which governs the territory in the absence of a constitution, to allow St. Croix to secede.
Christensen said the newspaper's further call on Crucians to sign a petition in support of secession reflects "the growing disenchantment of St. Croix residents with the state of the economy and public services."
The delegate, whose home is on St. Croix, said The Avis had captured the mood of residents struggling with dwindling public services and an increasingly smaller share of the economic pie. And, she said, the call for action reflects the willingness of residents to take more responsibility for their own affairs. The territory's leaders "have heard the call to address this issue. We ignore it at our peril," she said.
Turnbull, in his State of the Territory speech on Jan. 13, reiterated what he had stated in his inaugural address a week earlier — that "the Turnbull-Richards administration supports and will advocate convening a fifth constitutional convention to draft a constitution that addresses the future political, social and economic development of the territory."
In the territory's "quest for greater self-determination," Turnbull said, a constitution "will allow for more effective government and a structure that is more responsive to the needs of all residents, while enhancing and empowering local autonomy for the islands of St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas through municipal government." He said the document also should establish a territorial supreme court "to adjudicate all local issues without the need to appeal to the federal 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals."
Turnbull, who took part in all four of the previous constitutional conventions, also called for the convening of a fifth in his first inaugural address, in 1999.
Christensen said Thursday that the territory has outgrown its current political structure, "and the time has come for a change" through the development and adoption of a constitution.
She said several such proposals are in the works and she plans to offer one. However, she called for open dialogue so that all proposals can be heard.
The territory's fourth constitutional convention was in 1980. The document adopted then was approved by two presidents, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, and by two Congresses, only to be rejected afterward by V.I. voters.
The territory has also addressed the issue of its status, most recently in a referendum in 1993 in which voters were asked to state their preference among the options of statehood, incorporated territory, free association, independence, commonwealth, compact of federal relations and the status quo of unincorporated territory.
Only 27.5 percent of the territory's 39,046 eligible voters went to the polls. Since none of the options received 50 percent plus one of the votes, the issue was left undecided.
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