BY BRETT KELMAN • PACIFIC DAILY NEWS • JANUARY 18, 2011
Guam's connection to the beliefs and teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. is so strong it warrants a GovGuam holiday, despite the financial burden on a cash-strapped GovGuam, Gov. Eddie Calvo said yesterday.
Yesterday was the second year in a row the island has celebrated King's legacy with a GovGuam holiday.
"I think the symbolism for civil rights is so appropriate in Guam -- especially as we deal with this impending military buildup, especially as we deal with our political status as a territory -- so that is why I believe it is (appropriate,)" Calvo said.
According to Pacific Daily News files, each GovGuam holiday costs at least $450,000 of taxpayer money, plus additional spending by autonomous agencies.
Since becoming governor two weeks ago, Calvo has worked to steady a cash-strapped GovGuam, which he has said is running deep in the red and will shut down without severe cuts.
Calvo said the government's financial struggles haven't tempered his passion for the holiday and the message behind it.
"As far as I am concerned, it's apropos that this holiday be observed in Guam, especially in light of our social-political condition. We are an unincorporated territory, and we do not have the rights that Martin Luther King Jr. was fighting for," Calvo said.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day was a GovGuam holiday until 2002, when lawmakers cut six holidays to save dwindling government funds. It was re-instated in 2008. Five other holidays -- Presidents Day, Discovery Day, Good Friday, Columbus Day and Election Day -- have remained revoked.
Sen. Judith Guthertz first introduced the bill to reinstate Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January 2007. It took lawmakers more than a year to pass it. It was then vetoed by former Gov. Felix Camacho. The veto was then overridden by 11 senators.
Calvo and Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio, both of whom were senators at the time, supported the bill and the override.
Former Sen. James Espaldon was one of the few lawmakers who voted against the reinstatement of the holiday, and if he had to do it again, he said he would do the same.
Espaldon said the decision in 2008 was "tough," but there are simply too many other places where the government needs the money.
In fact, King's movement could be better remembered during a workday, Espaldon said, when students could learn lessons about the civil rights movement and employees could reflect on equality.
"I know on days off like this, we don't always reflect on the purpose," Espaldon said. "Sometimes we just look at it as a day off, to work around the house or watch football. ... It's not a commemoration."
In his veto letter to the Legislature, Camacho also argued the holiday was too expensive. Guam could celebrate civil rights without a holiday, the former governor wrote.
"While I admire and applaud the sacrifices and strides that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. accomplished in the struggle for equality, Bill No. 25 was passed by the Guam Legislature with no additional appropriation to cover the increased cost this government would incur," Camacho wrote in his veto message.
During a holiday celebration yesterday, Guthertz said Camacho was wrong to think the holiday was too expensive when it was clearly so important to many ethnic groups in the region.
"When I grew up on Guam, it was almost impossible for anyone on Guam to go to law school," Guthertz said. "It was impossible for anyone on Guam to go to medical school, or dental school, or architectural school, or even become an officer in the United States military. The sacrifices of Dr. King ... changed lives on Guam for the better, and that's why we are recognizing him today."
Guthertz spoke at an AmeriCorps event at the Agana Shopping Center yesterday, which united community service groups from around the island to celebrate King's teachings.
More than a hundred volunteers from the groups, mostly consisting of young people, packed into the center's plaza for speeches and Chamorro cultural presentations. Informational booths, sponsored by each of the different AmeriCorps branches, encircled the event, spreading messages of selfless service, equality and empathy.
At the beginning of the event, AmeriCorps Director George Salas asked the volunteers to stand up so they could be congratulated for their willingness to help others.
Their compassion could change the community, he said, and inspire others to do the same.
"These are the people that will make things happen," Salas said.