ST. THOMAS – Themes such as passion, gratitude and commitment to working on the people’s business echoed from the inner chambers of the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall as fifteen lawmakers took the Oath of Office of the 34th Legislature of the Virgin Islands on Monday, officially starting their first day amidst a global pandemic with a pledge to serve the best interest of the territory.
“Colleagues, let’s remember why we’re here,” said Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory. “Let’s remain focused on the people of the Virgin Islands.”
She takes her place in history as only the third woman in the institution’s 65-year-old past to serve as the Senate’stop leader, following in the footsteps of legendary forerunners such as Lorraine Berry and Ruby M. Rouss. Praise for women’s achievements in politics blended with recognition of their roles in the success of the family, with several senators expressing gratitude to the single mothers and grandmothers who raised them among their other supporters, alive and departed.
By the end of the organization of the 34th Legislature, she encouraged her colleagues to collaborate in spite of recent shakeups among the majority which saw changes in officers and committee chairmanships. With the passage of Bill No. 34-0001, President Frett-Gregory will serve alongside Vice President Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Legislative Secretary Genevieve Whitaker, and Majority Leader Marvin A. Blyden as part of an eleven-member majority to include Senators Samuel Carrion, Kenneth L. Gittens, Sr., Kurt A. Vialet, and Genevieve Whitaker of the St. Croix district; and Senators Carla Joseph, Milton E. Potter, Janelle K. Sarauw; and at-large Senator Steven D. Payne of the St. Thomas-St. John district.
The ceremony, distinguished by masks, celebratory elbow bumps, and beautiful vocal and instrumental renditions of the anthems, was also significant in the context of national events, underscored by some of the new senators, as well as in remarks by Dr. Haldane Davies, Vice President for Business Development and Innovation at the University of the Virgin Islands, who chaired proceedings earlier in the day at the Emanicipation Garden.
Dr. Davies called on the leaders to have the heart of a public servant at a time when Virgin Islanders seek to clarify their political status and identity while reeling from the many challenges of the covid-19 pandemic, and “a time when we see the foundation of our democracy shaken and the adhesive of the Union loosen by the extreme views of some of our fellow citizens.”
As the only jurisdiction under the American flag with a majority black leadership, the impact of the violent storming of the nation’s Capitol by unruly protestors, some brandishing racist paraphernalia, in an effort to overturn democracy, resonated sharply.
“It’s saddening to say the least,” President Frett-Gregory said during her remarks in the chambers. “As leaders we must not undermine the very institution we aim to protect.”
Sen. Francis Heyliger warned her colleagues against “power-hungry grabbing” while other senators spoke about their willingness to work together despite party affiliation. She joins Senator Dwayne M. DeGraff also of the St. Thomas-St. John district, and Senators Javan James, Sr. and Franklin Johnson of the St. Croix district in the four-member minority.
Issues such as GERS, the economy, education, crime and violence, revitalization of our towns, the environment, energy, water, workforce development, and partnership with private and non-profit sectors as well as the wider Caribbean region are among those the 34th Legislature will seek to address over the course of their two–year term.
The ceremony included the reading of the election certification and presentation of senators by Supervisor of Elections Caroline F. Fawkes; administering of the oath of office by Chief Justice Rhys S. Hodge of the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands; and musical performances by the Virgin Islands National Guard Band, Lorna Freeman-Woodley, Malvern Gumbs, Gylchris Sprauve, and Sherwin Williams. The Rt. Rev. Ambrose Gumbs, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Virgin Islands, offered prayers of inspiration and the Civil Air Patrol posted the colors.Dignitaries to include Gov. Albert Bryan, Lt. Gov. Tregenza Roach, and Delegate-to-Congress Stacey Plaskett were among those in attendance.
At a glance, the following reflects the organizational establishment of the 34th Legislature of the Virgin Islands, according to Bill No. 34-0001:
Secretary for Intergovernmental and Territorial Affairs
Liaison to the United States Department of Interior and Office of Insular Affairs
Chair:Sen. Milton Potter
Chair:Sen. Kurt A. Vialet
Chair:Sen. Novelle E. Francis, Jr.
Chair:Sen. Genevieve Whitaker
Chair:Sen. Janelle K. Sarauw
Chair:Sen. Kenneth L. Gittens
Chair:Sen. Steven D. Payne, Sr.
Chair:Sen. Carla Joseph
Chair:Sen. Marvin A. Blyden
Chair:Sen. Samuel Carrion
Chair:Sen. Donna A. Frett-Gregory
Vice Chair:Sen. Novelle E. Francis, Jr.
Members:Sen. Genevieve Whitaker, Legislative Secretary
Sen. Marvin A. Blyden, Majority Leader
Sen. Samuel Carrion
Sen. Dwayne M. DeGraff
Sen. Alma Francis Heyliger
Sen. Kenneth L. Gittens
Sen. Javan E. James, Sr.
Sen. Franklin D. Johnson
Sen. Carla Joseph
Sen. Steven D. Payne, Sr.
Sen. Milton E. Potter
Sen. Janelle K. Sarauw
Sen. Kurt A. Vialet
Press Release for January 11, 2021210111STT