Governor Felix P. Camacho
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Governor of Guam 2003-2010
Felix Perez Camacho, (1957 – ), a Republican, was the 12th civilian governor of Guam, serving for two terms, from January 2003 until December 2010. His eight years in office were dominated by typhoon recovery efforts, several lawsuits, building, planning, and a pending military buildup, the largest since the US bases were built on Guam during World War II.
Camacho was born 30 October 1957 on an American Army military Base, Camp Zama, Japan while his father, Carlos Camacho, was serving in the military. Carlos Camacho was appointed governor in 1969 and then elected to a single term in 1970 to become Guam’s last appointed and first elected governor. Felix Camacho is the first person to follow his father to become Governor of Guam.
Camacho was raised in Tamuning and educated in the Catholic school system. He earned a degree in business administration and finance in 1980 from Marquette University in Wisconsin. During his terms as governor he was given an honorary doctorate degree of letters from the University of Guam and an honorary doctorate of laws from his alma mater, Marquette University.
He is married to Joann G. Camacho and has three children Jessica, Felix Jr. (Champ) and Maria.
After college Camacho held positions with Pacific Financial Corporation as an insurance manager and with IBM as an account administrator.
Camacho’s first taste of public service was as a board member for the Civil Service Commission when the Hay Study was under consideration by the Commission. The study, for the first time, looked at publicly paid salaries government wide and ultimately made it so people with similar jobs were paid the same in all the branches of the government. It weighed education and experience with job expectations to come up with one unified pay scale.
In March 1988, Governor Joseph F. Ada appointed Camacho as deputy director of the Public Utility Agency of Guam (the forerunner of Guam Waterworks Authority). Later that year he became executive director of the Civil Service Commission.
In 1992, Camacho was elected as senator in the 22nd Guam Legislature, and was subsequently re-elected in 1994 and 1996. As a senator, he served as chairman of the Committee on Tourism, Transportation, and Economic Development. He also served as majority whip.
In 1998, Camacho was the running mate of former Governor Ada in the hotly contested gubernatorial campaign against Governor Carl T.C. Gutierrez and Lieutenant Governor Madeleine Z. Bordallo. Camacho returned to the legislature in 2000 and regained his chairmanship, and the position of assistant majority leader.
Governor of Guam
In 2003, Camacho teamed up with fellow senator Kaleo Moylan to run for governor and lieutenant governor and won the Republican primary election against Senator Antonio Unpingco and Senator Eddie Calvo. They then defeated Democratic contenders Guam Delegate Robert A. Underwood and Senator Tom Ada. Camacho and Moylan are the sons of Governor Carlos Camacho and Lieutenant Governor Kurt Moylan, Guam’s first elected governor and lieutenant governor.
Guam was slammed by Super typhoon Pongsonga on 8 December 2003, shortly after Camacho and Moylan were elected into office. They opted not to have a formal inaugural celebration, due to the state of the island and instead chose to be sworn in with a ceremony at the Plaza de España at midnight after a celebratory mass at the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica in Hagåtña – all under candle light.
The storm, just six months after another strong typhoon Chata’an hit the island, left the island reeling. The hospital, the schools, the airport, the seaport, hotels along with hundreds of homes and businesses, had all been severely damaged. The damages were estimated at $246 million by the Federal Emergency Management Agency-the largest natural disaster in US history, holding that record until Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Fuel tanks at the Cabras Island caught on fire making it unsafe for ships to come into the harbor. The Guam Telephone Authority and A.B. Won Pat International Airport were also shut down for a time. Soon, though, approximately 10,000 tourists who had been on Guam since before the storm were able to go home. Camacho and his administration worked on getting the power, water, communications and transportation systems running again, as well as re-opening the island’s schools and getting assistance to people with typhoon damaged homes and businesses. Tourism went down to a minimum and the government was essentially bankrupt.
Camacho led the effort to restore the island to normalcy, along with much help from the government of Guam, federal government, the military, the business community and the resilient citizens. Three months later island leaders let potential visitors know that the island was ready to welcome them again and tourism rebounded.
The Camacho Administration had other challenges to governing Guam as well. Due to concerns about the way the previous administration had handled government affairs, the Guam Legislature enacted legislation to remove power from the Office of the Governor in several ways. For the first time Guam had an elected attorney general and an elected auditor. There was also an elected school board and appointed superintendent of education who had complete authority over the largest government agency, the Guam Department of Education.
Likewise, for the first time the people of Guam had elected a board to run the government’s utilities. The Consolidated Utilities Commission took management of the power and water out of the Governor’s hands. The Public Utilities Commission also set utility rates, and the Guam Telephone Authority was sold to a private company in 2005, the last government owned telephone exchange in the United States, taking even more government responsibility away from the administration.
Camacho took office during austere times. Guam lacked sufficient revenues to pay its obligations. The mandates of local and federal law far exceed the governments fiscal capacity to honor those obligations. To supplement revenues, Camacho sought to issue bonds worth approximately $400 million. However, the attorney general refused to sign the bond contracts because he concluded that issuance of the bonds would violate the debt limitation. In response, the Governor requested a declaration from the Guam Supreme Court that the issuance of the bonds would not cause Guam to exceed the debt limitation. The Guam Supreme Court agreed with the Governor and the attorney general appealed his decision. Four years later the US Supreme Court heard the matter and in the end the Governor was able to issue bonds.
In the meantime, several lawsuits dramatically impacted the government and the Governor had to prioritize government resources toward addressing many of these challenges. The following are a few of the major lawsuits against the government to which the government paid out millions of dollars.
In 1993, a class action lawsuit was filed against Governor Ada to implement a 1988 statute to provide annually to eligible government of Guam retirees a cost of living allowance to be computed by multiplying the entitle benefit times the rate of inflation based on the cost of living index. The law was later repealed in 1995. In 2006, the court awarded $123 million to the COLA class action suit and the government began to pay the judgment.
Since the US Environmental Protection Agency issued an order in 1986 to cease discharging leachate from the Ordot Dump, Camacho signed a consent decree in 2004 to close Ordot Dump and construct a new solid waste landfill facility. The terms of the decree appeared to be workable but in actuality it become difficult to comply with the decree due to resistance by members of the public and the legislature. Additionally, the lack of resources, experienced personnel, and necessary support prevented the government from meeting the various deadlines set forth in the consent decree.
The court imposed penalties of more than $2.86 million against the government for failing to abide by the mandates of the consent decree. Ultimately, the federal court appointed a receiver to enforce the terms of the consent decree and assume all the functions of the solid waste management division of the Department of Public Works. The court ordered the government to deposit $20 million into an account while the government with the court appointed receiver worked out a financing option for the consent decree projects. When a viable financing option was not presented to the court, the court ordered the government to deposit $993,700 on a weekly basis into the account. Eventually, the court suspended the weekly payments when the government issued bonds totaling $202 million for the consent decree projects.
In 2001, a group of mentally ill individuals who lived on Guam filed suit against Camacho’s predecessor, Governor Gutierrez, for failure to provide community-based living services to the mentally ill. The court found that defendants had discriminated against plaintiffs by requiring them to reside in the adult In-patient units to receive services, and that the services provided to Plaintiffs were not appropriate to their particular needs. Additionally, the court found that the Defendants had violated the Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to minimum standards of care and appointed a federal management team in 2010.
In 2004, a class action lawsuit was filed against Camacho claiming refunds of approximately $112 million as a result of the earned income tax credit. The complaint was amended in 2006 wherein the class asked for approximately $135 million. The parties settled the case for $90 million. In anticipation of the court’s approval of the settlement agreement, the Camacho Administration managed to set aside millions of dollars in order to begin payments according to the terms of the settlement agreement.
The government budget was lower as well, at $396 million from a previous $500 million. Another first, also due to legislative mandates, was that the budget was based on gross receipt taxes, which at that time was four percent. That model simply didn’t work as GRT fluctuates too much over the year and the law was later rescinded. Eventually the GRT was raised from four to six percent much to the dismay of the private sector. The entire administration took temporary cuts in pay, including the governor. Non-essential government employees were placed on a 32 hour work week until revenues started recovering.
One of Camacho’s challenges in taking office was the change of having an elected attorney general. In the past, the appointed attorney general worked for the governor but now the elected attorney general saw his role as a watchdog and became very litigious. Moylan, first cousin to Lieutenant Governor Moylan, told the governor that the courts would define his limits and that he was not the governor’s lackey anymore. The joke at the time was that the A.G. for attorney general, also stood for “aspiring governor.”
Lawsuits and legal challenges defined those first two years and the dynamic of being the governor of Guam changed. The legislature, at the time, believed that the position of Governor of Guam held too much authority as granted by the Organic Act of Guam. Even though there was a Republican majority in the Legislature, several of the senators also had aspirations to be governor.
Due to disagreements with Moylan during their first term, Camacho picked freshman senator Michael Cruz, M.D. as his running mate in 2006. Camacho defeated the team of Lt. Gov. Kaleo Moylan and Senator Francis Santos in the Republican primary race, and again defeated Robert Underwood (this time with senator Frank Aguon, Jr. as running mate) to win the governorship for a second term. Camacho/Cruz won narrowly – 50 percent to Underwood/Aguon’s 48 percent.
In 2006 the news reached Guam that a large contingent of US Marines were to be relocated to Guam from Okinawa. At the same time, Guam was being considered to be home port for an aircraft carrier, a defense shield system and as the host to a larger US Air Force presence. As many as 70,000 new people would possibly move to the island, some only for the build up period, but many other would make Guam their home permanently.
All of these plans were tentative – requiring studies and analysis. The Camacho Administration began meeting with US defense officials to discuss the implications the build up would have on the island. Before long those meetings and studies became highly politicized as certain senators wanted to be included in the planning meetings but were not.
Upon receiving news of the Department of Defense agreement with the Government of Japan, Camacho created a civilian military task force to begin begin a detailed planning effort that continued throughout his second term. Letters, resolutions, petitions and news releases as well as scoping meetings at various locations around the island brought more attention to the matter than any other issue during Camacho’s term. More than 10,000 people turned in comments on the Environmental Impact Statement about the military build up describing their concerns, a first for Guam.
The Camacho Administration was provided with a federal grant to get professional help drafting Guam’s concerns with the build up – the possibility of land taking, overwhelming Guam’s infrastructure and the likely further erosion of local culture were discussed and were the topic of many demonstrations.
The military never considered Guam ideal for the Marine base as there needs to be extensive land for a shooting range and training. Although it is situated near Asia, is a part of the United States, has a superior deep water harbor and plenty of fresh water, it is still a small land mass. That fact alone made planners take a step back. And, as the costs of the build up kept growing and a vocal segment of the local population was not in favor of it, it became clear that other options needed to be looked at.
In Camacho’s last state of the island address he expressed his concerns about the buildup:
I have heard the voices of our people and listened to their concerns. Let there be no misunderstanding – this government is determined to ensure the military buildup is good for Guam. Guam has given more lives and land per capita in defense of freedom than in any state of our country. Our patriotism is unquestionable. We have paid much and yet more is being asked of us. I acknowledge the buildup will spur economic growth but it will also impact our environment and create financial. social and cultural challenges. While we anticipate the benefits we must ensure there is a balance.
I’ve said it in Washington DC and during village workshops, I will say it again today – the people of Guam simply do not have the capacity to fund what is required for our nation’s defense. Without the financial commitment from the federal government to put these plans into action, this buildup will not benefit the people of Guam. The people of Guam are not asking for free handouts. The people of Guam are not asking for special treatment. The people of Guam are simply asking for what every good American should ask for: That the buildup ahead benefit both the American patriot inside the fence and the American patriots outside the fence, the people of Guam.
The engagement of federal Cabinet officials was a huge boost to Guam during Camacho’s eight years in office. In late 2003, Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld started a wave of Cabinet Secretaries to show their support for federal programs in Guam by visiting the island and meeting our people. The Rumsfeld visit led to the eventual announcement of the relocation of the Third Marine Expeditionary Force to Guam from Okinawa. Interior Secretary Gale Norton and her successor Dirk Kempthorne visited the island for the first time since Guam – the first Department of Interior heads to visit the island since it became a part of the American family in 1950. Both Interior Secretaries used the trips to Guam as a platform to bring the relationship of the Administration and the Insular Areas closer together.
In 2006, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta used a stop over from Asia to provide his appreciation for using tens of millions of dollars in unspent federal highway funds for the largest boost to the island’s roadways in thirty years. That same year, Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson, a former national Republican Party official and Ambassador to the Holy See, came to Guam after a promise made during one of Camacho’s visits to Washington DC and met with many of the 13,000 military veterans who contribute millions of dollars in benefits to the local economy.
Secretary of State Condeliza Rice met with Camacho and hundreds of Guam-based military personnel to thank them for their service and to galvanize support of the region during the “Year of the Pacific.” However, the most significant member of a President’s Cabinet to visit Guam was in 2007, when Vice President Dick Cheney who brought to the island the message from then-President George W. Bush that while small, Guam was tremendously important to the peace and security of the world, “by positioning forces on Guam, the United States can move quickly and effectively to protect our friends, to defend our interests, and bring relief in times of emergency, to keep the sea lanes open to commerce and closed to terrorists.”
The matter is still up in the air, though some companies have already invested in housing for workers that would be hired for the build up. The 2014 deadline for the build up was lifted until further studies of military needs in the region are completed.
Camacho was an advocate for reunification of the Mariana Islands. Guam was separated politically from the Northern Marianas in 1898 after the Spanish American War when the US took Guam. The Northern Marianas were purchased by Germany from Spain at the same time and later became a Japanese colony. Now, however, Guam and the Northern Marianas are territories under US rule but as separate political entities. To facilitate an eventual reunification Camacho and other leaders from the region formed the Western Micronesian Chiefs Association. Later it became the Micronesian Chiefs Association to include the rest of the island nations. The organization helped solidify their relationships so that in times of need they could easily reach out to each other.
As the son of the late Governor Carlos Camacho, he had always been regional minded as his father was a dentist in the Army and was stationed in Japan and Korea. He remembers meeting Ferdinand Marcos, the president of the Republic of the Philippines, as a child while his father was the governor of Guam.
Camacho did not advance Guam’s quest for self-determination during his governorship. Governor Gutierrez had changed the Commission on Self-Determination to the Commission on Decolonization and the Legislature had defined the political status goals as either statehood, independence or free association. Camacho put former Senator Jim Underwood in charge of the Commission and stayed focused on rebuilding Guam’s infrastructure and economy. Federal officials advised him that Guam should pursue a constitution to replace the Organic Act, rather than try to change the federal territorial relationship at this point. Camacho wanted to look at reunifying the Marianas, too, before other changes were pursued.
Camacho instead worked on Guam’s relationship with the federal government within the confines of its existing status as an incorporated territory. He asked regional officials for help with training and they did. Eventually the government of Guam made progress on improving its financial reputation. As a result Guam Memorial Hospital was accredited and Guam saw an increase in Compact Impact funds for Guam. Compact Impact funds are provided to Guam to help alleviate expenses on education, public health and safety from Micronesian migrants. Compact Impact funding for Guam went from $4.5 million to $14.5 million and then up to $16.5 million.
Camacho was also able to convince Department of Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs to agree to the concept of using Compact Impact funds as the source of funding to build five new schools in a build-lease-purchase arrangement. A private company was contracted to build the schools (Adacao and Liguan Elementary Schools, Astumbo Middle School and Okkodo High School.). The government of Guam is paying the company for 20 years to lease the schools using the Compact Impact funds and will then be provided the title to the schools at the end of the 20 year period. Camacho also floated a bond to rebuild the aging John F. Kennedy High School.
The entire time that Camacho was in office the US was at war. Guam lost sons and daughters on various fronts – Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, both in the regular military and the Guam National Guard. The most difficult thing Camacho had to face while in office was receiving the bodies of those who died. It brought back memories of the time when his father as governor of Guam went to visit Chamorros serving in the military in Vietnam.
Camacho put considerable resources into improving services for veterans on Guam during his term. He worked to identify Guam’s veterans, both dead and alive, as well as their spouses. By having better records of them Guam was able to bring more federal benefits for veterans to Guam and begin the process of building a Veterans Clinic now under construction in Agana Heights.
The Guam Veterans Affairs Office (GVAO) was under the jurisdiction of the Guam National Guard when Camacho took office. The Administration first had to remove the Guam Veterans Affairs Office under the purview of the Guam National Guard which they did through the assistance of the late Senator Antonio R. Unpingco who placed under the Office of the Governor.
The GVAO initially had a staff of two located and was in Tiyan. By the end of Camacho’s term it had its own building in Asan with a trained and certified staff of five to process claims and provide counseling for veterans. During the research phase of the new office veterans had complained about a myriad of things such as how long it took to process claims, that the VA Clinic at Naval Hospital was too small and hard to access being on a Naval base, and the Veterans Benefits Administration Benefits Office (Federal) was often closed and under staffed. Veterans were also confused with all the various offices and frustrated with the federal system.
Besides the changes to Guams veteran’s office to improve services, the federal veteran’s office opened a new office at the Reflection Center in Hagåtña thus severing themselves’ from VHA Clinic at Naval Hospital and resolved the problems they had been having with lost claims.
Since the change were made, Guam had an annual increase of federal funds paid to veterans for claims awards. Approved Veterans Home Loan processing centers increased from one to five, thus providing an opportunity for millions of dollars of funds for Veterans Home Loans on Guam. Chamorro Prisoner of War veterans of World War II received their claim awards and spouses of deceased veterans and veterans of Wake Island received benefits when they filed.
Guam was also a part of the initial US Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Homeless Program Initiative. Thirty housing vouchers were given to the Pacific Region based in Hawai’i and of those fifteen went to Guam veterans. Some $24 million dollars was awarded to Guam’s veterans through claims awarded during Camacho’s administration and Guam’s veteran population contributed more than $35 million to the Guam economy.
Camacho considered his administration as a time of planning and building. During his time schools and classrooms, new buildings at UOG and GCC, new Civil Defense building, Forensic Lab, senior citizen centers in Hågat and Sånta Rita-Sumai, youth centers in Hågat and Dededo, as well as a skate park and swimming pool and soccer fields in Dededo were built, some with federal monies, others with private partnerships. Low Income Housing Tax Credits used by Private developers to build new Housing subdivisions such as Ironwood, private housing developments such Paradise Estates, and Talo Verde Estates also sprung up. New school buses, police cars, ambulances and critical emergency response equipment were also secured by Camacho. Workforce Investment dollars trained hundreds of island residents to include hundreds of workers from throughout Micronesia.
Clean financial audits and improved delivery of federal and locally funded services were achieved at Public Health and Social Services, Guam Memorial Hospital was newly accredited after 26 years. Foreign investment grew as more and more companies became bullish on Camacho’s leadership style and commitment to grow the island into the next decade and beyond. The planning and building was Camacho’s commitment to “lay the foundation for others to follow” and an ideal his Cabinet ascribed to throughout his eight years in office.
However it was also a litigious time. Several long-standing issues came to the forefront all of which cost money. These financial burdens practically broke the back of the government leading to a permanent deficit because the mandates or requirements of law far exceed the capacity of the Government of Guam to meet them.
Camacho believes that his administration bettered the island by working with federal partners and private companies. He credits his faith and sense of purpose for keeping him grounded and focused on the job at hand. Public leaders need to realize that they are accountable to the people, according to Camacho, and that they will be held to a high standard to do what is right. Being the governor is a noble and gratifying occupation but there is a heavy price of much sacrifice to pay as well. For him and his family anyway, it was an honor, and a privilege to serve the people of Guam.
For further reading
Camacho, Felix P. “State of the Island Address.” Legislative Session Hall, Hagåtña, GU, 10 February 2007.
––– “State of the Island Address.” Legislative Session Hall, Hagåtña, GU, 14 April 2008.
––– “State of the Island Address.” Legislative Session Hall, Hagåtña, GU, 16 February 2009.
––– “State of the Island Address.” Legislative Session Hall, Hagåtña, GU, 15 February 2010.