Get to know me!
I started my career as a police officer graduating as valedictorian in both the 1st Para-Police Cycle and 23rd Police Cycle of the Guam Police Department. After 13 decorated years, I joined my father in launching an insurance brokerage and business consulting firm known as Frank Blas & Associates, Inc.
In 2002, I was tapped to be Guam's first Homeland Security Advisor and established the Guam Office of Homeland Security and helped to create the United States Department of Homeland Security.
In 2006, I was elected into the 29th Guam Legislature and served as the Chairman of the Committee on Health, Human Services & Homeland Security. I subsequently served in three other Legislatures (30th, 31st, and 33rd) before leaving and assuming the role of President in the business started by my father and I years earlier.
I served as President and CEO of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Guam. I created and serve as President of the Guam War Survivors Memorial Foundation. I am a board member with the Ayuda Foundation of Guam, and recently worked collaboratively with the Guam Daily Post and other community entities to help displaced workers in a movement called "Feed the Need."
I am a licensed insurance broker, a business consultant, a personal development trainer, and a certified life coach. I was an adjunct professor in Criminal Justice at the Guam Community College and a contributing columnist with the Guam Daily Post and wrote numerous articles for "Across the Aisle" and "Building Your Legacy."
My soulmate, life partner, and spouse is the former Tillie Carmen Reyes and we have four daughters, thirteen grand children, and two great grand children.
We live in a democracy where government serves the people – not the other way around.
There is growing dissention between government and the people they serve.
Government should not be allowed to run unchecked.
Like a home or a business, government should not spend more than it has.
Government should only operate where the community cannot provide or do.
Opportunities and potential should be fostered by government – not dissuaded or restricted.
I’m running because, like you, I want our island to be better.
I believe we need to restore respect, responsibility, dignity, sense, and pride back into our community.
We’ve got a lot of rebuilding to do – our lives, our homes, our businesses, our services, our government. However, to do this right, we need to restore the trust, confidence, and belief in our community.
Many have lost confidence, respect, and faith in all branches of our government. These attributes need to be restored if we’re to progress and once again become the pride of the Pacific.
In our CHamoru culture, we have what is called INAFA’ MAOLEK, which means “to make good.” It has also been interpreted to mean “restoring harmony.” We need to come together as a community in order for us to get through these rough times, and we need a government that works for our people and with our people for the good and future of our island.
My father passed on some great advice. Here is the first of many.
For as long as I can remember, any time a family member was leaving on a trip or to just go across the street, the words you heard as they head off were “love you.” Saying it became so natural, automatic, and expected that if it wasn’t said as you were leaving, you were guaranteed to be asked, “Are you forgetting something?”
Fast forward to right around 1997 as I was developing a drug prevention presentation and going over it with my father. While we were discussing a portion of the program on family support, my father felt that it was important to emphasize that while family love, support, and care were important, meaning it was crucial. “When you say “I love you, mean it.”
In 2006 after the final numbers for the general election were announced and I had earned a seat in the Guam Legislature, I had a conversation with my father about what I should expect and what he expected of me. He told me that with all the opportunities I will have to effectuate positive change, never do the right thing for the wrong reasons.
There are always reasons why people do things. Sometimes good, other times bad. In politics, as is the case in business, amongst friends, and with our family, there are decisions we make that either determine or contribute to determining an outcome. If a decision is based on selfish or destructive reasons and not for what is best for those who may be affected, the action may cause more harm than good.
As a Senator, I saw actions taken by a couple of my former colleagues that were clearly doing the right things for the wrong reasons. It bothered me so much that I would call them on their antics and vote against their measures, even if the legislation had the votes necessary or my vote was needed for its passage. While my stance may have costed support for my bills, I never went to bed with a guilty conscious.
When you do something for others, do it without expectation of accolades and fame. Furthermore, don’t let your actions be dictated by the number of likes or thumbs-up emojis you anticipate to receive. Finally, know that what is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right.
My siblings and I were always fascinated at the work our parents did not just in their jobs but in their civic roles as well. One aspect that we found both fascinating and enduring was their contentment that so long as there was accomplishment, it didn’t matter who got the credit for it.
Admittedly in my early years it was difficult to understand why a person wouldn’t want recognition for the work they led to achieve or that they be given credit when credit is due. One day, I decided to sit with my father and inquire about his philosophy on the matter.
My father stated that when you take on a project and make it all about you, you may lose sight of the reason why it should be done. People are inclined to work better together when there are no ulterior motives or personal agendas that have to be dealt with. He asked how I would feel if I had to work with a team where the leader believed it was all about him and ignored my contributions. He went on to state that achievements are greater and more meaningful when there is true collaboration without the nuance of grandstanding and credit seeking.
It was through our parents that we learned never to do the right thing for the wrong reasons and not to worry about who gets the credit, just get the work done.
Growing up, I sometimes had the best seat in the house to watch my father work. I watched as he ran board meetings, directed government operations, secured contracts, created opportunities, and granted wishes. One day in the weeks before he passed, I was having lunch with him and asked what drove him to do all the things he did. My dad responded by saying he always looked for opportunities to do the right thing for people, and if there was one but no one was doing anything about it, he took charge and ran with it. To this day I remember exactly what he said – “God purposefully puts opportunities in front of you because he knows that you can do it. When given the chance, don’t wait for others to start….Lead!”
When my father and I started our business many years ago, I was tasked to put together a business plan for a consulting service we were to provide. After painstakingly completing the proposal, I presented it to him and he asked when it would be implemented. When I said soon, my father replied, “Soon is not a day in the week or a month in the year and there is no value in a plan of action until you take action on the plan.”
We may plan to do things in our lives, whether it be for personal or professional purposes, but unless we do things in line with that plan, there will be nothing gained. A suggestion for the next time you produce a plan is to is include specific dates or timelines. Remember, don’t use “soon” or “tomorrow” because “soon” is not a date and tomorrow never comes.
Although I can’t fully recall how the conversation came to be, I do remember that it had something to do with a childhood incident that I claimed no responsibility for (although I did do it). Although I thought I had a believable alibi, I’m sure that Dad had all the reason and evidence to know otherwise. And other than executing corporal punishment for my untruthfulness, all he said was, “Although I didn’t see what you did, don’t ever think you can hide from God.”
It’s remembering those words that continuously reminds me that everything I think, say, and do is known by a power higher than any human can be. And in the end, it is character and morals that have more meaning and significance than wins and fame.
Besides that, you sleep better.
I’m going to blame the following partly on being physically tired and mentally drained after our successful food distribution in Yigo and Talofofo. It is discerning that I had to describe our distribution as successful, being that it was an unfortunate necessity. Before I go on, be forewarned, I’m might embarrass and anger some of you - and if I do, so be it!
We started our distribution 15 minutes earlier than anticipated because of concerns of the number of cars already lined up to receive the commodities. The first vehicle in line was driven by Elly, a middle-aged Filipino who got to the site at 2:30 that morning. Elly feared that if he didn’t get there early enough, he would not have been able to receive food as he had already been turned away in earlier distributions because supplies ran out. Elly was employed at a major hotel as a maintenance worker prior to the COVID-19 shutdown and was laid-off from the only job he had. Elly received his last paycheck on March 20th. Other than a federal stimulus check, he has had no source of income to provide for his family. His words to me before he departed with his bag of food was, “Thank you and I continue to pray that things will get better.”
I had positioned myself between the two lines of continuous flowing vehicles to manage the traffic flow, and from my vantage point, I saw Elly’s pain in almost every car that passed. There were fathers who were maintenance workers, sons who were stock boys, daughters who were waitresses, mothers who were front desk clerks, college graduates who were administrative workers, and recent high school graduates who now have to fend for themselves. It wasn’t too long before feelings of anger and disappointment consumed me. “It’s been over three months since many of these people received a paycheck. Why is it taking this long?”
I looked at the faces of the individuals who had come out to help with the distribution and began to notice that while they were doing a good thing, their expressions were being molded by words of suffering and the pleas for more help that they were hearing from recipients. I recalled that before we started, there was eagerness and excitement to put food in the hands of people who needed it. Quickly, it turned to concern for the continued welfare of the recipients and worry that we may not have enough for everyone that needed the commodities we were distributing.
This weighed on me even more.
When over $300 Million in pandemic assistance money is still sitting in a bank account that should have been disbursed weeks ago, there’s no wonder why there was a line of cars almost two miles long with community members waiting for their turn to receive a bag of much needed food. We’ve heard all the excuses for why the money hasn’t been released – the lack of an accepted system, glitches in the program, wanting to abide to the no gathering order, waiting on process approvals, uncertainty of necessary authorizations, and incomplete information on applications. For the thousands like “Elly,” all it means is that it’s been over 90 days since the government ordered them to leave their jobs and go home. And in these days as they continue to struggle to feed their hunger, pay their bills, and keep their faith, the people they’re relying on for help don’t see the urgency in the situation because THEY’RE STILL GETTING PAID.
It is hard to try to make ends meet when you have to do it without a steady source of income. It’s even harder when you don’t know when you’re going to work for a living again.
Some individuals were fortunate enough that they had some money tucked away. Whether it was in a savings account, an investment portfolio, some cash value in a life insurance policy, or a coffee can hidden under the bed, and after spending that last paycheck they received right before they were told that they were laid off or furloughed, they dipped into that remaining money they had and prayed that there would be relief soon. As days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, they scrounged, they shared, they asked, they begged, and they continued to pray. All the while, the leaders who told them that aid and assistance would soon be coming were STILL GETTING PAID!
This writing isn’t targeted at the rank and file government workers who were also told to go home but still got their pay. They only followed what they were ordered to do. This is for the leaders who waited to react, who failed to see the urgency in the growing situation, who seemed more focused on how much overtime they could earn, who didn’t realize the confusion and fear they were perpetuating in their ever-changing releases, who aren’t concerned about the tax burden they continue to place on businesses even though they ordered businesses to close down, and who find it more important to debate about rip tide current signs and hiking guides as opposed to disaster mitigation and economic recovery. This is for the leaders who are STILL GETTING PAID!
Please don’t let Elly go hungry another day.
WE'RE NOT IN IT TOGETHER!
When a storm devastates our island, we come together as a community to help each other recover. We clear debris together, we cook for each other, and we watch over our neighbors to ensure their safety and security. We do this because we’re in it together.
A disaster has a way of ensuring that its destruction and inconvenience is felt throughout a community. The disasters we became familiar with resulted from a storm, an earthquake, or a man-made event that had a short-term impact on our lives. Inconveniences were temporary and assistance was swift. Power outages, long gas lines, and a limited supply of ice are happenstances that are routine in disasters, but they happen frequently enough that they are more of a nuisance than a problem. After we cleaned up the mess, we washed ourselves down, put on clean clothes, and pressed forward to bring us back to normal.
However, Guam is in the midst of a different kind of disaster – one that has managed to shatter lives, flood fear, and break confidence without the help of the wind, rain, or movement of the ground. It didn’t catch us by surprise – we saw that it was coming, and we knew we would be affected, but no one could prepare for the havoc it was to cause. That is, no one except our leaders.
Information of a virus that was causing concern amongst medical experts in Asia was starting to be discussed in early January. The discussions rapidly turned to recommendations and guidance on preventive and treatment measures to combat a pneumonia-like illness that was now being diagnosed in places outside of China. While there was uncertainty yet confidence that we will not be affected or more so devastated by a “virus,” our leaders opted to advertise that we were a safe, virus free, and vibrant destination to visit. And then March 15, 2020 happened.
Gatherings were banned, government offices were closed, businesses were forced to shut down, and travel to our safe, virus free, and vibrant island was restricted. Although it’s been understood why these measures were implemented, did any of our leaders have any thought of the collateral damage that was going to result?
As businesses were ordered to close their doors, thousands of workers were told to go home and left their worksites with furlough or termination papers and their last paychecks in hand. With no jobs available and no assistance being offered, men and women with families to feed, mortgages or rents to pay, and loans due, were left to wonder what to do next and pray for a quick end to what was happening. Quick never happened!
Confusion and fear were commonplace in discussions about what was going on and what to expect. It was a challenge to separate fact from fiction when conflicting information was being reported by different credible news sources. What added to the anxiety was the silence of our legislative body.
It was frustrating to witness that while Congress was toiling over a funding package to help communities combat the health crisis and provide financial relief to businesses and furloughed or terminated individuals, it appeared that our Legislature was doing nothing to either prepare for the package or work on a similar effort, albeit not as grand as the federal program. While they thought it was prudent to be patient for the federal relief package before they did any work on the matter, the fact of the matter was that people had no money nor means to get food, to pay for prescription refills, or to tackle their mounting debts.
What would it have taken for those who touted to be the voices of the people to discuss, communicate, debate, or just articulate a genuine and urgent concern for the well-being of their constituents? While one can imagine what the worst-case scenario could have been before they acted, we had hoped that it would happen before people were made to starve or frustrations mounted to violent outbursts. But they remained silent.
Its easy today to forget that when we needed them to speak, they were silent, or when we needed them to step up, we couldn’t find them. They’re banking that their initial silence and absence when things were falling apart are being forgotten by the release of some aid and the discussion of other matters like hiking trail guides and black lives matter. It’s almost insulting that they’re out and about now asking for our support so they can continue to work for us.
COVID-19 is no super-typhoon and thank God it didn’t shake us out of bed in the middle of the night. But what we’re going through now just about negates the idea that “we’re all in this together.” If our leaders want to continue to believe in this, tell that to the 35,000 plus people who still find themselves all alone.
In this section, I'll detail some of the discussions and concerns shared with me while out and about in the campaign. It's through these interactions that I get the pulse and understanding of what our community believes is important and necessary to build a better Guam. I'll also share information about activities and events that I participated in on the trail.
While meeting with several people and introducing my candidacy, I took the time to ask what their concerns were and their ideas on how we can make Guam better. In this first of two parts, let me share the concerns that were presented to me. These may resonate with you too.
1. How is Guam's economy going to recover?
2. What do we do to make up for tourism?
3. Why does it appear that the government is more concerned about the business of government? My concern is how am I going to sustain my business, and how I’m going to pay for my mortgage, rent, car loan, food, and my utilities.
4. After the federal aid for business disruption and unemployment runs out, what’s going to happen next?
5. With many businesses closing, where would I be able to get what I need, and will it cost me more?
6. Why hasn’t the government implemented furloughs to help save what we have in the General Fund?
7. Will we be able to survive another crisis (natural or man-made disaster) while in our current economic condition?
8. Are we putting too much trust and confidence in a release of another federal aid package?
9. How does the Legislature go into emergency session and then take almost a week recess before addressing the emergency?
As a business owner, but more importantly, a person being depended upon to provide the shelter, food, protection, and basic necessities of a household, how we can financially survive in these uncertain times and how we can revive our economy after this is over continues to weigh heavy on my mind? Tourists aren’t coming. Business are closed. Federal aid is almost depleted and most of it will expire in December. And no plan is being discussed on how we’re going to get people back to work and our economy up and running again.
In March 2020, our world, as we knew it, turned scary and chaotic when it was confirmed that the COVID-19 virus hit our shores. To combat the spread of the illness, a lock down and stay-at-home order was implemented, and our community obligingly complied. Businesses were ordered to be closed, tourists were ferried off, and employees were told to go home and await further instructions. This was supposed to be temporary, and that life would get back on track.
As weeks passed, thousands of people who once had income to pay for their utilities, purchase their meals, and save for their future were left to wonder how they were going to survive. In quick order, they depleted their savings, cashed out their retirement plans, sold their belongings, and waited in line for hours so they can get food to feed their families.
Forward to September and the situation hadn’t gotten any better. While much needed federal assistance money was received and distributed, that money was used primarily to pay down creditors and utility bills. People were still finding it difficult to purchase food, clothing, and their toiletry needs. And although there was some respite with their financial struggle, store closures made it difficult to find items they needed to buy.
While many found convenience and a means to stretch their relief funds by shifting to on-line purchasing, it consequentially meant that money intended to revive and stimulate our island economy was not being spent here.
As the battle continues to contain, if not end, this public health crisis and there is a need to get back to some sense of normalcy, the damage to our economy has already been done.
According to UOG Economics Professor Roseanne Jones, she calculated that Guam’s economy will not begin to recover until 2022. BankPacific President Phil Flores has characterized our island’s economy as being “shattered” and that recovery will not occur until 2023. Whether or not the recovery begins in 2022 or 2023, the livelihood of thousands of residents is dependent on recovery efforts NOW!
There is frustration in the community in the lack of planning, much less an open discussion, by government leaders with our community on what needs to be done or what can be done to economically recover from this COVID-19 crisis. Because of this, businesses have been either forced to close their doors or restrict their operations. The employees were either allowed to continue to work with reduced hours or furloughed. Ultimately, many businesses servicing our island community could not afford to not operate and were left with no choice but to shut their doors for good. When this happens, an employee who was hoping one day to return to work no longer has a job he could go back to.
Our island can no longer wait for its current government leaders to meaningfully address our shattered economy, hence the creation of the Rx5: Guam's Prescription for Economic Recovery.
Rx5 is a five-pronged coordinated approach to mitigating the negative impact that the COVID-19 crisis has had on our industries and businesses and to implement actions to fix and strengthen our economy.
The elements of Rx5 are Rethink, Retool, Remake, Rebuild, and Rebound. While these elements complement each other, the plan was designed to be flexible and dynamic so that the achievement of one element is not reliant on the success of another.
The first four; Rethink, Retool, Remake, and Rebuild are tangible and operational components that can have taskings and timelines. The fifth element, Rebound, is a mindset and the goal of the plan.
Rx5: Rethink – Retool – Remake – Rebuild – REBOUND!
Let's RETHINK how we do business on Guam!
This component focuses on easing or eliminating the challenges of starting and sustaining a business. It will look into government requirements, regulations, and fees. It will also look into operational and logistical restrictions and concerns due to infrastructure, distance, communications, carrier, volume, and geo-political challenges.
· Who are the people we need to tap in to work on this component? (Repetitive question for all components)
· What have we been focused on?
· What does it take to start a business here?
· What role should government have in starting and sustaining business?
· Should government have a role in business?
· What are the government requirements to start a business here?
· What kind of financial or professional services available to start a business?
· What changes can be made to start and sustain a business?
· What can be done to bring start-up costs down?
Let's RETOOL our current and displaced breadwinners to provide them diversity and opportunity!
This component will examine and identify the training, tools, and skill sets needed by our workforce to rebuild (existing business) and build (future business) our economy. This will help to maximize our existing training programs and identify and build additionally needed learning platforms.
There will no doubt be new protocols, along with possibly the need to cross-train employees brought on by new health and safety guidelines. In order to meet these demands and expectations, employees at all levels will need to be trained or familiarized with these anticipated requirements.
· How can we retool or train-up our current workers and displaced breadwinners to meet the current and future demands of the workforce?
· Are existing programs geared toward training for current or future demands?
· What are those jobs or services that need/have new requirements and can they or are they being provided?
Let's REMAKE an economy that is more resilient and prepared for any challenge!
This component will first focus on the challenges, mistakes made, lessons learned, and unresolved issues relative to the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis. This exercise will provide the information needed to harden our economy to withstand future effects from disasters. Think of it as installing typhoon shutters and water storage tanks on our economic home.
· What have we learned from this crisis with regard to the impact it had on the economy?
· What could we have done to prepare for the economic impact?
· What could we have done better in the midst of the crisis?
· What could we do to mitigate the damages sustained by the economic shutdown?
· What can we do to become more resilient and prepared?
Let's REBUILD our economy with the recognition that we are all in this together, and together is the way our community survives!
A major problem that we had with our economy is that we built silos around each economic driver. These silos have made it difficult to extend assistance or diversify our services to deal with the challenges brought on by a disaster. The silos have also caused us to limit the possibilities and opportunities for new industry or ideas that don’t fit the mold of what has been established.
We need to remove the walls that divide and limit us in advancing our economy. This begins by re-establishing a collaborative communication line between all sectors of our community. With improvements in our communications, we can resolve concerns, identify shortfalls, share in expertise, combine resources, expand possibilities, create opportunities, and grow the economy.
· How can we improve the communications between all sectors of our community?
· How can we help each other in rebuilding the businesses impacted by the crisis?
· What do we need to do to bring back the businesses that were severely impacted or that were lost?
· Are there new business opportunities created by the crisis experience?
· Are there business opportunities that we can explore that weren’t a priority before?
· Are there opportunities for local, regional, and global partnerships or cooperatives?
· Can we take advantage of our geographic and strategic location for economic activity between the Americas and Asia?
Let's REBOUND from this calamity the way we've rebounded from disasters before!
The test of the will of a community and the strength of their economy is the ability to withstand a disaster, pick themselves up afterwards, and continue bruised but intact.
As we should have learned in every major disaster we’ve experienced, we are it until the cavalry can safely arrive, and that can take some time. Although it is difficult to set taskings and timelines to this component, the mindset and belief that we will rebound will drive the urgency and importance of the other components in this plan. The time it takes our economy to rebound is the only concern this component should have.
· This a more a positive and optimistic mindset.
· We have a history of rebounding from disasters.
· Let’s not wait for things to happen – Let’s make it happen!
WE MAY BE DOWN, BUT WE’RE NOT DONE!
UNASSIGNED YET SIGNIFICANT QUESTIONS
1. Who should be part of this discussion?
2. Is there a role for the judicial branch?
3. What meeting process should we use to conduct the formal discussions and studies? (Round table, forum, informational hearing)
4. What do we want our rebuilt economy to entail?
5. With more revenue anticipated in a stronger economy, where do we want the money to go?
6. Not including health, safety, and public education, what government agencies will be vital to the recovery of our economy?
7. Are there CARES Act or similar funding available to help with the studies, discussions, and implementation of the plan?
Questions & Answers
1. What is the goal of the plan?
To build a robust and diversified economy that has mitigative measures to withstand the negative effects of future disasters and continually seeks opportunities for growth and enhancement.
2. What prompted the creation of the plan?
First and foremost is because there was none.
Guam’s economy has suffered tremendously because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Internally, businesses have closed, thousands have lost their jobs, money disbursed to stimulate our economy isn’t being circulated here but spent through on-line off island purchasing, and savings & retirement accounts have all but been depleted.
Guam’s economy has been primarily dependent on three activities; tourism, federal government relations, and the military presence (inclusive of the buildup). While the military presence (and buildup) remained somewhat consistent, tourist activity was non-existent, and the federal government had its hands full.
If not for the monies received through the CARES Act, our island’s economy could have been easily characterized as “in total ruin.” We would have had no economic activity.
3. Is the plan flexible and can it be modified?
The plan as presented is not definitive, meaning the makeup and objectives are not set in stone. The first four components (rethink, retool, remake, and rebuild) are departure points for discussions that need to be had and can be expanded or divided to address additional concerns if identified. The fifth component, rebound, is the goal of the plan. Once the rebound is achieved, it is replaced by “re-assess,” and the process starts over again.
4. Has any proposed legislation been drafted for the plan or any of the components?
No, it is premature to draft any legislation at this time because that will be based on discussions to occur with each component. The plan itself does not require legislation to be implemented, however, we may consider doing so if we find it necessary. Again, we want the plan to be flexible and adaptable based on the discussions we intend to have.
5. How do you intend to fund the implementation of this plan?
There is no funding necessary to initiate the discussions of the plan. We intend to begin with informal and formal meetings to create component groups and to use the legislative round table and hearing processes to address the issues identified in each component.
This video introduces some of the plans to help us get through and past this pandemic.
Aiden Aguon asked if he could do a campaign commercial with me as part of his school homework. Here is his production. Good job Aiden!
Oh yeah, there was a blooper video made with all the mis-takes we made, but Aiden pleaded that I not share it .... yet!
A collaborative tribute to commemorate the 76th Anniversary of the Liberation of Guam and to honor Guam's World War II Survivors.
Your support and contributions will help fund our campaign. Please allow me to thank you in advance.