At the height of convicted felon and former CNMI lobbyist Jack Abramoff's efforts to stave off attempts to federalize CNMI immigration, he approached then U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich-now vying for the U.S. presidency-but was stunned by the latter's suggestion to make the CNMI, Guam, and American Samoa be part of Hawaii.
“That way, they can all have a congressman and be a real part of the United States,” Abramoff quoted Gingrich as saying in a 1995 meeting.
It took more than a decade later or in 2008 for a U.S. law to be signed federalizing CNMI immigration and allowing for the election of the CNMI's first nonvoting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Abramoff, in his new book, Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth about Washington Corruption from America's Most Notorious Lobbyist, said that Gingrich's tendency to wander was a bit unnerving, as he never seemed to be able to sit still or focus for more than a few minutes.
“Finally, when I told him about the Marianas, his response stunned me. He suggested we make the Marianas and other American Pacific territories-Guam and American Samoa-part of Hawaii,” Abramoff said.
Abramoff, whose lobby firms billed the CNMI some $11 million from 1995 to 2001, had to ask himself whether Gingrich was not listening at all or if he'd said something that led Gingrich to such a conclusion.
“Later on, I'd come to realize this was classic Newt. As soon as he heard an issue, he would quickly decide what to do-even without the benefit of all the information-and that was the end of the discussion. I tried feebly to bring us back to the real issues at hand, but he was not having any of it,” he said.
Though the meeting with Gingrich was something of a disaster, Abramoff said he would soon learn that Gingrich had little to do with the movement of the legislation through the House.
“That was Tom [DeLay] and Dick Armey, the majority leader of Congress,” he said.
Abramoff said at the time they had put an effective block in place to stop federalization legislation, “which would have hurt the CNMI.”
His 303-page book contains several pages and passages about his and his firms' lobbying on behalf of the CNMI.
From 1995 to 2001, Abramoff was instrumental in blocking the passage of legislation establishing federal authority over the CNMI's immigration system and raising the local minimum wage. The lobbying ended when Juan N. Babauta became governor in 2002.
Rep. Froilan Tenorio, the first CNMI governor to hire the services of Abramoff in 1995, told Saipan Tribune on Monday that if he were still the governor, he'd rather have a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. than a nonvoting delegate in Congress.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), when asked for comment, said yesterday that Tenorio is no longer the governor and he's entitled to his own opinion.
Sablan, the first and so far the only nonvoting delegate the CNMI has ever had, said a lobbyist can only do and serve the entity paying him, not like a delegate who has to protect and serve the interests of the CNMI.
“I was able to bring in millions of dollars to the CNMI, and Abramoff was able to get millions of dollars from the CNMI. He's convicted and he served his time.I hope he came out a better person,” Sablan said.
Just like the former and current governors and other CNMI officials that Abramoff described in his book, Sablan also has yet to read the book but said he watched the movie based on Abramoff's life.
After serving his prison term for mail fraud and conspiracy, Abramoff was released from prison in June 2010. Over a year later, he released the book.
He started working in 1994 for Preston Gates, where he built one of the nation's most prestigious and profitable lobbying practices.