- Northern Mariana Islands
The period in review covers one of the most traumatic events in recent Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) history—and we are not referring to the November 2018 election results, which, for some, were just as distressing. Four months before the general elections, CNMI politicians in power—the "ins"—and those who were not—the "outs"—had, more or less, completed a realign ment that would have startled if not dismayed those who still believed that politics should be about "ideals" and "principles."
US Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, a longtime CNMI Democrat who was elected as the islands' first delegate to the US House of Representatives in 2008, was seeking a sixth term. Kilili, as he is known in the CNMI, was aligned with the US Democrats in the US Congress, but he was also a political ally of the late CNMI Republican Governor Eloy S Inos (mv, 31 July 2014). In the 2018 elections, however, Inos's successor, Ralph Deleon Guerrero Torres, supported the candidacy of a fellow young Republican, CNMI Representative Angel A Demapan (mv, 5 Oct 2017).
On 2 July 2018, Kilili endorsed the gubernatorial candidacy of one of his 2010 election opponents, former Governor Juan Nekai Babauta, a longtime Republican who had decided, after four consecutive election losses (mv, 13 April 2018), to seek office again. This time, Babauta was running as an independent, and his running mate was former Education Commissioner Rita A Sablan, who earlier considered running for governor herself as a Democrat (mv, 13 April 2018). In 2016, Sablan, who supported the losing gubernatorial candidate in 2014, announced her retirement as education commissioner and was succeeded by someone more politically aligned with the governor (mv, 17 Nov 2016).
On 4 July 2018, as if foreshadowing the twin disasters that would soon befall the CNMI's three major islands, Tropical Depression 10w moved [End Page 225] slowly through the Marianas, prompting the government to postpone the Liberation Day/Fourth of July parade indefinitely (mv, 1 Aug 2018). The Torres-Palacios campaign team replied by denouncing Babauta's "well-established strategy to perpetuate falsehoods, mislead voters, and cover up years of his mismanagement of government resources and trust" (mv, 5 July 2018).
The CNMI Democratic Party, which used to be the islands' other major political group, announced on 10 July 2018 that it was endorsing the Babauta-Sablan ticket and other independent candidates. The last time the local Democrats won a gubernatorial election was in 1993, and the last time a local Democrat won an elective office was in 2007 (mv, 1 Feb 2019).
One of the islands' high-profile good-government advocates, Tina Sablan, said she and the other independent candidates were "running to take back the government and make it work for all and not for the selected few." First elected to the House of Representatives in 2007, Sablan ran for one of Saipan's two Senate seats in 2009, placing fifth in an eight-person race topped by Torres (mv, 1 Feb 2019). On 26 July 2018, the governor announced that President Donald Trump had signed into law the Northern Mariana Islands US Workforce Act to extend the temporary foreign contract workers (cw) program for another ten years after December 2019 and to increase the cw cap from 4,999 to 13,000. "Appropriate access to a labor workforce is necessary to ensure robust and healthy economic growth in the Northern Mariana Islands," then-US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said (mv, 26 July 2018).
On 26 July 2018, former Lieutenant Governor Diego T Benavente endorsed the Republican ticket of Governor Torres and his running mate, Senate President Arnold I Palacios. The administration had "accomplished a lot and… made tough but the right decisions for the entire Commonwealth," said Benavente, who in the 2001 and 2005 elections was the running mate of Torres's opponent, former Governor Babauta (mv, 27 July 2018).
According to Babauta, who first ran for office in 1985 when Torres was six years old, the people wanted change, and they also wanted to "partake in this supposedly booming economy" (mv, 1 Aug 2018). The Torres-Palacios campaign team replied by...