Simons: SSM stance could be behind axe
An axed opposition senator has claimed his support for same-sex marriage could have contributed to a decision to dump him from the Upper House.
Andrew Simons — who will be replaced by Robyn Swan, the One Bermuda Alliance caucus chairwoman — said yesterday that the decision “took me by surprise”.
He added that he had spoken to Jeanne Atherden, the Opposition Leader, “a few times” about his future in the Senate and asked if she had concerns about his performance.
Mr Simons said: “She said, ‘none’, although she did seem uncomfortable with my strong support of marriage equality. That was the only specific thing she could point to.”
Ms Atherden voted in favour of Progressive Labour Party backbencher Wayne Furbert’s Private Members’ Bill of 2016, which was designed to restrict marriage to between a man and a woman.
Mr Simons was speaking after Ms Atherden announced two new faces in the three-strong opposition team in the Senate.
Justin Mathias is to move from a Senate seat to take over as party chairman and will be replaced by Victoria Cunningham, vice-president of underwriting at reinsurance firm Tokio Millennium Re.
Mr Simons, who has served in the Senate for 16 months, said he was told he would be replaced at the weekend.
He added: “I sort of learnt about it on late Saturday night and then had a few conversations with the leader on Sunday and I guess a little bit on Monday. But she had already made her decision.”
Mr Simons said the timing was “a bit strange” because six more weeks remained in the legislative session.
He added: “There is legislation that is in train over that period, so it caught me by surprise.”
Mr Simons said he was “not sure” about a future role in the OBA. He added: “The simplest explanation is I’ll take a back seat.”
But Mr Simons was “grateful” for the chance to serve in the Senate.
He said: “There are clearly areas I have taken an interest in or have a background in and I’ve tried to use the platform of the Senate to advocate good policies and highlight bad ones.
“It’s given me the opportunity to advocate for human rights and better treatment of women and for a number of issues that affect the island — unsustainable debt levels, long-term care needs and needed reforms to the healthcare system.”
Mr Simons said that the appointment and removal of senators was at the party leader’s discretion. “I completely respect her decision to exercise that power. When you go into the Senate, you know that you can be removed at any time — that’s just the way it works,” he added.
“Instead of stressing about being in or not being in, I am thankful to have been in for a spell because it does give you an opportunity to highlight important issues.
“It’s more a sense of gratitude than getting hung up on whether I am in or I am not in.”
Ms Atherden thanked Mr Simons for his “sterling work” in the Senate.
She said she hoped he would “continue to offer his sage advice and contribute to the future success of the OBA”.
Mr Mathias, who replaced Nick Kempe as a senator in November last year, will step down near the end of the Parliamentary session.
He said he would deal with the party’s day-to-day operations — “all those background things that nobody sees” — as chairman.
Mr Mathias added: “We are in the middle of transitioning, creating a plan to show our members and then to the general public that we are transitioning, rehabilitating our party, getting more people involved.
“The work that’s being done in the background will be reflected shortly.”
Mr Mathias, 25, is one of the younger politicians in Bermuda.He said the chairman’s job was “an opportunity for me to show what I can do”.
He said there was unity in the OBA and that the mood of the party was “really positive”.
Mr Mathias added: “We’re starting to turn the corner. We’ve reflected on our loss last year, a lot of people are interested — a lot of women are interested — in front-facing politics.
“This summer is going to be very critical for us to go and showcase everything we have in our organisation.
“We will be revealing everything we plan, hopefully by the end of the year.”