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Passing the Typewriter

New Guam Delegate Inherits a Tradition

If the power ever goes out on Capitol Hill, Guam Del. Madeleine Bordallo’s (D) staff would still able to pound out letters to her constituents.

That’s because the freshman lawmaker is in possession of a gray metal typewriter, the style popular before personal computers populated Capitol Hill.

Of course, the decades-old Underwood typewriter isn’t actually used by Bordallo’s staff. Instead, it’s an heirloom of sorts: the machine has been passed down, somewhat haphazardly, to each of Guam’s Delegates, beginning with Antonio Won Pat (D) in 1973.

“Its kind of like a passing of a torch or a sword or a baton,” said former Del. Ben Blaz (R), who represented Guam from 1985 until 1992. “It’s picked up that kind of a reputation now.”

Blaz, now retired, doesn’t recall where the typewriter was kept in his office, but said, “I would guess that it was probably in storage.”

In fact, Blaz said, when he first arrived on Capitol Hill, Congress was in the midst of shifting to personal computers, rendering the typewriter fairly unnecessary.

It wasn’t until the election of Del. Bob Underwood (D) to the 103rd Congress that anyone paid much attention to the typewriter.

“We found this Underwood typewriter, at first we didn’t make much out of it, but then I thought, well, maybe it was kind of a prank [Blaz’s staffers] were pulling,” said Underwood, noting the typewriter bears his surname and that “it was in sad shape.”

The Democrat, who retired after the 107th Congress to make a bid for Guam’s governorship, said he later bumped into a former Blaz staff member, who told him it was the only piece of working equipment in the office when the Republican moved in.

“We just thought well, that’s a nice thing to just keep it moving as the only piece of permanent equipment in the Delegate’s office,” said Underwood, who now commutes between Guam and Virginia, serving as a consultant.

But that doesn’t mean the typewriter — which Underwood noted is more of a “museum piece” — actually made it out of storage.

“We put it down in the basement, and we had it for safekeeping, and we’d tell the story once in a while and kind of get a big laugh out of it,” Underwood said.

But Guam’s newest Delegate, Bordallo, has decided to put the typewriter on display in her office, complete with a descriptive plaque.

“It’s worthwhile,” the Delegate said, noting that it gave the three living Delegates a chance to come together in May for a formal ceremony.

Still, it’s unlikely the typewriter is going to be used to punch out any legislation.

“With this modern age of technology I don’t know what staff member would want to sit down with the typewriter,” Bordallo said.

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