Jan. 11, 2005 Should there have been any lingering hope that the 26th Legislature would work together in unity, Monday's first Senate session seems to have shot that notion right out of the saddle.
After the contentious manner in which the majority and minority factions of the 26th Legislature were formed, this should come as no surprise. But one can always hope
The lawmakers marched up the red carpet to be sworn in proudly wearing badges signifying their disparate groups. The majority wore flashing red flag pins, while the minority followed suit with madras lapel pins.
The 25th Legislature has been accused, rightly, of not producing much meaningful legislation. Much of what they did was vetoed by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull in December, including a landmark anti-animal cruelty bill and the voluminous Omnibus Crime Bill.
For what it's worth, though, the 25th will go down in history as being one of the more civil groups assembled in the Earl B. Ottley Legislative Hall.
Freshman Sen. Neville James, a member of the minority, started things off Monday by wondering why 25th Legislature President David Jones, who was seated before Sen. Lorraine Berry in the Senate well, was not performing the ceremonial gesture of passing the gavel to Berry. We think that would have been the graceful gesture.
The freshly sworn-in president responded by lecturing James. Berry read a section from the Senate Rules which allowed her the authority to do as she was doing, as "Lesson Number One."
If Monday is any indication, the 26th Legislature won't follow in its predecessor's path of civility.
It appears there is just too much baggage the group has carried with them.
Let's begin with the pending lawsuit Sen. Usie Richards has filed in Territorial Court against his colleagues who formed the Ethics Committee which gave him a mild reprimand for the sexual harassment claims made against him.
Two of those colleagues Senate President Lorraine Berry and vice president Norman Jn Baptiste are a part of the majority to which Richards belongs. The Legislature has said it will hire an attorney to fight the case. The taxpayers will foot the bill.
Richards announced Monday that he "would not be bowed by allegations and whispers."
Then, there is the continuing flap over prejudicial remarks Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone made when objecting to Sen. Louis Hill as proposed 26th Legislature president. Malone allegedly said the Senate couldn't have another Dominican as president. Hill and 25th Legislature president Jones are both Dominicans.
To top all that, and drawing a deeper line in the sand, minority leader Roosevelt David reminded Berry she had once referred to some of her present majority members as the "Taliban." "Are you the chief Taliban, now?" David asked.
When Hill asked for an apology Monday, Malone said the remarks were made in a closed-door session, and he wasn't responsible for whomever aired them.
Then Berry later gave James "Lesson Number Two": "don't name names, even saying something nice."
Several of the senators put "Lesson Number Two" in its place by not naming names, but not needing to, substituting names with blatant innuendoes. Other lawmakers took the occasion to rise to the high road and admonish their colleagues for stooping so low.
All in all, the first session doesn't bode well for accomplishing the will of the people, or even allowing the people to be considered at all. Seems like the focus is on the personalities rather than principles, as usual.
One wonders why the electorate should continue to support paying $65,000 a year per senator and millions for vehicles, gasoline, high-priced hotel rooms, lunches, dinners, junkets (in first class, no doubt), support staff and literally God only knows what else to get nothing more than a continuous display of bad acting, genuine rancor and meaningless frenetic activity out of these 15 elected officials.
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