Honorable Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero
Governor of Guam
January 2, 2023
“Renewal and Progress”
Lt. Gov. Tenorio, Speaker, Chief Justice, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Senators of the 37th Guam Legislature, distinguished guests and families, and my fellow citizens of Guam.
Four years ago, you bestowed upon me the greatest honor of my life – the privilege of serving as our island’s first female governor.
I came before you then, and spoke of our island’s long legacy of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds.
Occupation after occupation, invasion, torture, forced labor, and the unrealized promise of our self-determination.
I come before you today, and add yet another impossible mountain that our community has scaled: a global pandemic.
It has been a great privilege to witness our people come together, in kindness and compassion. In sacrifice, resilience, and resolve.
There are no words that will ever fully express how thankful I am to each and every one of you, that in the face of enormous adversity, you have, and will continue, to put each other above yourselves.
And there are no words to express how proud I am to have served as your governor these past four years, and how humbled I am that you have chosen me as your governor for the next four.
Yesterday, our island celebrated the new year. Every new year presents us with new opportunities. We take stock of our accomplishments, and reflect on the work we have yet to finish. But our eyes are focused on the future, contemplating the road that lies ahead.
As we push forward as an island, putting the pandemic firmly behind us and ending our public health emergency, it may seem intuitive to simply try to pick up where we left off, and move ahead as we intended, four years ago.
But we are not where we were four years ago. And we are not, as a people, who we were four years ago.
It is not possible to walk through the fire, as we have, and emerge unchanged.
We are standing on the precipice of a new era in our island’s history.
We are once again compelled to reexamine and reaffirm our values as a people, in a world that is rapidly changing.
This is a time to be bold. A time of upheaval, and renewal.
And as we work to find our footing in the shifting sands, we must continue to fight as a community for opportunities we once let pass because we were afraid or unsure.
We must seize the future we want for ourselves.
Each of us must heed the call and step forward, with our skills and experience, with our ingenuity, intelligence, and our might.
Our island made it through this pandemic on the backs of our world-class frontliners, who saved thousands of lives, using the meager resources and facilities available to them.
I spoke about this often with my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Margaret Hattori-Uchima. Margaret was the Dean of the School of Health at the University of Guam, a tireless advocate for our island’s homeless population, and a pillar of Guam’s nursing community. She worked her whole life to ensure our people had access to the best possible healthcare given our circumstances, and she left no stone unturned for her patients or our community.
We lost Margaret last week, and the immensity of her loss echoes in the halls of this university, as it does in the hearts of all who had the privilege of her friendship and counsel.
But her legacy endures in her work and in the lives she touched. And her commitment to the advancement of Guam’s healthcare delivery system lives on in those of us who remain.
More than ever, our limited medical resources strain under the weight of our community’s complex healthcare needs. They strain under the weight of past political inertia and the lack of fortitude to do what we know we must for the sake of our people.
We must do all that we can, within our resources and capability, to provide our healthcare workers with the means to do their important work, and to provide our people with the facilities they need to recover and heal.
I have been told that it is impossible to build a new hospital in four years. I have been told that we should make do with what we have, instead of fighting for what we deserve.
I refuse to accept this as our collective reality any longer, and neither should you.
And so, I say to you today, with every fiber of my being, and every ounce of my strength, that we can and we must and we will do better for our people, that we can and we must and we will build a new hospital.
The last three years have also shown us that we must do more to ensure the economic health of our island.
Four years ago, I stood in this very same hall and promised that we would retire our decades-long deficit. And in just three years, we made good on that promise, through fiscal discipline and frugal budgeting.
Our administration’s efforts in eliminating the deficit have paved the way for measures to uplift our people in the darkest of days. It has empowered us to help pay for electric bills, stem the rising cost of gas, and provide pandemic support for our people where federal funds could not be extended. This is government at its best.
The work of government doesn’t stop for emergencies. And during the pandemic, the work of our agencies did not merely continue, it expanded.
Where possible, our agencies leveraged technology, and moved some of our most fundamental services online. We boosted broadband infrastructure to enhance digital prosperity on our island, and broadened available public networks to promote a level playing field and create opportunities for the less resourced members of our community.
Recognizing the vulnerability of our war survivors, we not only fought for reparations, we quickly stood up programs to pay them out, so that our greatest generation could receive some measure of recognition and compensation for the trauma they endured during the Japanese occupation. Understanding that many of our families struggled financially during the pandemic, we expedited the payment of tax refunds, paying out within mere weeks of filing.
We convened a task force, under the leadership of Lt. Governor Tenorio, to streamline government permitting procedures, and to work to root out the most persistent operational bottlenecks in our government through long-term reform.
For industry partners who use these services, these reforms will be a true gamechanger, and I thank the Lt. Governor for his focused leadership on these issues.
Our administration understands that we must work both harder and smarter to make good on our promise to exemplify a government our community can trust, and a government our community can rely on, in good times, and especially in bad.
Visitors have returned to our island in numbers that substantially exceed expectations, signaling that our tourism industry is on the path to a full and speedy recovery.
But as we celebrate the reinvigoration of this key industry, it is important that we do not lose the self-starting hustle and momentum we achieved these last three years.
During the long pause in traditional industry brought on by the pandemic, as the world sat in the eye of the COVID-19 storm, inspiration sparked in the hearts and minds of our people.
These instincts are strong – the will to survive, the courage to pivot as obstacles erupt in our paths, the overwhelming need to live purposeful lives.
New businesses have seeded and sprouted up on our island, putting on proud display the inventiveness, resourcefulness, and entrepreneurial spirit of our people. These small businesses have breathed new life into entire industries, such as childcare, dining, arts, food delivery, and online retail.
Local efforts are under way to help incubate new businesses and bring these ideas to life. Through the work of the Economic Diversity Task Force and the Guam Unique Merchandise and Art, also known as GUMA, aspiring entrepreneurs receive training, support and funding.
These programs have led to the creation of sustainable businesses like LEAF, run by Andrea and Mark Murer, which manufactures and distributes eco-friendly dinnerware made from local plants and materials.
And businesses like Numa’lo, run by Mina Flores Cantrell, which operates a refillery for common hygiene and household products.
These programs have also helped existing home-based businesses expand, including Gourmet Guam, run by Rena and Joe Diego, a household name in pastry and dessert.
The incubation of these homegrown businesses not only helps strengthen our economy by ensuring that local dollars circulate in our community instead of moving off-island, but also heightens the value we place as a people on our ideas and our work.
Our economy is not only recovering from the pandemic, we are soaring to new heights. In 2020, just over two thousand business licenses were filed. In 2021, three thousand, six hundred business licenses were filed, followed by over three thousand, one hundred last year, hundreds more than pre-pandemic levels.
Our administration has joined the movement to modernize our economy, investing in industries like additive manufacturing and aquaculture, that address supply chain challenges unique to our remote geography. These industries are adaptable, sustainable, and dynamic, and the thousands of jobs created to support them will yield a workforce trained in advanced next generation technology, that will in turn inspire greater innovation and growth.
This is the initiative that will usher in a new age of economic opportunity for all who seek it. This is the energy that will carry our island into the future, and fortify us against any challenges on the horizon.
The confidence and certainty that, utilizing the education, protection, and support provided by our government, inspired collaboration with our business and community partners, and the bountiful resources provided by our island, our people have the wisdom, the drive, and tenacity to achieve exceptional things.
We must also do more to preserve the environmental health of our island. Protecting our island’s natural resources is a sacred charge. They are treasures entrusted to us by our ancestors for the benefit of future generations. We must not squander or exploit them for politics or for profit, but rather safeguard them vigilantly. Leaders the world over have taken heed of the devastating impact human activity has caused on our planet. As an island, we feel these changes to the natural environment more acutely than most anywhere else, and we must, all of us, rededicate ourselves to its protection, to ensure our island’s continued economic vitality, and to protect the health of our people, our culture, and our way of life.
As we emerge from the fog of the last three years, we are reminded that each one of us has a role to play in shaping the future of our island.
I reaffirm our administration’s pledge to forge ahead with reforms that will ensure our families are as safe on their streets as they are in their homes, that our children have the means and opportunity to learn, from teachers committed to their success, who are compensated appropriately, and that all our workers, regardless of their background, receive reasonable wages for their honest labor.
This vision for our future also requires that industry leaders invest more in our communities, and recognize that the success of their business, and the strength of their profits, depends on fair relationships with our people.
And finally, our island’s great promise can only be fulfilled by our people, by every heart and every mind, rising up with the determination and drive demanded by this moment in our island’s history, and adding your voice to the resounding chorus of a community unified and committed to fulfilling our island’s limitless potential.
Whatever your political allegiance is, whatever your age, ethnicity, or system of beliefs.
This is how we succeed. This is how we persevere – only, and always, together.
God bless you all, and God bless our island of Guam.