Election Day: St. John’s Unique Race

cruz bay st john sept 2018

Hello everyone and happy Tuesday! Well, despite being a little blog in the Caribbean, we have to acknowledge that today is a big day in the United States. Now we try to not wade into politics, but today we’re going to break that rule just a tad today. 

Chelsea Baranowski, the owner of Lime Inn, approached us a few months back and asked if we would have any interested in running a story on St. John’s Senator At Large race. At first, we were hesitant because News of St. John is a blog about tourism, not politics, but the Senator At Large position is a unique one to the Virgin Islands. Therefore, we obliged. :)

So please take a few minutes to learn a bit about our government down here on St. John. And a big thanks to Chelsea for putting this together for us! Have a great day everyone! -Jenn 

St. John’s Senator At Large Race by Chelsea Baranowski

As in the US, it’s a big year for elections in the Virgin Islands, senatorial and gubernatorial races are underway. With the population at a lower number, voter turnout is crucial, and the political scene’s jargon is perpetually graced with the word “recovery.” The excitement of this election is definitely in the air. How did our current leaders handle life through and in the first year after Irma and Maria? Are those the people we want to stand beside us as we walk through the next 2-4 years of recovery and reinvigoration? And what do these leaders mean for the future of the Virgin Islands?

The Senator at Large on St. John is a unique role. First and foremost, it is the only position in the Senate that is held for a St. Johnian. Secondly, it is considered the ‘swing vote,’ where in a total of 15 Senators in the Virgin Islands, 7 are from the St. Croix district, 7 from the Thomas-St. John district, and 1 Senator at Large for St. John. While St. Thomas and St. Croix have relative population sizes (in the 50,000 person range pre-storms), St. John has a much smaller 5,000 (pre-storm). The senator-at-large for St. John is responsible for ‘territorial affairs’ as a whole as are other Senators but is required to reside on St. John and have, as one candidate said, “St. John-aligned values.”

I had the pleasure of speaking to all five candidates this year for Senator at Large, only three of whom still remain in the race after the primaries. Stacie January and the incumbent, Brian Smith, lost in the Democaratic primaries, and Steven Payne advanced. The other two candidates, Sherry Ann Francis and Angel Bolques, ran as Independents and, similar to the US, were not a part of the primary race. Steven Payne is a police officer with the kind of charisma that is present in good politicians, yet he remains down to earth and connected. Angel Bolques is a thoughtful and intelligent young man, forward thinking in his approach, while still thinking locally minded. Sherry Ann Francis is strikingly bright, with a legal background, and seems an enthusiastically hard worker. All are people who could make this position work.

We have buildings and infrastructure to repair. From our clinic to our school to our fire house, not only do we still need walls and windows, we need new systems, good systems, to carry us into the future. We need a resilient level of tourists, and options for them when they get here, both high end and economical visitors. Spending money at local businesses will naturally boost the economy and, of course, taxes. And we need to diversify so new industries are enticed to join forces in this recovery.

Government agencies have left, the urgency in support has waned, and just over a year after Irma we have an election to embolden people to create meaningful change. Even at this obvious moment of slight uncertainty, election time is aspirational. Candidates remind you that we actually have some say in our future, and THEY are the person to achieve that future. My speaking with the candidates was no different, and at such a strange juncture, don’t we all want to believe them? They are all very bright, powerful in their own right, and aware that there is a need for strong leadership in our continued recovery. Yet, voter turnout for the primaries was very low, in Cruz Bay 22 people voted for Brian Smith, 66 for Stacie January, and 99 for Steven Payne. Not the turnout candidates want to see, but with a staggering five candidates running for Senator at Large, the public is simply not prepared. For many years there have been one to two candidates running for office. This year shows a new trend. And for good reason, we have a lot on our plate when it comes to Virgin Islands as a whole, and, specifically, St. John.

All candidates were actively pro-St. John, as their constituents, they must be. Payne, Bolques, and Francis were all eager to say “Yes!” we are ready for visitors to come back and had various plans for encouraging their return. All candidates advocate for better medical facilities on St. John that could help our visitors, especially elderly, the young, and the expecting, feel more comfortable during their time on St. John. “We need dialysis machines, we need places for women to have their babies, we need these facilities for our visitors and our locals,” said Mr. Payne. All also advocate for the betterment of such buildings as the Battery (white government building visible upon entering Cruz Bay) and the Annex (the still destroyed building at the roundabout) using funds already appropriated by the federal government. All candidates discussed the potential for a museum at the Battery for visitors and locals to experience Virgin Islands history. Bolques even mentioned the idea of a boardwalk around Battery Point, and the importance of beautifying downtown Cruz Bay, to boost visitors. “If you don’t have a flourishing economy, you can’t support the infrastructure,” he says.

As for Caneel, the Senator at Large has no real power in the matter, but their relationship with Stacy Plaskett, our Delegate to Congress, could mean more concessions for the people of St. John. “I will create a relationship with Delegate Plaskett, and I will keep trying and pushing and calling to get information, I will be that person” Francis tells me.

I look forward to voting, and I welcome a time when we can be proud of our politicians for the people of St. John, the people of the Virgin Islands, and the people who come to visit and enjoy. -Chelsea