March 9, 2004 – The leadership of the Democratic Party of the Virgin Islands is going head to head with Delegate Donna M. Christensen — a Democrat — over the issue of who should control the government purse strings.
The party's territorial committee voted on Saturday to carry a resolution to the floor of the Democratic National Convention in July opposing the bill Christensen introduced in Congress last fall calling for the establishment a chief financial officer to serve for five years and the institution of a permanent integrated financial management system.
Christensen reacted on Monday by accusing her fellow party members of waiting until she left the Saturday meeting on St. Thomas to take action, thus denying her a chance to defend her bill. In a statement released by her re-election organization, Christensen for Congress, she termed the action "an orchestrated move that flies in the face of an above-the-board democratic process."
"I was at the territorial committee meeting briefly, and I did make a presentation," Christensen said on Monday. "All of us were asked to give reports, so I gave my report, and at the end I spoke about the CFO, knowing it was on the agenda."
She charged in her release that the committee voted to approve the resolution opposing her bill under pressure from Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, who has repeatedly stated his adamant opposition to the move to impose financial oversight on the central government.
Christensen posed the question of whether anyone would vote for "a position that the governor has publicly opposed, by a show of hands, with him and his people sitting right there? Almost everyone there was a government employee; they got the message loud and clear."
The resolution opposing the CFO bill was one of two approved by the committee for the V.I. delegation to take to the party's convention in Boston. The other, according to James O'Bryan Jr., territorial party chair, promotes the rights of women.
The resolution concerning Christensen's bill "establishes the party's position in opposition to the chief financial officer proposal which is now before the Congress and authorized me as state chair to make our opposition clear to the nation," O'Bryan said on Sunday.
V.I. Democrats were encouraged at the Saturday meeting to support the fiscal policies of their titular head, Turnbull. According to a statement released by the party on Monday, "the governor stressed that his administration will continue to promote fiscal restraint and will not allot Senate appropriations, regardless of the worthiness of projects, if the funds do not exist."
Turnbull also asked the party leaders to carry his message, first presented in his State of the Territory address in January, that the V.I. government is showing signs of making a modest recovery from the fiscal crisis he declared last year.
Hours after the Saturday meeting adjourned, O'Bryan described it as positive and productive. He challenged assertions among some political opponents that the V.I. Democratic Party is in decline.
"All in all, based on the circumstances, we know that as a party, based on our philosophy and our principles, we have been moving forward consistently," he said. "And this is no time for us to signal retreat as a party." He added: "We will wage a vigorous defense and advance our democratic ideals in this election cycle."
Christensen said in her release that her legislation is not intended as a personal attack on the governor or his administration — something she has said repeatedly from the time she introduced it. But "it seems to have been accepted that way by some Democrats," the release stated. "This is not about personalities; it is about systems," she said. "It is about correcting the systems that are currently failing us."
She said if the party's resolution opposing her bill makes it to the floor of the national convention at the end of July, it probably won't have any effect, since Congress will likely vote on the measure before then. She said she would continue to press for the means to "effect real change through balanced budgets, a transparent financial management system, a procurement system that is applied equally, a telecommunications network where departments can share information, and a tracking system for federal funding."
In addition, Christensen said in her release that she favors the party primary system, rather than a party convention, to select candidates for the November elections. "All Democrats should have the right to decide who their elected representatives are in a fair and open contest," she said.
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