GOP frontrunner backs military buildup
A “strategic consultant” for U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Friday that the CNMI and Guam are of vital importance to the interests of the United States. The islands’ issues, Alan Cobb said, need to be front and center, as they hold strategic importance—both economically and militarily—as the only U.S. territories in Asia.
When asked, Cobb said his message to Trump advisers or to Trump himself would be to make sure that Guam and the CNMI are treated appropriately and with the appropriate level of importance.
“…Because I don’t think that’s not always happened in the past,” Cobb told Saipan Tribune in an interview at the Century Hotel lobby Friday morning
Cobb, a long-time aide to former Kansas senator Bob Dole and a former lobbyist for Koch Industries, has visited Guam, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico as part of his tour of the territories. He is scheduled to visit American Samoa this week.
A common theme that he’s heard on his visits, he said, is “a mixed bag of making sure they are being treated equally and fairly” and that policy is flexible even if flexibility doesn’t always serve the interests of the territories.
“Each island has unique issues, circumstances, but I think overall that’s everybody is just proud, thrilled to be a part of the United States and proud to be United States citizens, so we want to make sure their issues aren’t forgotten and aren’t lost in the big bureaucratic shuffle, which is easy to happen,” he said.
Cobb, who met last week with potential delegates and Republican Party officials and supporters, added that there was also a practical and political reason to his trip, as all territories have delegates to the national convention.
He said he wanted to start discussions about backing Trump and hopefully get support.
“I want to hear firsthand from the citizens here about the issues and the impact of the federal government, both positive and negative,” Cobb said.
Cobb said Trump is a certainly in favor of a military buildup.
“Obviously, the decision’s already been made to have the islands as a part of that, and that makes sense,” he added, referring to the islands’ strategic location.
Guam is just beginning its part of hosting the nearly 5,000 Marines and about 1,700 of their dependents, transferring from U.S. bases in Okinawa, Japan to Guam.
Just last week, the Department of Defense released $309 million for the first phase of the base construction in the Finegayan area in Dededo, near the Guam National Wildlife Refuge at Ritidian and Andersen Air Force Base, the Pacific Daily News reports.
In the CNMI, the public comment period for U.S. Marine plans—to conduct high-impact live-fire training on Tinian and to lease the whole island of Pagan for similar purposes— closed recently, with the military announcing they would go back to the drawing board for their environmental studies on groundwater and coral impacts, among others.
CNMI government consultants have called these studies “woefully inadequate,” and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has withheld rating these studies until more are completed.
When asked about these concerns on impact to the environment and public groups’ concerns about their right to resettle the island of Pagan, Cobb said he is just learning about them.
“I want to make sure that Mr. Trump is fully aware of those issues,” he added.
He said he would be meeting with top U.S. Marine officials in Guam last weekend to get a firsthand understanding “about some of the positives and concerns.”
Cobb said Trump is concerned about immigration, but emphasized he is concerned about “illegal” immigration.
“You have different issues here without a border. You have basically shores that are hard to defend, and along those lines you want to make sure you have enough federal personnel to handle the immigration issues, whether it’s border and immigration services. And partly, one of my purposes, is to learn what some of these issues are and we can develop a point of view that makes sense for Mr. Trump and also for the islands,” Cobb said.
When asked about the impending end of the CNMI contract worker program, Cobb said the issue is fairly new to them.
“We need to take a hard look at it. H-1 and H-2 visas—they sometimes can be abused. I don’t know if the company that wants those” have done “an exhaustive search to make sure there are not American citizens to take those jobs.”
“But if there’s not,” Cobb added, “we need to make sure those programs are working and flexible and not too bureaucratic.”
He said, in government and politics, you need balance.
“…Making sure that the purposes are served both for the citizens that live here, but also the business and the citizens that live in the mainland,” Cobb added.
More reps to come
Cobb’s visit comes as part of more planned visits from other Republican presidential candidate representatives.
Local GOP president James Ada said Friday that four more candidates have expressed interest in sending representatives to the CNMI, who, with the rest of the insular territories, make a large part of the delegates in the Western region, which includes California and Guam.
Ada told Saipan Tribune that presidential hopefuls Dr. Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Mark Rubio, and Ted Cruz are planning to send representatives as part of courtesy visits to the island territories.
On the Republican National Convention—to be held in Cleveland, Ohio in July—Ada said they have three delegates so far: himself, Vicky Villagomez, and Bo Palacios.
“We are going to elect six more for the delegates in March,” he said, and their alternates.
When asked if he has chosen his candidate, Ada said, “Not yet.”
“We haven’t met all the people. We have to respect also the other candidates as well. Again, I want to reiterate that the Western region—CNMI, Guam, and all the insular areas—form a very strong team, if not the largest number of delegates that can vote in the upcoming presidential nomination.”
Ada will be heading to South Carolina on Jan. 12 for the RNC winter meeting. Last January, he said, candidates Rick Perry, Carson, and Scott Walker spoke in the one held in San Diego, California.
“We’ll see a lot of new speakers in this event this upcoming January,” Ada said.