A former activist, educator, politician, Underwood has written extensively about Chamorro culture, language, Guam history, political status and even politics in the US. I have 10 or so quotes from him which I constantly use to talk about everything from decolonization, the durability of Chamorro culture, or the joke that Guam is in terms of Federal-territorial relations. Congresswoman Bordallo, delegates before her all shares similar issues and concerns. They've all had to deal with Chamorro self-determination and trying to get some traction from the Federal Government in terms of getting the US to fulfill its moral obligation to decolonize Guam. They've all worked with the Feds to get excess federal lands returned. They've all tried and failed to get war reparations passed.
One experience that both Bordallo and Underwood had the gross privilege of getting to endure is, that they have both been a part of the political drama over delegate "rights." Early in Underwood's term and towards the middle of Bordallo's term, they both found themselves at the center of a debate over what rights if any, non-voting delegates should have. For Underwood, this drama was pretty significant, as Democrats changed the House rules to allow territorial delegates to vote in committee and to vote at large. These votes were allowed only as long as they did not count, and did not affect the outcome of any vote on legislation. The Democrats did this in order to inflate their members in the Congress, to try to take control of committees. When they lost the House in 1994, these new symbolic powers for delegates were removed. In 2006, when the Democrats retook the House, Congresswoman Bordallo received these powers again until 2010, when the Republicans returned to power.
The initial fracas over the delegate powers eventually became a court case, where it was ruled that the powers didn't violate the US Constitution since they were only symbolic and didn't actually give the non-voting delegates any power. In 1994, USA Today did an interview with then delegate Robert Underwood on his thoughts on the battle. In that interview, which I'm posting below, he also discusses the Commonwealth legislation which would die several years later, the UN role in decolonizing Guam, and the relationship between Guam and states such as Hawai'i or Alaska who were the last two states admitted to the American Union.
INTERVIEW WITH UNDERWOOD
USA TODAY (Arlington, VA) - Wednesday, December 28, 1994Author: (c) Gannett News Service
Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 was perhaps the biggest political event of the year. Gannett News Service correspondent David Judson spoke with Del. Robert Underwood on the implications of the GOP victories in 1995 for the territories. Following is their conversation:
QUESTION: It would seem best to start with the Republican takeover of Congress. In the last month and a half, we've seen the delegates stripped of their vote and arguably you and your fellow delegates have been marginalized in the House. We don't know quite what this Republican takeover is going to mean for territories. How do you see the situation?
ANSWER: We really have to examine where we are going in terms of the new political realities here in Washington. Those new political realities are going to call upon the people of Guam and the political leadership of Guam to be more in sync, more connected than in the past. There are a number of challenges. Some might argue that we are on a collision course. On the one hand, as Guam's political leadership is becoming more insistent upon dealing with federal-territorial issues, there is a political direction in this city which takes us away from that. In order to collide you have to have two engines running at each other. In our situation, one engine may be running in one direction and the other engine in another direction. That's the perennial problem of federal-territorial relations.
Q: So, the future of federal-territorial relations is a choice between a collision or irrelevancy?
A: That's a good way of seeing it. When people say they want to know where they stand, what they really want to do is bring the question to the surface. When you bring the question to the surface, you bring controversy to the surface and you encourage the kind of political collision course that you want. Fundamentally, the issues we want resolved are mutual consent as we see it and self-determination as we see it. We want that collision course, we want that resolved in some fundamental way. On the other hand, you get the sinking feeling that as the national trends go off in some other direction, that you are taking a swing at air. You are left strategically trying a judo trick, it's like jujitsu. How do you maximize your power at a given time? You're left thinking, shall I harness all my political energy and frame it within a national issue that is important to this town? Or, should I make such a pest of myself until I can no longer be ignored?
Q: So, carrying your analogy of jujitsu, can you characterize the strategy of jujitsu politics before Nov. 8 and the jujitsu politics post-Nov. 8?
A: Well, this is all preliminary but we assumed initially that our jujitsu opponent, if you will, was the administration and that subsequently we would deal with Congress. The idea in my first term was to take on opponents in succession. Now, after the election, it appears to be a tag-team situation where both opponents are coming at you and you have to be very good in dealing with both simultaneously. The Republican-controlled Congress is obviously going to be less amenable to waiting its turn in this sequence of events. There are a number of practical difficulties associated with that. On the one hand, when I reintroduce the Commonwealth Bill, what committees does it get referred to? Initially the speaker-to-be had indicated he was against multiple referrals. That's good for a bill like Commonwealth. But he subsequently said he's not against sequential referral. That creates an unsure environment. All the benchmarks, the levers that you pull, were real clear before. Now, as we are going into the new Congress, it is not clear and so many things are in flux.
Q: So is it fair to say you have two adversaries here?
A: Well, not necessarily adversaries but two venues in which you have to carry on the struggle. What we worked on in the first two years was to deal with things in sequence - administration first, Congress second. Now, the first question that comes to mind is, how do we handle the administration and the Congress?
Q: It doesn't sound like you know.
A: I would argue that we have an opportunity to have a series of hearings on Commonwealth. Obviously this involves things that we have to work out with the incoming governor and the Commission on Self-Determination. I'm not the only person involved.
Q: So Team Guam now has to rewrite its playbook?
A: Team Guam has to put in some new plays.
Q: Maybe then we should take this new venue, the new Republican Congress, a piece at a time. What do you think of Don Young (Republican of Alaska, new chairman of the Public Lands and Natural Resources Committee), the new territorial overseer?
A: I'm very optimistic about his personal attention to territorial issues. He himself grew up as a citizen of the territory of Alaska. He's very open. He's quite willing to engage in substantive debate and discussion. He also introduced political status legislation of his own. He introduced in the last Congress the incorporation approach. The committee never reported it out, and I had my own questions about that particular piece of legislation. But he is very engaged personally. I take that as a positive sign that we can bring to the attention of the full committee the issues of federal territorial relations in a way that did not occur in the previous Congress.
Q: The twin pillars of Guam's self-determination quest seem to be Chamoru self-determination and mutual consent. Both of those issues could be argued for in the context of traditional, classic Democratic Party values with some success. Obviously indigenous rights, self-determination, those are things that Democrats have a hard time opposing. How do you see those issues playing against the political value structure of the Republican Party?
A: The Republican philosophy that we find attractive, that we think will help boost our case, is to move government away from Washington and to move it toward localities. That is to our favor. It is not clear what they mean by federal-territorial relations. In the past, however, the Commonwealth idea was in the Republican national platform, at the behest of local Guam Republicans. We'll have to see how that works itself out. If you make a broad characterization about parties and territories, one would assume that Democrats would be more sympathetic. They are more bent in that direction, helping those without power, assisting those that have been without. Whereas the Republicans appear to be more interested in just making sure the same rules apply to everybody, that government should be the last resort if you have a difficulty rather than the first resort. To some extent there are pluses and minuses on both. With the Democrats, sometimes sympathy can smother you. To some extent that has happened in the past. While we may not get a lot of sympathy or hand wringing from Republicans, we may get a straight-up deal.
Q: Maybe you could elaborate on that a bit more specifically?
A: The twin pillars of mutual consent and Chamoru self-determination are problematic in Washington, D.C., regardless of who's in power, simply because they run counter to common-sense notions of American citizenship, notions that there is a natural order between the federal government and the states. We are now introducing a concept that says let's take territories into the equation, and in exchange for that, for the lack of territorial participation in national politics, we should have our power as territories enhanced. That runs counter to the whole notion of political discourse. Then, of course, the idea that the Chamoru people need to be engaged in a political status referendum, which is perfectly acceptable to people once they understand it, is something else that runs against common notions of American citizenship. I always assumed that the Chamoru self-determination component of Guam Commonwealth would be easier with Democrats and more difficult with Republicans and that mutual consent would be harder with Democrats and easier with Republicans. But some conversations I've had actually flip-flop the two, so it is not real clear.
Q: Let me make sure I understand. It sounds as if when we are talking about mutual consent, the jujitsu for Republicans is to argue for more local control, moving power away from Washington?
A: That's correct.
Q: So then what's the Republican jujitsu when it comes to self-determination?
A: The issue there is simply to lay out the historical record. When you talk about political status change, you are talking about an election which allows for people who have had political self-determination denied. You are not talking about a general right of American citizenship. If it were true that the right to self-determination were a general right of American citizenship, we might be constantly engaging in political self-determination. But we are not. It is only certain areas and certain peoples, because of the historical circumstances, which merit this kind of consideration. My very strong feeling is that in the existing Commonwealth Draft Act, the way Chamoru self-determination is being proposed is for it to occur under the direction and management of the entire electorate of Guam. Involving the entire electorate of Guam is a very reasoned and reasonable approach. What we are proposing, essentially, is that just how it occurs will be left to a Guam constitution. In turn, the Guam constitution will be drafted by delegates who will be elected by the entire electorate. It allows the most democratic, mass participation in taking care of this historical necessity.
Q: So the entirety of the Guam electorate will basically devise the formula to remedy this historical injustice against a portion of the electorate?
A: That's right.
Q: And that is something you see the Republicans being able to understand and perhaps embrace?
A: I think so. To some extent they have seen it happen with Native American groups. It is seen as something that is not entirely beyond the pale.
Q: One tension in Guam politics, it seems to me, is kind of an ongoing debate about how best to deal with the federal government. Is it best to seek to ingratiate and work for change from inside, or is it best to embrace the politics of confrontation and work the picket line so to speak? First, to what degree would you accept my broad generalization? Secondly, if you do accept my suggestion, how to you see that dynamic playing against the new political realities of Washington?
A: Having been on both sides of that contrast that you have given, it behooves us to continue to exercise both. I think it is clear that both work in various circumstances. It's like the old discussion in foreign policy: do economic sanctions work, or should you just beat the adversary over the head? Both work, it depends on the situation. I've never had any problems with confrontation. There have been a couple of demonstrations during my first term that have occurred on Guam which have actually made my task easier here.
Q: So how do the politics of confrontation work in the new Washington?
A: When you decide to confront people, you confront them on the basis of things that are important to them. If you have adversary A, you try and figure out in advance what are the things that are important to adversary A? And then you utilize that in your confrontation. If you are confronting adversary B, you try and figure out the things that are most important to adversary B. It goes back to your earlier question about the political values that distinguish Republicans from Democrats. If you find that in dealing with Republicans, that they are more interested in defense issues, then you utilize Guam's defense role to say, `This is who we are, this is why we are important to you and this could change.' If, on the other hand, you are dealing with people whose political will is more oriented toward `doing the right thing,' then you say `this is our historical record of being wronged; now is your opportunity to do the right thing.' You don't operate in a vacuum. Clearly Guam's defense role, the importance that the new Congress is going to attach to defense issues is going to pump up the importance of Guam and make my role on the National Security Committee in the cultivation of Guam issues as is my committee assignment in Public Lands and Natural Resources.
Q: So what you are suggesting then is that the chief venue for the politics of confrontation - which in recent times has been the United Nations - will become toward Nimitz House or the Pentagon?
A: What I am suggesting is that you have to understand what is important to your adversary and then that's how you deal with it. For example, if your adversary doesn't care about the United Nations, it is impossible to embarrass them at the United Nations. If on the other hand they care about the United Nations, then it makes more sense to invest more energy into that. With a new Congress that says, `stop funding U.N. peacekeeping,' with some people saying, `let's get out of the U.N. or cut back on our participation,' that makes the United Nations even more irrelevant than it has been in the past.
Q: Speaking of the politics of confrontation seems to invite a question about the APEC meeting, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. We recently saw a skirmish on that issue: whether Guam is to be allowed to participate. Puerto Rico was given a role in the Summit of the Americas dialogue, which is analogous in some ways. At one point you had a meeting scheduled with the State Department to discuss APEC that apparently didn't come to pass. What's cooking with APEC?
A: Right now nothing. The State Department people said they were going to come back with some proposal for Guam involvement. Right now everybody is in kind of a Christmas mood. There are not too many people here. I know that there is a commitment by the State Department to offer something. I can say with relative assurance that no matter what they offer it will be insufficient. Barring their saying that Guam will be an automatic member of APEC, it still begs the question of what to do with Guam in regional organizations. I'm sure there will be an attempt to placate Guam similar to when I first started raising the issue and I was invited to the first APEC meeting in Seattle in 1993. That only came as a result of raising the issue on the floor. I didn't do that but I did last month take the White House up on the offer to go to Miami (to the summit of the Americas) to simply observe what kind of treatment Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands were getting.
Q: What kind of treatment did they get?
A: From my observation, not much. In fact, the whole point of most U.S. officials being down there, other than the President and the State Department, was a chance for those officials to say they are engaged in the process, when in fact we were not engaged. There was no opportunity for us to meet anybody from any country other than the United States. So I ended up talking to the governor of Puerto Rico. And he ended up talking to me.
Q: So in short, parity with Puerto Rico's status in the Summit of the Americas will not be the standard you seek to achieve for Guam in APEC?
A: I don't think Guam was looking for the same thing that Puerto Rico got. What they got was polite treatment. But Puerto Rico as an entity was not treated any differently than, well for example, the governor of Oklahoma who was also there.
Q: It is perhaps also important to remember there's a distinction: The Summit of the Americas was specifically a meeting of sovereign states. APEC is not?
A: That's right. It's the old member economy versus member nation canard. It was that canard that allowed us the opportunity to raise the issue.
Q: Back a little bit on Republicans and the strategies you'll be carrying into the politics of 1995. Obviously the issue of the Endangered Species Act has insinuated itself into Guam's land politics in a dramatic way. Incoming Chairman (of Public Lands and Natural Resources Committee) Young has already declared his intention for a major rewrite of the Endangered Species Act and the law is on the priority list of Republican frustrations.
A: As a matter of fact, I did have a discussion with Don Young about the Endangered Species Act and he says he understands our situation quite well.
Q: What do you foresee happening on that issue?
A: What I would like to see happen, is the same thing that I tried to work on with the Department of Defense reauthorization act last year. That is, the creation of restoration advisory boards in which the environmental activities of the Department of Defense are independently overseen by local communities. What I would like to see in a new Endangered Species Act is a provision to allow for local communities to oversee these preservation activities. There is no meaningful community input into the process now. We also have to deal with the science involved. It's weird science that motivates the desire to create some of these huge wildlife refuges. The fact, in Guam's case, is that you have a predator. Until you deal with the issue of predators, then the habitat has nothing to do with the demise of the birds. So who scientifically reviews that? As it turns out, nobody. The scientists themselves who are most interested in expanding the authority of Fish and Wildlife Service are the scientists who are coming up with this. The community has no independent assessment. It's not a question, of who comes first, people versus animals. It's a question of who comes first, local communities or national policy?
Q: What about economic development? You had your economic development conference last summer. Economic development seems to be a theme that resonates well in Republican circles. Where do see that going?
A: We are going to work toward a second Capitol Hill economic conference in which we are going to identify - as has been done in the past - the federal policies that impede the economic growth of Guam. We piqued the interest personally of (U.S. trade representative) Mickey Kantor on the issue of free trade movements and the impact on territories outside the customs zone. He told me that no one has ever raised that issue with him. We have to also deal with the issue of GovGuam revenues and any tax cuts given our mirror tax code.
Q: What have we left out? We didn't talk about reparations. What's happening with that?
A: There are two people issues that I'm hopeful we'll be successful on. One is war restitution for the people of Guam who endured the occupation. This year, we were able to have a hearing on that for the first time and report it out of the subcommittee. We don't know how the new leadership with deal with that issue, but we have very strong networks of Japanese-Americans citizen leagues and certainly the veterans after the 50th anniversary have helped us out a great deal. The other issue that we are still working on is the Philippines visa waiver. We are going to try and do that administratively if possible. We've already begun the discussions with OTIA (Office of Territorial and International Affairs) which has oversight responsibility on the Guam visa waiver program. We want to see an experimental program come to fruition this year. Those are two important people issues that remind us why we are in business to begin with.