Rep. Donna Christensen
Del. Donna Christensen’s (D-V.I.) is currently a member of Congress, but her focus may shift to a position that more directly serves the residents of the Virgin Islands. Christensen is running for governor. The general elections on Nov. 4 is where her career direction will be decided, but, until then, she said she is campaigning “very hard” for the seat that stands a slight chance of becoming non-Democratic.
“People are saying we have had Democrats for the last two years and look at where we are, so it’s not necessarily guaranteed that a Democrat will take the seat,” Christensen told the AFRO Sept. 24. “We will have to work on it.”
As governor, Christensen said, her strategy will include bringing money to the territory, whose major private employer, Hovensa LLC, an oil refinery, pulled its operation from the islands in 2012. According to a press release, the pullout was due to financial losses.
“We have to find ways to bring new revenue into the territory and to keep that revenue there,” Christensen said about a research and technology park; public, private partnerships; foreign investment through an immigrant investor; or a program providing job opportunities and investments in targeted areas on the islands. Christensen also said she is looking at strategies to maximize the Virgin Islands federal grants and to keep businesses on the islands.
Her decision to run for governor, after serving in Congress for 18 years, was not planned, she said. She intended to retire after this Congressional term, scheduled to end in December. “I was looking for something much easier to get my life back, personal life back,” she said.
However, Christensen decided to use her Congressional expertise and experience working with three governors to help residents get through some of the major issues the territory is facing, including high unemployment, low economic development, high energy costs, and healthcare issues. “As we speak, we are currently going through a health care crisis on one of my islands,” she said.
She said her experience in Congress qualifies her to become governor of the territory, because it has enabled her to make contacts on Capitol Hill and in other federal agencies that could assist the Virgin Islands with its current predicament.
Another issue Christensen will deal with, if elected governor is immigration. She said the Virgin Islands has a large immigration population of mostly people from the Dominican Republic and Haiti. She said, although the islands are welcoming, the large undocumented population is hard on the country’s medical resources. “It’s a strain on some of the government resources, especially with health care bills, because most of them don’t have the where-with-all to pay for hospital bills,” Christensen said.
Not only is this period uncertain for Christensen, who is juggling congressional membership with running for office, it is also a bittersweet. This was her last year as the chair of the health brain trust for the Congressional Black Caucus. “I’m going to try to get through it without crying,” she said. “I don’t know where I would be without the Congressional Black Caucus.” Christensen said she credits the caucus for giving her, a politician with relatively no experience in the political sector from a territory most could not identify, a national platform.