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Popular Party successor

The story of the Democratic Party of Guam traces back to the beginnings of representative democracy on the island. In the three centuries prior to the enactment of the Organic Act of Guam by the US Congress in 1950, the colonial governance of the island was entirely in the hands of administrations appointed by Spanish, Japanese, or US authorities.

The participation of the local population in island government was limited to positions such as village alcaldes or commissioners (now mayors) or purely advisory bodies such as the Guam Congress. The Organic Act changed the political landscape by establishing a twenty-one-seat legislature, elected by the people and holding real authority to enact laws and act as a check on the authority of island governors who were still appointed by Washington.

From these beginnings of representative democracy came the formation of political parties. The first one was the Popular Party which for most of the 1950s was the only political party on Guam and held all legislative seats with the exception of a few independents elected in the Third Guam Legislature. This dominance continued even when the Territorial Party was formed near the end of the decade and there was finally two party competition in the electoral process. A leading figure of the Popular Party was Speaker Antonio Won Pat who later was elected as Guam’s first delegate to the US Congress.

By the 1960s, the Popular Party of Guam had secured affiliation with the national Democratic Party and was rechristened the Democratic Party of Guam. Its political dominance continued, aided in no small part by the perceived partisanship of then Governor Manuel Guerrero. Although appointed to this post by the Democratic Administration in Washington, this position was supposedly non-partisan (politically neutral). In the 1964 elections though, the rival Territorial Party won control of the legislature.

As a sign of the political struggles over the Governorship to come, the Territorial-controlled Eighth Guam Legislature unsuccessfully petitioned President Lyndon B. Johnson for Guerrero’s removal. The Democrats regained control of the Legislature in the 1966 elections and retained the majority for the next eight years.

Stage set for elected governor in 1970

The election of Republican Richard M. Nixon to the White House in 1968 ushered in a sweeping replacement of Democratic appointees throughout the federal government, including the post of governor of Guam. With the replacement of Manuel Guerrero by Carlos G. Camacho of the newly formed Republican Party of Guam, the stage was set for the first elections for governor which were authorized to be held in 1970.

In the absence of an incumbent governor of their own party, the Democratic primary election in 1970 saw the entry of several candidates for their party’s nomination. Among those competing were former Governor Guerrero, Legislative Speaker Joaquin Arriola, and educator Dr. Pedro C. Sanchez. The eventual winner though was the charismatic Senator Ricardo J. Bordallo who became a seminal figure in the Democratic Party and island politics. For the next twenty-eight years, the Bordallo name would be found on the general election ballot for either governor or lieutenant governor.

Unresolved factionalism in the Democratic Party led to Bordallo’s defeat by Governor Carlos Camacho in the 1970 election. In 1974 though, the Democrats benefited from Republican factionalism as the party again fielded Bordallo as its nominee joined by Rudy Sablan, a top aide in the former Guerrero administration, as the nominee for lieutenant governor. The team was elected governor and lieutenant governor in November while the Republicans won the majority in the Legislature. By 1978 though, the two leaders had fallen out and Bordallo was challenged in the Democratic Primary by Lt. Governor Sablan. Bordallo prevailed in the primary but the resulting divisions led to the general election victory of his Republican opponent Paul M. Calvo.

Bordallo and Sablan again went head to head for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1982 with Bordallo once again the winner. However, this time the Democrats were more successful in healing divisions as they entered the General Election campaign. The result was a Democratic sweep with victories by Bordallo and his running mate retired US Air Force Col. Edward Reyes, the re-election of Delegate to the US Congress Antonio Won Pat, and a new Democratic majority in the Legislature.

Bordallo versus Gutierrez

By 1986, the party’s fortunes had turned as Governor Bordallo was indicted by a federal grand jury for bribery and extortion and and had to fend off a challenge in the Democratic Primary by Speaker Carl TC Gutierrez. Two years earlier Won Pat had been defeated by the GOP candidate—retired Marine Corps Brigadier General Ben Blaz. In the 1986 General Election, the Democrats lost the governorship although voters returned a Democratic majority to the Legislature.

In 1990, the Democrats again chose a Bordallo as its nominee for Governor, but this time a female. The winner of the Democratic Primary was then Senator Madeleine Z. Bordallo, the widow of the former Governor who had committed suicide just a few months earlier on the eve of his departure to serve a four year prison sentence. In the November elections, she was defeated by incumbent Republican Governor Joseph Ada, Delegate Ben Blaz was re-elected, and Democrats retained their majority in the Legislature by one seat.

To unify the Democratic Party, a political alliance was formed in the early 1990s by then-senators Carl TC Gutierrez and Madeleine Z. Bordallo. This effort contributed Democratic victories in the legislature and in the delegate’s race in which the Democratic candidate Dr. Robert A. Underwood defeated GOP incumbent Ben Blaz.

The 1994 elections again saw a Democratic sweep with the Gutierrez-Bordallo team winning as governor and lieutenant governor, Delegate Underwood re-elected, and a returned Democratic majority in the Legislature. The subsequent four years saw fierce conflicts between several Democratic senators and the Gutierrez administration.

This infighting contributed to the 1996 loss of the Democratic majority in the Legislature. In 1998, Governor Gutierrez successfully defeated Democratic Primary challengers Senator Tom Ada and Senator Angel Santos, and went on to defeat the GOP nominee, former Governor Joseph Ada, who was seeking a third term.

Gutierrez versus Underwood

In 2002, then-Lt. Governor Madeleine Bordallo was elected Delegate to Congress succeeding Robert Underwood who gave up his seat for the first of two unsuccessful gubernatorial bids against the eventual winner in both contests—Republican Felix Camacho.

Underwood had to battle it out with Gutierrez in both Democratic primaries’ first in 2002 with Gutierrez’s wife, Geri Gutierrez, and then with Carl Gutierrez in 2006. He won the primaries in each election but lost in tight races to Camacho in the general elections.

In 2002, the Democrats won control of the Legislature but lost it two years later.

Democrats take Legislative leadership

In a special legislative election held in December of 2007, Democrat Benjamin J. Cruz was elected to fill the vacancy caused by the death of long-time Republican Senator Antonio R. Unpingco.

This changed the makeup of the I Mina’ Bente Nuebi na Liheslaturan Guahan/Twenty-Ninth Guam Legislature from a Republican to a Democratic majority. After a two month public battle, the Republicans gave up the leadership to the Democrats. Judi Won Pat, the daughter of Speaker Antonio Won Pat, became the first woman speaker of the Guam Legislature in March 2008.

By Tyrone Taitano

For further reading

Dizon, Joe S. Political Parties and Elections in Guam. Hagåtña: Guam Research Associates, 1982.

Rogers, Robert. Destiny’s Landfall: A History of Guam. Honolulu: University of Hawai`i Press, 1995.

Sanchez, Pedro C. Guahan Guam: The History of Our Island. Hagåtña: Sanchez Publishing House, 1987.