ST. THOMAS — Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory blasted Senate Majority Leader Marvin Blyden as “dishonest” and “disingenuous” following a press conference Thursday, in which Blyden described his reasons for shaking up the majority caucus and replacing its leadership.
During the conference, Blyden said the reorganization of the caucus — and the removal of Senators Kenneth Gittens and Frett-Gregory as president and vice president, respectively — was sparked by poor communication between the leadership and the rest of the caucus.
When pressed, Blyden acknowledged that Bill 33-0072, which seeks to appropriate a federal Medicaid reimbursement of $39 million, revealed the communication breakdown in full.
“It was one of those measures that wasn’t done properly in terms of the vetting process, and in terms of meetings that should have been had,” Blyden said. “If it was done the right way, we would not have had that bill still being vetted and sent back to the Rules Committee. It would have been approved.”
While not mentioning her by name, Blyden alluded to Frett-Gregory, who previously served as Finance Committee chairwoman, and said meetings and discussions should have been conducted by the chairperson with the rest of the caucus.
Frett-Gregory, in an interview with The Daily News on Thursday, said Blyden’s take was the “furthest thing from the truth.”
Indeed, Frett-Gregory said she not only held a conference with her committee on April 26 to discuss the bill, but Blyden himself was part of the conference and even met with her separately to discuss it in further detail.
“I said to [Blyden] on several occasions, ‘you’re the majority leader and we need to have a meeting with the entire majority caucus to have a conversation surrounding this bill — but that never happened,” Frett-Gregory said. “Blyden never followed up or followed through on anything.”
During a Finance Committee hearing on May 7, Blyden made a motion to favorably approve the bill and move it to the full body.
Later, however, during the full legislative session, senators agreed to send the bill back to committee for further vetting, a decision likely due to the uproar from health care workers who insisted some of the Medicaid reimbursement funds should go toward their stagnant salaries.
Frett-Gregory said Blyden, a sponsor of the bill, is now pinning the blame on her.
“Clearly, [Blyden] backpedaled once the individuals from the various health clinics began to push back,” she said. “Because of the community uproar, [the majority senators] now have to justify their behavior. But they’re not going to justify their behavior on my back with their dishonest conduct.”
Frett-Gregory said legislators must recognize that it is OK to “err” as legislators and to stop the finger-pointing.
“I’m not going to sit here and allow them to do that because it is wrong — they were involved in the process,” she said. “And as a leader of this majority, [Blyden] had a responsibility to call his caucus to have this discussion, something that he did not do or find important at the time.”