July 28th, 2009



July 28, 2009

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Senator Murkowski, and Members of the Committee. It is truly an honor and a privilege to be here today as President Obama and Secretary Salazar's nominee for Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Areas at the Department of the Interior. The re-establishment of this position by the President and Secretary Salazar, after more than fifteen years of absence, has signaled re-commitment and recognition of our fellow Americans outside the lower forty-eight, Alaska, and Hawaii. I come before this Committee much obliged, humbled and most keenly aware of the unique responsibility that this position entails.

Before going any further, I would like to thank my family, especially my wife Barbara, close friends, colleagues and Members of Congress - all of whom, in various indelible ways, have made my being here possible. Since the birth of my daughter, Gabriella, who is now six and was born with some physical disabilities, I have been instilling in her one message which I would like to make a part of the record – Sweetheart you can do and be anything you want if you study earnestly, work hard, and stay focused. I believe one day she will better appreciate such guidance as well as this historic moment for our family and for all island communities.

My entry into public service is no mere coincidence or happenstance. I am a Guam native, a Chamorro – born on the island and a son of Agat. My father's U.S. military service necessitated our family relocating from Guam at an early age to live in various parts of the country. My mother, having given up her own professional federal career to raise me and my two sisters, volunteered her time to schools and organizations in each community we resided. Dad's military service and Mom's volunteerism bestowed upon me, at a very early age- a desire and a firm determination to serve this country and my community.

We moved back to Guam as I entered high school and upon graduating from Father Duenas Memorial I left home to attended college at Gonzaga University. While attending college I became involved in the island's local government by working for its legislature. Some of my early mentors were Belle Arriola, former Governor Ricky Bordallo and his wife and current Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo – as were numerous others dedicated to serving and representing Guam.

Eleven years ago, I left the island once more to work on Capitol Hill. I began as a legislative assistant for another mentor of mine, Robert Underwood. After a year and some with Mr. Underwood, I was asked to join the Democratic staff of the House Resources Committee – which is where, under Ranking Member George Miller, and current Chairman Nick Rahall, I developed a deeper understanding of insular issues and the legislative process first as professional staff and eventually as the staff director of the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans, and Wildlife. During my tenure, I worked directly on legislation renewing the Compact of Free Association with the Marshall Islands and Micronesia, creating a non-voting delegate seat for the Northern Mariana Islands, authorizing the Guam War Claims Review Commission, providing a self-determination process to Puerto Rico, and empowering the VI government control over its local tax structure.

I believe that my upbringing, career experiences and genuine commitment to the insular areas afford me the requisite credentials to serve as Assistant Secretary. To the table, I bring a forward-thinking approach, cognizant of the often practical, cultural, social, and economic challenges our insular areas and their leaders face. In addition, I have earned respect among colleagues I have worked with on the Hill and with island leaders throughout the Pacific and the Caribbean. I believe all are aware I am collaborative, firm, thoughtful, and realistic in my approach to issues. If confirmed, my vision is one that will be hands-on, one where priorities will be established early and our ability to confront multi-dimensional challenges is enhanced and cultivated daily.

If confirmed as Assistant Secretary, my commitment is to work toward improving the quality of life in the insular areas by providing the necessary leadership and insisting on measurable results. I believe in forging a new beginning for the islands. I believe that if we intend to move forward, we must reject the one-size-fits-all approach. I believe we must embrace an approach that contains real measures for policy success.

For more than a century under the American flag, the U.S. insular areas have grappled with issues from working to protect their indigenous cultures and languages, to tackling federal policies that impact and oftentimes hinder their economic, social and political development. Coupled with this unique relationship between the United States and her territories lies an endemic duty to ensure and effectuate federal policies that are mindful, foremost, of insular needs and the challenges that encumber such developments.

Throughout our country's periods of peace and war, U.S. territories, along with our relationships with other affiliated Pacific Islands, have been integral to both the security and growth of our democracy. We have a responsibility to foster sustainable development; providing a path for energy independence, improving infrastructure, responding to economic challenges, and promoting self government.

I am confident that with the right leadership in place at the Department of the Interior, our commitment to cooperation and genuine concern for the islands and the peoples' welfare will be fortified. The tasks before us are certainly vast but never impossible. If we come together, solidify our commitment and maximize our effectiveness, we will and can move forward to improve life on our islands. If confirmed, I look forward to working with this Committee to address these challenges.

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