One long Cayman Islands political career came to an end Monday night, while another lengthy one continued and a fledgling career was seemingly cut short, as candidate nomination day loomed for general election candidates.
Legislative Assembly members paid numerous tributes to Planning Minister and former People’s Progressive Movement (now the Progressives) leader Kurt Tibbetts, who will not seek re-election on May 24.
“The decision not to seek to be re-elected this time was not an easy decision,” Mr. Tibbetts said during a speech late Monday night. “I’m not trying to suggest that I’m an old fogey … [but] I feel myself not being able to be what I always was.”
Mr. Tibbetts was first elected in 1992 and has been re-elected in every vote since. He has hinted in recent years that it might be time for him to be “put out to pasture,” but there was significant speculation he would rejoin the race one more time in 2017. On Monday night, that speculation ended.
In what has become a rare scene in local politics, members on both sides of the aisle praised Mr. Tibbetts for his 24-year service in the assembly. Even Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, who has often been at odds with Mr. Tibbetts in the past 15 years, said the planning minister has remained his friend through it all. “That’s what’s important,” Mr. Bush said.
Premier Alden McLaughlin, who said he thought of Mr. Tibbetts as his “big brother,” said the former Progressives party leader had defied many conventions in Cayman politics, including older politicians not recognizing when it’s time to quit.
“Kurt has never wanted power for power’s sake,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “[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.”
“I will forever … want to serve my country,” Mr. Tibbetts said, adding that service would just take a different form in the future.
Another politician from the “class of 1992” – Bodden Town patriarch Anthony Eden – reversed his decision to step down from politics, which he announced last October.
Mr. Eden told Legislative Assembly members that at age 72, he would seek election “one more time” to the House.
“I’ve been humbled by the numerous calls, the overwhelming number of people from every district in the Cayman Islands asking me to reconsider my decision,” Mr. Eden said.
The longtime MLA said he would run in the district in which he lives, Savannah, as an independent.
Meanwhile, George Town MLA Winston Connolly ended months of speculation Monday afternoon, announcing that he would not seek re-election this year.
Mr. Connolly, a first-time member of the Legislative Assembly, was elected in May 2013 as an independent and shortly after joined the Progressives coalition as a backbencher.
He left the ruling administration in early 2016 after falling out with the government leadership.
Mr. Connolly said Monday that it was a great honor to serve the Caymanian people and that he felt “humbled” that voters had enough confidence in him to elect him four years ago.
“But I do not love politics,” Mr. Connolly said during a “personal explanation” statement in the Legislative Assembly. “I will not offer myself as a candidate for re-election. I will go back to being a husband for my wife and father to my children. I will be the first to admit they have suffered and have been affected by my … role.”
Mr. Connolly said many people had urged him to run again in George Town, but that he declined. “[Running] just for the sake of politics is not enough,” he said.
Premier McLaughlin said Monday night that he is “not about to step down” and would lead the Progressives party into the May 24 general election with a full slate of candidates.
However, that slate will now not include two of the party’s perennial “tent pullers,” Mr. Tibbetts and Mr. Eden, who left the Progressives in late 2015 in a dispute over the rights of same-sex couples.
The Progressives are expected to run Mr. McLaughlin, Minister Marco Archer and MLAs Roy McTaggart and Joey Hew in George Town, along with party supporters David Wight and Barbara Connolly. It’s unclear at this stage who the party will run in the district’s seventh seat with Mr. Tibbetts bowing out.
Meanwhile, the independent opposition group led by North Side MLA Ezzard Miller and East End MLA Arden McLean has lost one of its promising younger members in Mr. Connolly.
Mr. McLean mourned Mr. Connolly’s departure: “It’s a sad day when young, progressive people leave these chambers.”
Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell, who is running with the Progressives in the upcoming election, said he was “shocked” by the George Town MLA’s decision to call it quits after his first term.
Wednesday is the day when all Cayman Islands political candidates – more than 70 at last count – must register with the Elections Office to contest the May 24 election.
Nomination stations will be open between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. in 17 locations around Grand Cayman and two in Cayman Brac – one nomination location for each of the 19 single-member constituencies in the islands.
This year will be the first time Cayman has held an election under the “one man, one vote” scheme, under which voters will get to select only one candidate on the ballot. Previously, Cayman held elections under a multimember district system, in which voters chose anywhere from two to six candidates.