The CNMI House of Representatives recently introduced Articles of Impeachment against Gov. Benigno R. Fitial. It is the talk of the town because many say the governor is more interested in his common good than that of the people of the CNMI.
What is impeachment and how does this process works? What may be the expected end result? All great questions!
What does it mean when you impeach someone in public office? To impeach a public official simply means you are making an accusation of misconduct or of unlawful action against that official while he or she is in office.
The Articles of Impeachment is a list of specific actions of Governor Fitial that are allegedly violations of law. The eight representatives who sponsored its introduction in the House are asking their colleagues to consider these allegations against the governor, and vote on each article of impeachment-up or down. Only those articles that receive a positive simple majority vote are then sent to the Senate. That is really all the House of Representatives needs to do-nothing more.
Once the vote is over and one or several articles receive the simple majority vote of those House members present that constitute a quorum, Governor Fitial is deemed to be impeached, which basically means he is officially accused of committing those unlawful actions. This is similar to how a grand jury hands down an indictment on an individual accused of committing a crime. When that indictment is confirmed by the grand jury, the case goes to court for trial to determine if the individual is guilty or not guilty of the crime or violation of law. The House of Representatives is like the grand jury in this case.
The House of Representatives does not need to investigate the allegations, hold any public hearings on the allegations contained in the Articles of Impeachment, or even discuss it to any extent in committee. They should, however, discuss in detail the matter on the floor of the House and put that discussion on the record. When that discussion is closed, then they should only require a simple majority vote for passage of each article of impeachment. A simple majority in the House is 11 votes. Eight representatives have signed off on the articles of impeachment, so only three more votes are needed to send one, several, or all the articles of impeachment to the Senate.
In fact, the House of Representatives should consider a unanimous vote to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Why, you may ask? Because it is in the Senate where those articles of impeachment will be discussed in detail to determine if the governor is guilty of breaking the laws. It is in the Senate where the action is. The people want to see if Fitial is guilty of these allegations or not. It behooves the House to immediately move those articles of impeachment to the Senate so a speedy trial can begin on whether the governor is guilty or not of breaking the law.
The people need to know, and that is a very good enough reason to send the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate. Give the governor a chance to clear the clouds over his head. Any further delay in the House creates too much anxiety with the public. The House should move quickly and vote unanimously to move the articles to the Senate so the people can see clearly whether their governor is guilty or not and give the governor that chance to vindicate himself also, and may the truth be known.
The nine senators will sit as a jury to listen to testimonies and review evidence from those who will defend the governor, and from those who are asking the senators to vote to remove the governor from office. Because of the serious nature of such a vote to remove a sitting governor, a two-thirds majority vote will be needed in the Senate. That number is seven votes. So, it is in the Senate where the governor will go on trial. Based on the tension between the governor and the senators that we all have witnessed and read in news reports over the course of these past years, it does not look good for the governor to remain in office, if the Articles of Impeachment reach the Senate.
If the seven votes are reached, the governor is out of a job immediately, and Lt. Gov. Eloy Inos becomes acting governor, unless a special election is held to elect a new governor for the balance of the Fitial's term.
This is how the process should work. The House and Senate should not make this process any more complicated, as the people want to see this matter put behind them, so more important priorities can be addressed.
One other concern that seems to rear its ugly head is would there be political retaliation in the administration where friends, relatives of representatives, and senators who voted for the governor to be impeached? Why would Governor Fitial want to self-indict himself for firing employees of his administration when he needs their support?
Do we really want to know if Governor Fitial in fact violated points contained in the Articles of Impeachment? Or is this something that the House prefers to sweep under the rug and forget about? What does the “law of public opinion” says?
David M. Sablan Sr.
Chalan Pago, Saipan