When you look at the career path Jermaine Alerta has taken for more than a decade now, you’d understand why running for political office seemed like a natural progression.
At 34, Alerta already knows the ins and outs of the legislature, having worked for many former and current senators, as well as for the previous administration. And while he was unsuccessful in a bid for a seat in the 34th Guam Legislature, you can still find him roaming the halls of the newly renovated Guam Congress Building. He is the new executive director, the man in charge of the legislature’s central operations.
“Central operations is very critical in ensuring that the legislature does what it’s supposed to do,” he explained. After years of working within the legislature’s walls, he’s now become its backbone.
Alerta has played both sides of the political divide much of his life. His family is split into diehard Republicans and Democrats. “I had never thought about politics, but my auntie was big on the campaign kind of stuff. She asked us to help with the 1994 gubernatorial campaign [by just doing the] wave. I was a seventh grader. To me, it was real fun. And after being part of that, my interest in social studies started peaking. The older I got, I got more interested in government, just around the Bill Clinton impeachment time. I was still in middle school and early high school then,” he remembered.
While being interviewed at The Cafeteria in Harmon, he recalled one of his first brushes in political office. “The owner of this place is my classmate, Joe Cruz’ wife. Joe was the person I ran against for student council vice president in sixth grade, and I won. It’s funny.”
His student political career further grew in Youth Congress before graduating from Southern High School in 2000.
“My natural inclination was to work in the legislature,” Alerta said, and indeed the legislature came calling while he was attending the University of Guam. Then Sen. John Quinata of the 27th Guam Legislature offered him a position as a junior staffer. “Because of Youth Congress, I already had an idea of how the senator process works, watching sessions. The process was always interesting to me. One thing led to another. I became a full-time worker applying all of the things I’ve already learned.”
Alerta was just 20 then, the youngest employee at the legislature at the time. When Quinata, a Democrat, didn’t garner a seat in the next election, Alerta was briefly out of a job. He volunteered for then Sen. Dr. Mike Cruz’s office, a Republican, before eventually being hired. When Cruz ascended to being the island’s Lt. Governor, he followed, working under the Guam State Clearing House.
“I spent the first two years of that four-year administration there…it gave me a better understanding of federal grants and the types of grants, federal monies the Government of Guam and nonprofits here are eligible for and don’t seek. I think it is an untapped resource, something the overall Government of Guam and even nonprofit organizations may want to place greater emphasis on in the future,” he explained.
For the remaining two years of the Camacho-Cruz administration, he was asked to serve on the governor’s communication staff. “I had no previous experience in speech writing and communication. And my first press release was on the announcement of the closure of the Ordot dump—the first thing I was asked [to do]. But I’ve learned from things I’ve observed in the past. And during that time, I was a big fan of The West Wing, where they focused on the communications. So that TV show really helped me a lot.”
Alerta continued on the path he was on, working for other senators, and even throwing his hat into the race for Agat vice-mayor during a special election. “I’ve always wanted to run for office, but never had a set date or time. In 2016 I felt the opportunity was right to run for the legislature,” he said.
He admitted that there were some issues that were unsettling to him that he believed public officials could have handled differently. “In my mind, my ideas could speak to the people. I’m just a regular person. I understand some of the things that our people are talking about. I just wanted to offer my experiences and the way I think to the people. But I wasn’t bummed out when I lost,” he said.
With the elections over, Alerta is focused on his new job as executive director. “I’m willing to do whatever the legislature asks. I’ve worked with the legislature, but I’ve never been involved with the central operations. But this gives me a clearer picture of what they’re supposed to do. The transition has been challenging. But getting to know the staff, and ensuring everyone does their job and does it well, ensures we can better serve the public,“ he concluded.
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