Donna Christensen

Sedi Gubernatorial Forum - July 15, 2014

Donna Christensen
July 15, 2014
SEDI Gubernatorial Forum
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CHRISTENSEN: Thank you, Kim. Thank you, everyone. Thank you for coming out. I want to thank the CRRA, Our Town Frederiksted, and, of course, the Democratic Party for hosting it and for hosting this in Frederiksted. I think it's very appropriate that it is held here in Frederiksted because Frederiksted is really the poster child for all of the challenges that are confronting this territory. But you know what, it's also the poster child for the opportunities that are waiting for us to seize. The people of the Virgin Islands, and particularly St. Croix, are understandably frustrated, even angry. They have lost trust in elected officials and even the electoral system. Basil Ottley, my partner, and I are asking to be the game-changers. The game-changers that can bring back hope and opportunity to this community that can bring back trust, accountability, fairness, and inclusion. We know that we are the team that can do this because of the breadth and wealth of experience that both of us have, because of the knowledge that those years of experience have given us, because of the relationships that we have been able to form with the White House, with Congress, with organizations, with corporations, and the respect with which we are held by them. We know that as game-changers, we can bring the changes that are needed to fix our economy, to create low cost energy, to create the educational system of the 21st Century, accessible health care, and even to be a game-changer in government to make our government more accountable and transparent for everyone. We will bring those top leaders from government and the private sector to work with our talented Virgin Islanders both here and abroad to turn this territory around, to bring it into the 21st century and make it the Virgin Islands that we all know it can be. Thank you. We're number one on the ballot, Basil Ottley and Donna Christensen.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our first three questions are going to go to all of you. You'll each have two minutes to answer. We'll just start in the same direction we did the first time. The second time around we are going to go backwards. Then the third time we're going to start in the middle so everybody has a different order to answer those questions. These first three questions have been put forward by our hosts, and I am going to read the first one and then kind of paraphrase it because we've been given this question in each of our forums yet the application of this question is a little different for the gubernatorial candidates. If you were one of the owners of a $4 billion enterprise organization and you were told by the shareholders to hire a new CEO and an executive management team to manage the company's annual operating budget of a billion dollars and you needed to replace your senior top level executives to run your company, what kind of required experience would you look for in this individual, and what would their qualifications be parallel being our territory GDP $4 billion? Our shareholders are our voters. Our new CEO would be our gubernatorial team. Executive management team would be the administration. Your executives to run your company would be your Senate and your delegates because it takes everybody to make this happen. What are the qualifications and what do you look for in that individual?

CHRISTENSEN: When you phrase it that way, Kim, and put it in terms of governor and their cabinet and so forth, I would definitely hire the team of Christensen and Ottley because first of all, you want to have somebody with integrity. That has been a word that has been heard a lot tonight. You want to have someone you can trust, someone who has demonstrated by their history of service that they have a commitment to you. You also want to have someone that has the requisite experience. Basil Ottley has actually served in a Fortune 500 company and run projects that cost millions of dollars so he has extensive business experience. He has legislative experience. I have legislative experience. I have administrative experience as a Commissioner of Health, as a Medical Director of our hospital. You want to have experience. You want to have integrity. You also want to have someone who has vision and who can communicate that vision and inspire people to come in and be a part of implementing that vision for the territory. We have had extensive experience in working with our community. I work with many people I see in this room in creating our national heritage area. We have the ability to bring people together around common goals, common issues, and build consensus. That is very important in our community today. The team of Christensen and Ottley brings integrity, we bring the experience, and we bring key relationships that we will have to have. As far as our cabinet goes, we will hire the best people for the job. Politics really is something that we have to put in the background in times of challenges like the ones we are in right now. We will seek out and hire the absolute best for the jobs that we need to fill to provide the cabinet that provides the services that the people of the Virgin Islands deserve.

MODERATOR: Historically the Virgin Islands government has not utilized the right to eminent domain. As a governor, do you or would you support eminent domain by government for purpose of economic development, job creation, and overall economic prosperity to help St. Croix be a more progressive society or community?

CHRISTENSEN: Property rights are very important and in the Virgin Islands, I think we ought to do everything to protect private property ownership so for me eminent domain would be a matter of a very last resort and in the overwhelming public interest. I know that is an issue right here in Frederiksted, but in different parts of the territory and other places as well where you have dilapidated buildings, abandoned buildings and so forth, but I think there are ways that we ought to try first to deal with them. One is, some of them are abandoned because they are in probate and families are having difficult times resolving those issues. There are places where not-for-profits or some agencies are available to help. I think we need to find a way to help families get through that probate and clear the title so that they could perhaps get a move on. There are other areas where I think that neighborhood stabilization funds, CBD check funds, can be used so the government can take the property in trust, rehabilitate the property but not remove the ownership entirely from the individual or from the family and provide them with opportunities if they want to come back and own that property. It can be, as we try to grow our small business sector here in the community, the rehabilitation of these buildings and bringing the families back in to the economic mainstream to re-owning those buildings and putting them into service can be a boon to this economy. I would use eminent domain as an extremely last resort, and it would have to be for a serious public purpose.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much.

CHRISTENSEN: The team of Christensen and Ottley, and my running mate Basil Ottley is in the audience as well so I want to recognize him as well, is committed to building a Virgin Islands that is sustainable and resilient. In the case of energy, that means being as energy self-sufficient as humanly possible so, yes, we are committed to a resilient and sustainable Virgin Islands and in the case of energy that means using renewable energy to the greatest extent possible. Mr. Franklin might remember that 12 or 14 years ago I went to the WAPA board and suggested to them then that it was time to start thinking about relieving ourselves of our dependence on fossil fuel so we are committed to that. In the running mate I have chosen, I have chosen someone who has been working with the National Renewable Energy Lab and the Energy Department over several years to bring about that possibility. We've also worked with the Department of Interior to ensure that WAPA would have an integrated resource plan to get us to that point, and integrated resource plan to look at all of the possible sources of energy that could give us the most efficient electricity at the lowest cost. That money is now in WAPA's hands and they are preparing to have that done. We would propose that that be a plan as in other states and jurisdictions that would be updated every several years because energy and the way that energy is being generated is changing rapidly. New technologies are coming on board. In fact, the game changers that we're looking at are Distributed generation, which WAPA is slight of moving towards but also storage. That is the game-changer that we are looking for. So renewable energy storage, which is coming online and distributed generation which is a way of getting us from the central plan and over the South Shore and across the island and also producing resiliency and sustainability. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Donna Christensen, many people in St. Croix believe the playing field of economic growth in the territory appears in favor of St. Thomas and perception of infrastructure and public sector expenditures and workforce disparities is why the spread on St. Croix. My question is, how do you propose leveling the playing field between St. Thomas and St. Croix to increase economic growth on the big island while also promoting balance and environmentally conscious economic growth throughout the territory?

CHRISTENSEN: Okay, that's a mouthful. I think it's very important. When I worked in the Department of Health, we noticed that even the salaries were different on St. Thomas than on St. Croix. When I was a PTA president, the same, the salaries were different. We need to bring some equity across the board in salaries so that when we look for the same job in St. Thomas and the same job in St. Croix, for the same experience, the same background, and the same educational level begets the same pay. I believe that you pay more attention where more attention is needed. That is not to say that we ignore St. John. St. John has some unique problems. That's not to say that we ignore St. Thomas; St. Thomas has some needs as well, but St. Croix is where it's hurting. St. Croix is where attention is needed so as a Croixian, I would make sure that St. Croix is given the appropriate attention because of the economic situation here which is much worse than on the other islands. In terms of economic development, while some may to go St. Thomas and some may go to St. John, we would focus on bringing the businesses here. In terms of the private equity funds that we are working with, we would concentrate on bringing more of those funds here. We would look at public/private partnerships to stimulate the creation of entities that would stimulate economic development. We would primarily do it here. When St. Croix does well, the whole Virgin Islands will do well. That is what I'm looking at. We need to focus on what we can do here to bring St. Croix up and elevate the economic security of all of the people in our territory but definitely equity, equity across the board when funds come from the federal government and salaries and everything else. Thank you.

MODERATOR: What steps will your team take to improve the financial problems of the Juan F. Luis Hospital?

CHRISTENSEN: Okay, I expected a health question. Well, right now we are working with the Juan Luiz Hospital to ensure that they get paid at the level that they are spending. They have not gotten a wage set since 1996, and they are spending four times as much for similar service so we will work with them on that. In addition to that, there are federal programs that can assist them either through the Department of the Interior or the Department of Health and Human Services. The plans that we have to make sure that the individual coverage comes back to the territory, the funding that we brought in from Medicaid, all of that will support revenue going into our hospitals and we can also bring the technical assistance to help them better manage the system. I don't think they need to be put into one hospital, but I think there are economies of scale that can be realized when they order together and on certain issues there can be savings if both hospitals do certain procedures and processes together.

MODERATOR: What are your feelings and understandings as the Virgin Islands being exempt from the Jones Act?

CHRISTENSEN: I think that our being exempt from the Jones Act is a great positive for us and holds great potential for us especially if we can hold onto that port that we have and make sure that we take advantage of the opportunities that will be coming about when the Panama Canal opens at the end of 2015. The exemption from the Jones Act is the underpinning for our tourism industry, especially in terms of cruise ships. It has helped with the oil refinery itself. It is an attractive incentive for someone to come in and use and either reopen or reuse the oil refinery property in any way because foreign flagships can come into our territory so it has helped our tourism industry in terms of cruise ships. It has helped us with the industries on the South Shore, but it holds great potential for us with the opening of the Panama Canal so that we can participate in the economic benefits when that happens.

MODERATOR: I am going to ask you to stay standing because we are going to come right back the other way with another one minute round because we have about 10 minutes left according to my watch unless you all vote to go longer. This is a two-part question. I know you only have one minute. How would you have voted in the VI Legislature with the recent RT park amendment? Yes or no. Please explain why you would vote either way.

CHRISTENSEN: Well, I would have voted for the amendment. I think it's important that we have a strong RT park and a strong EBA. I don't believe that it served the territory well to break a contract in the middle of the contract. I believe they were maybe five years into a 15-year contract. That sends a bad message. I agree with some of my companions up here that we must be open for business. We must give businesses certainty. We must be fair with businesses. Contracts cannot be broken at will. I believe that there were ways that things could have been worked differently to provide a better solution with the IFCs and the EBA and the RT park, but the way that it was done I think it did not allow that to happen, and I think that the RT park amendment was a good one in terms of creating the stability and the consistency that the Virgin Islands needs to be open for business. Thank you. Again, thank you, everyone, for turning out. This is a great turnout and it shows that you understand the importance of this election. This election cannot be about who's your friend. It can't be about who is your special interest. It has to be about all of the people of the Virgin Islands, and that is the commitment that Basil Ottley and I make to you. It may be difficult, I think, because the issues, the challenges that we face are so clear to determine who to vote for out of the six outstanding candidates that you have here this evening. I would suggest that you go to their histories and look at it. I feel that you will find that Basil Ottley and I distinguish ourselves in several ways: We not only have lives of public service going back to long before we ever thought about running for public office, but we come from families that have a long history of public service. It is in our blood and it's in our hearts. We both have outstanding records that you can look to. We have performed. We have contributed. We have delivered to the territory. Basil as a senator and as the desk agent for the Virgin Islands, the first ever Virgin Islander to sit in that key policy position that determines how the administration would respond to the needs of the territory, bringing funds for hospitals, working on our energy solutions, and I could go on and on but I only got two minutes. We have my 18 years of public service as your delegate brining hundreds of millions of dollars in in new rum revenue, new road revenue, believe it or not, new healthcare revenue, and programs that we had never been eligible for before. We can answer the question, what have you done for me lately when you look at our record. Then comes the experience and the relationships which we will absolutely need and will have them ready to go on day one in a Christensen/Ottley administration number one of the ballot. Donna Christensen for Governor, Basil Ottley for Lieutenant Governor. Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Thank you.