Senator Castro has been traveling for a position appointed by governorWritten by Janela Carrera
Guam - Barely six months into his first term as a lawmaker and without a single bill introduced yet, Senator Wil Castro has already done more traveling than any other freshman senator. On top of that, all of Castro’s travel so far was for a position appointed under the governor and not the Legislature.
Since his inauguration into the 34th Guam Legislature as a freshman senator, Castro has taken a total of three trips off island and although he tells PNC that all of those trips were federally funded, they were taken for an appointed position he held prior to getting elected into office. In fact, the position--US Coral Reef Task Force representative--was appointed by Governor Eddie Calvo when Castro was still the Bureau of Statistics and Plans director.
"The idea behind the point of contact is for any jurisdiction on the Coral Reef Task Force is to represent the concerns of the jurisdiction," explained Castro of his role on the task force.
According to Castro, he requested to stay on as the representative after he was elected into the Guam Legislature for '"continuity" sake. The recent trips were taken all within the span of his first few weeks in office. Castro says he spent about one week in American Samoa, three to four days in Hawaii and another week in Washington DC--all of them for about four different meetings. The trips were taken between January and February 2017.
So how were all these trips paid for?
"It cost the people of Guam nothing," noted Castro ."The travel has either been federally funded or funded through private grants."
But did it really cost the people of Guam nothing? Castro admits that the funds were initially paid by the Legislature but later reimbursed with federal money. Another one of the trips was privately funded. But if the position is appointed through the executive branch, why did the Legislative branch front the cash?
"We use local funds but it has since been reimbursed because the process of travel, usually it’s convoluted. It can go, depending on which organization your’e working with. So for example, the regional planning body I think is the one example where they would reimburse you. So it started out with local funds--well this is just one rare exception. Having known that now, I don’t know if--well, the bottom line is we didn’t use local money at the end of the day it was repaid back," he said.
Senator Castro responded to concerns that he’s done more traveling than most other lawmakers and that his travels were for positions not as a senator but as a US Coral Reef Task Force representative appointed by Governor Calvo.
PNC: "Senator there would be, on the same token, some who would argue that you were elected to be a senator, not to be a US Coral Reef Task Force representative or not to continue to travel, albeit federally funded."
"I don’t think people said, I don’t think people believe for a moment that they elected you to be a senator to sit in your office and at your desk and look at local appropriations only. No, I think people are looking for leaders who are willing to make a difference," he said. "I don’t think anybody will question the fact that my office, my team, myself included, put in way more hours after 5 [pm] and on the weekends than probably your typical senator," he said.
"Even as a sitting senator, even as an incumbent senator of the 34th Guam Legislature, my staff and I continue to aggressively seek alternative sources of funding whether it’s federal or local and that’s because I’m of the firm belief that my only job is not restricted to passing the budget. I went on the record before the election and I’ll say it again now that the job of a senator is to lead and sometimes that would require you to be entrepreneurial and think out of the box and to leverage resources that are not restricted to the general fund. While people are looking within to cut $5,000 here and $10,000 there, I challenge my staff and I lead and facilitate those discussions to chase after grants that are $180,000, $250,000 or even as small as $15,000," he added.
Senator Castro points out that through these trips, he’s worked on potentially securing new money for Guam through various grants worth half a million dollars.