Stunning Surprises in Election 2016

January 3, 2017 Ron McNinch

Turn out the lights, the party is over. President-elect Trump and a lot of new faces in the Guam Legislature are the reality we live with now. Regardless of how one feels—positive or negative—about the election, it is very likely that changes will occur now with the new leaders.

Back in January 2016, various leaders and students asked me if Trump actually had a chance. By that time, he had largely rolled up his opposition by using their “double-talk-make-everybody-happy-while-doing-nothing” approaches against them.

Trump went right for their very political hearts by not taking their yakking seriously and instead concentrated on how ridiculous they were. Most career politicians tend to take themselves very seriously, and they cannot stand being made fun of. By the way, this technique is nothing new.

Negative Politics

Arnold Schwarzenegger first put a whole new dynamic on modern American politics in the 1988 presidential election. Defending Vice President George H. W. Bush, he called the Democrat opposition a “bunch of girlie men.”

Arnold continued to use this term even after he was elected Governor of California. In a state budget action, he called out certain legislators as “girlie men.”

The politically correct left tried their best to make negative hay out of the term, alleging it meant all sorts of anti-gay or anti-female connotations, but the general public largely took this for what it was.

Political heckling is actually very old school politics that the modern U.S. era has forgotten until now. The last common vestige is political cartooning, but few take this medium seriously. But face-to-face heckling? This is as old school as it gets.

Among choice things said in modern campaigns, the following is a brief and partial recounting of negative politics.

President Obama was not born in the United States (untrue). George W. Bush had a drinking problem (likely true). Bill Clinton, where do we even start? The only reason he was even elected in 1992 was because Ross Perot cleaved 19% of the support for George H.W. Bush among the Republican base. George H.W. Bush was a wimp (untrue, he was a war hero.) Ronald Reagan was too old to run for president (he showed his opponents wrong). Jimmy Carter had lust in his heart (which he admitted). Richard Nixon was accused of misusing federal funds while running for vice president in 1952. The famous Checkers speech was a hit on TV, yet Nixon failed to use TV effectively in his run against Kennedy in 1960. Lyndon Johnson was an uncouth bully (which he was actually proud of).

Donald Trump simply won in the campaign war of egos. He would take easy criticism shots at his opponents, and his opponents didn’t know how to respond.

Trump was the new kid in town and he didn’t have to play by the fake rules of a fake election process. He ignored fringe interests that seek to control U.S. politics and stuck right to his core base centered on common sense and a yearning for change.

There were several low points of the presidential campaign that are worth mentioning. For example, Hillary Clinton used a former U.S. Air Force nuclear missile silo commander to criticize Trump’s temperament to control nuclear weapons. What is really scary is that guy was in charge of a nuclear missile to begin with!

Another low point in the election was when the Clinton campaign wheeled out a Gold Star mother and father to argue against Trump. Then the argument was made that Trump was in some way rude to this couple. As an Army Reserve veteran, I find this using the fallen in this way offensive.

In the past week, I have made a project with my students to collect best wishes for President Trump from our voters and school children. Let’s all move on.

Something Strange in the Neighborhood

The 2016 Guam Election was like something out of the Twilight Zone. As with any election, we had a lot of polling leading up to this election. We thought 3 of the 15 would not return given the results from our polling. This sweep happened in just two days. It was very fast and very forceful.

In the month before the election, only Brant McCreadie and Tony Ada were out of the top 15 candidates. This was consistent throughout the election cycle. Given the ups and downs based on previous results, we thought that at most three might not return. In the week before the election, things changed. And they changed very fast in short order.

We had data from the last two weeks that showed several candidates fell out of cycle, and I have a few views on the reasons this happened. First, the pay raises made legislative positions lucrative, thus increasing competition. In effect, certain legislators cut their own throats by increasing pay because it made their salaries a target to raid. Second, the Guam Education Board announced the day. Third, each senator that fell out likely fell for different reasons.

Of the top 15 before the election, I believe the following likely happened:

Tina Muna Barnes dropped in support due to the medical marijuana issue. Truly sick people were not helped after two years of haggling over rules, and Barnes began to talk about recreational use instead. While there was a base for medical marijuana, recreational use is not supported by voters.

Judy Won Pat was in the top 10 in the weeks before the election. She was affected by the school board announcement the day before the election, as were other incumbent candidates.

Frank Blas Jr. was also in the top 15, but likely fell due to his litigation bill that affected the Catholic Church. Part of the issue was that this bill helped off-island people more than local people. In elections, all politics is local.

Rory Respicio was unfairly blamed for a lot of legislative inaction, and he bore the brunt of legislative criticism. Majority leaders often suffer this fate.

In the last two weeks, three new candidates showed up strongly. The reasons they were doing well are fairly clear. Therese Terlaje always placed right in the middle in our polls, and she was the first new name to show up consistently. Telena Nelson also showed up strongly at the end. This was in part due to the hard work of her grandfather, former Senator Ted Nelson. Wil Castro also showed up doing well in the pre-election poll, and he was the only new Republican spotted before the actual election.

Within the top 20 in the pre-election poll, the four additional newcomers were present. Between this poll and Election Day, they moved into the top 15. Joe San Agustin moved his way into the 15, and may be confirmed following the recounts. Fernando Esteves worked hard until the end and finished well. Regine Lee and Louise Muna also finished very well. Of the newly elected, five of the seven are women. I think this reflects in part the emphasis on education in this election.

On Election Day, we had an exit poll but couldn’t detect bullet votes. Bullet voting or sub-optimized voting can skew group election exit polls significantly. In head-to-head races, exit polls work well. Voters pick one or the other, and that is that. In group or multiple candidate elections, exit polls are affected in a number of ways. For example, in the 2005 CNMI general election four candidates vied for Governor. In the end, just 200 votes separated the top three candidates. It is hard for exit polls to reflect results in this type of race. On Guam we often have 30 candidates vying for 15 seats. We know that voters use less than twelve votes per election. Trying to gauge for this gap is very difficult.

Regardless of how you may feel about the local or national elections, this will definitely be different. If I had my way, we would go back to 21 senators in the Guam Legislature.

With 15, no one has any guts, or if they do have guts they are often reckless. With 21 we have stronger minority views and ideas get considered that are good, but unpopular.

Along similar lines, here are a few good ideas that are unpopular simply because no one has given attention to them.

For example, why doesn’t Guam have a Constitution? We have had the right to have one since 1976. We tried once, the Congress approved it, and we failed to pass it. American Samoa has one and is still in political status limbo, so the argument against a constitution is shallow.

Also, why doesn’t the government simply fix the political status process instead of using lawsuits to decide everything? Why don’t we ask the federal government to block felons and sex offenders from moving here? Why don’t we put the attorney general back directly under the Governor and simply elect a prosecutor?  Why don’t we actually talk about anything important? The reason is you don’t talk about these things. Leaders simply reflect what they think you want.


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