Scores of voters crowded into Gertrude’s Restaurant on Thursday night to hear plans and opinions of the five gubernatorial candidates in a forum hosted by AARP and People United for a Better Virgin Islands.
Simon Jones-Hendrickson quizzed the governor hopefuls in alphabetical order with questions written before the event as well as questions from the audience.
Each candidate was given time to introduce themselves and two minutes to answer each question. The St. Croix audience ignored the “no booing or cheering allowed” rule. Loud cheering by constituents in matching T-shirts drowned out some answers.
The candidates for governor in the Nov. 2 election are Mona Barnes, Delegate Donna M. Christensen, Soraya Diase Coffelt, Kenneth Mapp and Sheila Scullion.
All, at one time or another, decried the high cost of electricity, the economy, crime and roads, and most said they hope to fix the health care and economic development systems. Each candidate answered six or seven questions on a variety of subjects throughout the night.
Christensen said she would like to see the Guy Benjamin School on St. John reopen as a technical school focusing on the marine industry.
Coffelt said she would look for staff who were ethical, in tune with company goals and vision, and service oriented if she ran a $4 billion corporation.
Asked about care for V.I. veterans, Mapp said the federal government should take responsibility for their services.
Barnes said eliminating poverty is the first step in reducing crime. “Once we’ve begun to improve the quality of life, I guarantee crime will decrease,” she said.
There were various changes the candidates would plan to make in the local government, if elected. Christensen said money should be borrowed only for capital projects and Scullion said there should be a 10-year land and water use plan.
Coffelt said “the EDA (Economic Development Authority) is lax overall,” and should be held accountable for contracts with economic development beneficiaries.
Mapp would restructure government bonds in his first term to help lower debt service, he said.
Christensen said the entire health care system needs to be overhauled and the hospitals need funding, strong boards and management. She also answered there should be binding referendums, especially allowing voters to choose an attorney general, to tighten recall laws and vote for some bond issues.
Her administration would cut the cost of energy in half using renewable energy including ocean technology. “The territory should be self-sufficient in energy,” she said.
Mapp answered a question about the Virgin Islands’ status and a constitution, saying the constitution should be written/approved first and then discussion about the territory’s relationship with the U.S. should take place.
There were several ideas to help the local businesses expand. To create private sector jobs, Mapp said he would apply for funding to build schools and roads, and Barnes said she would give small businesses a break on gross receipt taxes.
Scullion wants to expand the agriculture industry and help market products.
Candidates talked about government corruption, and Mapp said he would “prosecute those who are corrupt.”
Scullion said corruption “cheats the people.”
Christensen said she would “root out corruption” and made sure there is nothing illegal in the permitting process.
Coffelt also said she would fight corruption in all areas of government. “I pledge I would never use government money for my use,” she said.
One question from the audience wrapped up important issues and the candidate’s plans. Christensen was asked what accomplishments she would talk about in her first state of the territory address if elected. She said she would point out where money was saved, where consolidations were made and where productivity was increasing in the government. She said she would talk about jobs created, new EDA beneficiaries and private partners to build a sports complex.
At one point during the two-hour forum, Barnes used her time to admonish the audience for talking over the candidates.
“I’m going to ask you to respect us,” she said, adding, “Everybody claims they have the answers,” but “we stepped up.” Loud applause followed her comments.