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Played a major role since 1966

The Republican Party of Guam has played a major role in island politics since its inception in 1966. Five of Guam’s seven elected governors have been Republican (Carlos G. Camacho, Paul M. Calvo, Joseph F. Ada, Felix P. Camacho and Eddie Baza Calvo), and Republican senators controlled I Liheslaturan Guåhan/the Guam Legislature in the late 1970s, early 1980s, and for much of the past decade. In addition, one of Guam’s long-standing Congressmen, Gen. Vicente “Ben” Blaz, was Republican.

Up until 2008 Republicans controlled both the executive and legislative branches of government, as well as a majority of the mayors’ offices of Guam. In late 2007, long-time Republican Senator Antonio “Tony” Unpingco died while in office and a Democrat Benjamin “B.J.” Cruz was chosen during a special election to fill Unpingco’s seat, switching the majority to the Democrats. After the new Democratic majority challenged the Republican legislative leadership, the first female legislative speaker, Democrat Judith “Judi” Won Pat, was put in place March 2008.

Stems from the Territorial Party

The Republican Party of Guam stems from the old Territorial Party of Guam, which existed from 1956 through 1968. The Territorial Party was established in 1956 by discontented former Popular Party members including Frank D. Perez, Pedro Leon Guerrero, Edward T. Calvo, Cynthia J. Torres, B.J. Bordallo, Vicente Reyes, Felix Carbullido, and Antonio Duenas. The Territorial Party had only one successful election, in 1964, when it won a majority in the Guam Legislature with 13 of the 21  seats.

This changed during the 1966 election, when the Territorials lost all 21 seats to the Democrats. The Territorials’ demise came after they blocked a popular urban renewal plan, which was supported by the Democrats, as the Territorials backed private investment. The Territorial Party dissolved soon after.

On 21 November 1966, a few weeks after the general election of that year, former Governor Joseph Flores, along with former Territorial senators Carlos Garcia Camacho, Kurt S. Moylan, and Vicente C. Reyes, officially formed the Republican Party of Guam. Other Territorials soon became active, including Senators G. Ricardo Salas and Frank D. Perez. The new Republicans were careful not to portray their new party as a criticism of the Territorial Party, whose members they hoped to attract.

Some Territorials refused to join the party at first but by 1970 the holdouts had either retired or switched over to the Republican Party.

The formation of the new party was rooted in the belief held by its members that Guam had matured sufficiently to follow national political concepts and the realization that there needed to be two strong political parties on the island. Gov. Joseph Flores said when the party’s papers of incorporation were filed:

Those who are eager to join the ranks of the Republican Party of Guam are by no means a group of dissenters, but are men and women who are strongly convinced that Guam has matured sufficiently to follow the national political concept. We think Guam is going to benefit greater with the emergence of the Republican Party here.

Carlos Camacho said:

The Territorial Party is good, but we all realize there should be two strong parties. This movement, instead of splitting, is designed instead to solidify the Territorials.

In 1967, the first Lincoln Day Dinner was held. The dinner, in honor of famous Republican Abraham Lincoln, is now an annual tradition for the party. Former Governor Flores was elected chairman of the party in December 1967.

In 1968, Camacho was one of four local delegates to attend the national Republican convention, where he met many national figures, including presidential hopeful Richard Nixon. Nixon was elected in November 1968, and the Guam Republicans nominated Camacho to be the next appointed governor of Guam, following Democrat Manuel Guerrero. The party also nominated Moylan as Secretary of Guam (then the equivalent of lieutenant governor). Nixon appointed both Camacho and Moylan to the positions, and they were confirmed by the US Senate in June 1969.

In 1968 the Republicans put up their first slate of candidates for the legislative race that year. Although they didn’t win any legislative seats, they won six of the nineteen district commissioner positions. Commissioners, now Mayors, were considered important figures in the districts, and key to gaining support for the political parties.

Early Success

In September 1968 and as an amendment to the 1950 Organic Act, the Guam Elective Governor Act was passed in the US Congress, giving Guam residents the right to elect their own governor for the first time. The first elections were slated for 1970, and Camacho made it clear he would run. His running mate at first was former Senator G. Ricardo Salas, popular among the rank-and-file Republicans. Although this selection was a surprise to Moylan, it was a compromise designed to prevent a party split.

However, Camacho and Salas did not get along, and Camacho soon dropped him in favor of Moylan as a running mate. While Camacho ran unopposed, the Democrats had three teams:

  1. Speaker Joaquin Arriola and Senator Vicente Bamba
  2. Former Governor Guerrero and University of Guam president Antonio Yamashita
  3. Popular Senators Ricardo Bordallo and Richard “Dick” Taitano.

The campaigns among the Democrats were hard-fought, and the split proved to be fatal. Although the Bordallo-Taitano team won the Democratic primary, the other two Democratic camps didn’t support this slate, and many of them threw their weight behind Camacho-Moylan, who ended up winning the general election by taking 56 percent of the vote.

In the 1970 legislative election, the Democrats were weakened by their strongest candidates running for governor, as well as the bitter division in the party. The Republicans were able to take five seats in I Mina’ Onse na Liheslaturan Guåhan/the 11th Guam Legislature, led by Senator Paul M. Calvo, the top vote-getter in the election. The other first-time Republican senators were Concepcion C. Barrett, Pedro D. Perez, Vicente D. Ada, and Tomas R. Santos.

The Republicans had broken the Democratic stronghold, by winning the five seats and especially the governorship. They had the help of a number of long-term Democratic commissioners, and a number of Democrats who switched sides in that election stayed with the Republicans for life. In the 1972 legislative elections, the Republicans won seven seats. This including four new candidates: Alfred C. Ysrael, Antonio M. Palomo, Jerry M. Rivera, and future governor, Joseph F. Ada. They also won ten of the village commissioner slots, a majority.

In 1974, the Republicans took control of the Legislature, with a twelve-seat majority. They would hold that majority for eight years, the 13th through 16th Legislatures. However, the Republicans lost the governorship in 1974, as the party was split between the Camacho-Moylan ticket and the ticket of Senators Paul Calvo and Tony Palomo. Camacho-Moylan won the primary by only 261 votes. In the general election they suffered from a lack of support by the Calvo-Palomo team, who ran as a write-in team in the general election. Democrats Ricardo Bordallo and Rudy Sablan won the race for governor.

In 1978, the Republicans were united behind Calvo and running mate Joseph Ada, both top vote-getters. Former Governor Camacho declined to run, instead throwing his support to former opponent Calvo. Calvo won the election against a split Democratic Party, as Lt. Gov. Sablan ran against his former teammate Bordallo.

The 1980s and 1990s

The 1982 election proved to be a damaging one for the Republicans. Calvo lost the election for governor to Bordallo, and the Republicans lost their majority in the legislature. The Democrats would have another stronghold on the majority in the legislature well into the 1990s.

A positive note, however, was that former US Marine Corps brigadier general Vicente “Ben” Garrido Blaz gave long-time incumbent Congressman Antonio Won Pat a serious challenge for the first time in the history of the Guam delegate race, losing by only 718 votes. Blaz ended up beating Won Pat in the 1984 election, and held the position until 1993 when he was defeated by Robert Underwood.

In 1986, the team of Joseph Ada and Frank F. Blas defeated fellow Republicans Tommy Tanaka and Antonio R. Unpingco in the primary, and went on to beat Bordallo-Reyes in the general due in large part to eleven federal indictments handed down to Bordallo over corruption-related charges just before the September primary. Ada and Blas would end up serving two terms as chief executives, after getting re-elected in 1990.

In 1994, the Republican primary contest was a bitter one between Lt. Gov. Blas and the team of Senators Tommy Tanaka and Doris Flores Brooks. Tanaka-Brooks ended up winning the primary, and was ahead in polls for the general election against Democratic Senators Carl T.C. Gutierrez and Madeleine Z. Bordallo. But Gutierrez-Bordallo surged ahead in the last couple of weeks to win. They ended up serving for two terms, defeating Republicans Joe Ada and Felix Camacho in a bitter 1998 election that was not finally settled until a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court was rendered in favor of Gutierrez.

The Party today

The Republicans gained a major victory in I Mina’ Bente Kuåttro na Liheslaturan Guåhan/the 24th Legislature in the 1996 elections by winning the majority. The seeds of their victory were planted in the beginning of the previous legislative term, when they formed an alliance with a number of Democrats to oust Democrat Senator Tom Ada, who had been informally selected as speaker by the Democratic majority. The new alliance of Democrats and Republicans elected Democrat Don Parkinson as speaker instead, thereby exposing a serious rift among the Democrats. Fights were common between the Democrats in the 23rd Legislature, culminating in an infamous hotdog and chili throwing contest between Speaker Parkinson and Rules chairman Sonny Orsini, all caught on camera for the public to watch.

The squabbling of the Democrats helped the Republicans to a majority in I Mina’ Bente Kuåttro na Liheslaturan Guåhan/the 24th Guam Legislature, led by new Speaker Antonio Unpingco and Rules Committee chairman, Mark Forbes. The Republicans again held the majority in the 25th and 26th Legislatures.

In 2002, when top Republican senators Felix Camacho (son of former Governor Carlos Camacho), and Kaleo Moylan (son of former Lt. Gov. Kurt Moylan), Eddie Baza Calvo (son of former Governor Paul Calvo), and Unpingco all threw their hats in the gubernatorial race, and Senator (and former governor) Joseph Ada ran for Congress, the Republican slate for the legislature race was weakened. The Democrats re-took the legislative majority with the 2002 election. However, the Republicans gained it again in 2004. Winning Republican senators included new Speaker Mark Forbes, Dr. Michael Cruz, Eddie Calvo, Unpingco, Joanne Brown, and Ray Tenorio.

Meanwhile, Camacho and Moylan won the gubernatorial race, first defeating Unpingco-Calvo in the primary and then beating Democrats Robert Underwood (who was Guam’s Congressman) and running mate Tom Ada. Camacho-Moylan defeated the Underwood-Ada team by 4,750 votes. Unfortunately for the Republicans, the Camacho-Moylan administration underwent a major split between the two leaders during its current term, most publicly seen in Camacho’s firing of Moylan’s chief of staff and another aide, and Moylan’s subsequent filing of a lawsuit against Camacho.

The two decided not to run together in 2006. Instead Moylan chose a Democrat, former Senator Francis Santos, for his running mate for a two party ticket. Camacho chose freshman Senator Dr. Michael Cruz to run with him. Camacho and Cruz won the primary and defeated the Democratic team of former Congressman Robert Underwood and Senator Frank Aguon.

Eddie B. Calvo won the gubernatorial election in 2010 and again in 2014 along with Ray Tenorio as Lt. Governor.

By Leo Babauta

For further reading

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

Pacific Daily News. “Guam GOP Is Reality.” The Territorial Sun, 27 November 1966.

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.