House minority leader Joe Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) formally introduced yesterday afternoon a milestone resolution initiating impeachment proceedings against Gov. Benigno R. Fitial for 16 acts of felony, corruption and neglect of duty, followed immediately by House Speaker Eli Cabrera's (R-Saipan) formation of a special committee on impeachment that has 30 days to report to the full House.
The end of that 30-day period will be a month before the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
Cabrera said the names of the members of the special committee will be known today-either three or four each from the House leadership and the minority bloc.
But Cabrera said the special committee could ask for additional time if they deem it necessary.
With the introduction of House Resolution 17-111, the CNMI adds to its list of dubious distinctions being the first U.S. territory to formally introduce a resolution to impeach its governor.
This is also the first time in CNMI history that an impeachment resolution was introduced, although it's the second time that there's an attempt to remove the governor.
After Deleon Guerrero introduced his resolution that the Fitial administration has described as “frivolous,” he told his colleagues that the resolution is still open to anyone who wants to co-sponsor it.
Besides Deleon Guerrero, the six other co-sponsors of the impeachment resolution are Reps. Frank Dela Cruz (R-Saipan), Ray Tebuteb (R-Saipan), Ray Yumul (R-Saipan), Tony Sablan (R-Saipan), Janet Maratita (Ind-Saipan), and Trenton Conner (R-Tinian).
Community members Glen Hunter and Leila Staffler directly addressed the lawmakers, urging them to pass the impeachment resolution to hold public officials accountable to their actions.
Hunter said even the Fitial administration has gone on record saying that the seven lawmakers that authored the resolution did so for political gains, not political suicide.
“And if you were to support that, you are also gaining political favor with the voters. Understand that well because that is very important,” Hunter said.
Hunter also tried to answer some of the major concerns raised by lawmakers who said they are either voting “no” or are still “undecided,” including the Fitial administration's own contention that the allegations “do not rise to the level of impeachment proceedings.”
“I ask you all to thoroughly read all those articles of impeachment If they don't rise to that level, I ask that you ask yourself, what would rise to the level of impeachment?” he said.
Hunter also said that the timing for pre-filing the impeachment resolution should not be a factor in not supporting the passage of the impeachment resolution.
“I don't think there's ever a wrong time to do the right thing,” he added.
Hunter said another issue brought up which he also supports is that “the governor of the CNMI is innocent until proven guilty.”
He said this is true that is why the House should give Fitial the chance to defend himself, and that is by moving the impeachment resolution to the Senate.
“The Constitution was constructed in a way that gives him that ability, and that ability is not in this house but is in the Senate. And I ask that you pass the articles of impeachment because as they stand they are accurate,” he said.
Press secretary Angel Demapan said the governor will be addressing the impeachment allegations against him, including those in connection with the 25-year power purchase agreement but there's still no telling when and how would that be.
Hunter also told lawmakers that the articles of impeachment have the support of many in the community.
Rep. Sylvester Iguel (Cov-Saipan) said that once the impeachment resolution clears the House, the governor “is as good as convicted” even before the Senate hears it. Iguel alleges that the Senate's actions have already showed that it is not going to give a fair and impartial impeachment proceedings.
Joe Deleon Guerrero said it's brave of Hunter and Staffler to speak out and remind lawmakers that public officials should be held accountable for their actions.
The speaker himself said he respects those who speak up during public comments at the beginning of every House session.
The articles of impeachment also include those in connection with the release of a federal inmate to massage the governor in January 2010, a sole-source ARRA management contract, non-appointment of a Supreme Court justice, non-remittance of full employer contribution to the now cash-strapped NMI Retirement Fund, and the governor's lack of action against his former attorney general Edward Buckingham.
At least 14 “yes” votes are needed in the 20-member House to impeach the governor, and at least six “yes” votes in the nine-member Senate to convict the governor.
So far, only eight House members have gone on the record to say they will vote “yes” to the impeachment resolution, seven of them co-authors of the resolution.
Rep. Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan), chairman of the Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee, said his panel has already received tons of documents from agencies that have something to do with the secretive 25-year power purchase agreement that Fitial signed off with Saipan Development LLC. Among the articles of impeachment are in connection with this $190.8 million agreement.
He said formal investigation has started, and they will soon call in the governor, officials from the Commonwealth Utilities Corp., and the Office of the Attorney General.
Among other things, the JGO Committee would determine whether the PPA is a “public indebtedness” in which case the Legislature's approval is needed. A lack of transparency is also being questioned, along with the sole-sourcing of such a major agreement that commits the CNMI for 25 years.