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Guam Delegation Votes Where They Can

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Guam group, unable to vote in November, has own agenda


STAFF WRITER | July 29, 2004

There's no prize for the delegate who traveled the farthest.

If there were, Ben Bangelinan might take it. Like everyone else in his delegation, it took him 29 hours to fly from his home to Boston, with stopovers in Hawaii and Houston.

Unlike delegates from most American states, this group of 12 also had to cover the $2,000 airline costs, hotel bills and restaurant tabs.

And come November, they won't even be allowed to vote.

They're here from Guam, a U.S. territory where residents are considered American citizens but can't vote for the American president.

But they do have the right to help choose the presidential candidates, so Bangelinan wasn't going to miss the Democratic National Convention for anything.

"We have people who saved money for three or four years for this, people who put it on their credit cards," Bangelinan said inside the FleetCenter last night, where members of the modest Guam delegation, each dressed in a red floral shirt, scribbled together political signs on white cardboard.

"We're in the cradle of freedom and democracy. And we hope that maybe this is the convention, this is the administration that will give us the freedom, liberty and democracy we deserve."

A dozen delegates from this island territory of 166,000 people, about 10,000 miles from Massachusetts, came to Boston to push an agenda that can sometimes be hard to push from their homes so far away, and to remind Americans that they are Americans, too.

Seated in the last rows of the arena's delegation section, behind Vermont and next to Alabama, they made themselves at home. Between speakers, they danced in the aisles to James Brown.

And they waited for the state roll call when they'd have a rare chance to express their opinion in the American political process.

"We see the process of the DNC as a chance to at least have some say," said Lou Leonguerro, a senator in the island territory, who was attending her first convention. "We only have seven votes tonight, but at least it is a chance to say, if (Kerry) is elected president, 'I voted for that man.' "

An unincorporated territory of the United States, the 200-square-mile island is about three times the size of Washington, D.C.

The Chamorro people who have lived there for thousands of years first encountered the west when Magellan bumped into the island in 1521, beginning nearly four centuries of Spanish rule.

It was annexed by the United States in 1898, temporarily taken by the Japanese in 1941, but reclaimed by the U.S. within three years. In 1950, residents were given citizenship, though, like Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, they still lack the right to vote.

Madeleine Bordallo, who moved to Guam when she was 13, has been a local legislator, lieutenant governor and first lady. She is now Guam's representative to the U.S. House of Representatives. While she has input in Washington, D.C., she has no vote.

Michael Phillips, an attorney and chairman of the Guam Democratic Party, said lack of a vote has long been a source of frustration in his home. While statehood would add a federal tax burden - something residents currently don't worry about - it would give them a voice in shaping the policies that can handcuff this island, he said.

Once a rural island, Guam now relies largely on tourism. When you depend on tourist dollars, it means most jobs are service-related, Phillips said, leaving a society with a tiny wealthy class, and a large population earning beneath-livable wages.

And when your target consumer is struggling, as the Japanese have been for several years, it hurts your economy, too.

Guam leaders are considering a ballot initiative that will determine what the people of the island territory want. The options could be the pursuit of statehood, a free-associated state or independence.

Guam remains a quiet island, Phillips said. Most residents are either related somehow or know each other well. Coming to Boston this week, he said, can provide a jarring experience.

"The first time I was off island was when I was finishing undergraduate school in Hawaii. I thought Hawaii was fast-paced and, to some extent, impersonal and crowded with people. People laughed at me and said, 'Wait 'til you get to the mainland.' Then when I went to UCLA, I felt the same thing and they said, 'Wait 'til you get to the East Coast.' "

Jaime Paulino, 69, the former mayor of the island city of Inarajan, said Guam has grown tremendously since he was a child. But a lack of job opportunities has driven away three of his sons, all of whom now live in the United States.

He lived here, too, for 20 years. During the Vietnam War he served in the U.S. Navy.

"I served my country for 20 years, and I couldn't even vote for my commander in chief. But we are a part of this country, and we do what we're supposed to do.

"This week I hope people will realize that Guam is still alive," Paulino said, then, like a good Democrat, added, "and ready to change this administration."

From The Cape Cod Times

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Yeah they are kind of in a trippy situation along with PR, Am Samoa, etc but i think there are people in Guam and the neighboring Northern Mariana Islands that are pushing for statehood or just to become independent because of things like this.

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