EDITORIAL – Kurt Tibbetts retires: Saluting a titan of Cayman politics

A long and colorful chapter in the history of Cayman Islands politics is ending. George Town lawmaker Darwin Kurt Tibbetts is retiring from the Legislative Assembly.

Mr. Tibbetts closes out his decades of service to the people of these islands with a CV which would rival that of any political friend or foe: He was first elected in 1992, and served twice as Leader of Government Business, first from 2000-2001 and then from 2005-2009. Among his other accomplishments, he spearheaded the passage of the Cayman Islands Constitution.

During the 21st century, the narrative of our country’s electoral system has been largely defined by the continuous combat between Mr. Tibbetts – with his even-keeled and genial demeanor, leading the People’s Progressive Movement party he founded – and West Bay lawmaker McKeeva Bush and his Cayman Democratic Party (formerly the United Democratic Party).

Both were lions, equally fearless, in battling each other, but also, and probably more importantly, battling for their constituencies and the causes they believed in. Their rivalry made for good theater, often played out on the stage of the Legislative Assembly.

Those who know Mr. Tibbetts, and especially those who have engaged in conflict with him, can attest that no matter how fierce and formidable a foe he might be on matters of policy, when it comes to personal relationships, he always comports himself as a true gentleman.

Mr. Tibbetts possesses the rare trait, particularly for a politician, of being comfortable with himself. As such, he is known for being comfortable with everybody else, from all walks of life and in any venue, from playing dominoes with constituents at the local watering holes, to arguing points of order in parliament, to hobnobbing with foreign dignitaries and British officials.

As evidence of Mr. Tibbetts’s healthy perspective on politics and life, consider the following “gibe” from the website of his North Side restaurant:

“On weekdays Kurt is out and about in George Town politicking, however, come weekend you will find the master chef of local delights at Kurt’s Korner. Takeout is available or join others on the veranda. For members of the UDP party, there is a special first class section – right next to the backbench reserved for Ezzard Miller.”

That “populist” strain in Mr. Tibbetts has made him popular among voters, and, running in the largest district of George Town, he received the greatest number of ballots in every election since 1996. Think about that.

With Premier Alden McLaughlin’s longtime role model, friend and political godfather bowing out of the picture, the looming elections in May are the premier’s opportunity to emerge fully from the long shadow of Mr. Tibbetts and, as the undisputed captain of the Progressives, to steer his party’s political course for better or for worse.

On Monday night in the Legislative Assembly, Premier McLaughlin spoke eloquently of his colleague: “I [speak] with a great deal of sadness, but with immense pride for all that he has done in the 24-plus years he’s been a member of this honorable House. He’s been my friend and mentor for a long time.”

The premier continued, “Kurt has never wanted power for power’s sake. [He’s] a big man, with a bigger heart, whose place in Cayman Islands history will forever be assured. I know of few people who have given more of themselves … than Darwin Kurt Tibbetts.”

What a person’s friends say is one thing. What is more telling, perhaps, is what one’s adversaries say.

Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush reminisced that he had remained friends with Mr. Tibbetts “from the good days when we worked at the Canadian Bank of Commerce in 1971 to the bad days of politics. That’s what’s important.”

Well said, Mr. McLaughlin.

Well said, Mr. Bush.

And, if we may add our voice to theirs, well done, Mr. Tibbetts.

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