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Friday, April 18, 2014

Democratic Party endorses Kilili
Vote-buying concerns raised once again

The Democratic Party of the NMI endorsed yesterday the re-election of Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (Ind-MP) to the U.S. Congress “so that he can continue his exceptional work,” even as the delegate and his supporters raised concerns once again about alleged vote-buying and other election law violations that they hope federal and local agencies will look into.

Sablan also got the endorsement of the Covenant Party in March and the so-called “Independent Republicans” in April.

His only opponent in the Nov. 6 delegate race is Dr. Ignacia Demapan of the Republican Party, which is chaired by Gov. Benigno R. Fitial.

Democratic Party of the NMI chair Edward Manibusan and members of the party’s Central Executive Committee—businessman and former lawmaker Juan “Pan” Guerrero and former Division of Environmental Quality director Juan Castro—endorsed Sablan during a news briefing yesterday morning.

Sablan said he’s grateful for and humbly accepts the Democratic Party’s endorsement.

Manibusan, a former judge, spoke of Sablan’s effective representation of the CNMI in Congress, his commitment to put the CNMI people first, and his sharing of the values of the Democratic Party in the U.S. and in the CNMI. He said the relationships that Sablan has built in Congress paved the way for the recent admission of the Democratic Party of the NMI into the national Democratic Party.

Sablan remains an independent, but he caucuses with the Democrats in Congress.

Manibusan also said he was impressed by the depth of commitment given to Sablan by DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, DNC vice chair Mike Honda, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific Caucus, and by members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

“He has during his term helped the Northern Marianas achieve full inclusion in America’s government and political processes,” Manibusan said.

The former judge said the Democratic Party of the NMI “fully endorses Congressman Sablan so that he can continue his exceptional work with other members of Congress in bringing prosperity to the people of the Northern Marianas.”

Galvin Deleon Guerrero, chairman of Kilili for Congress, said yesterday that Sablan’s endorsement by the Democratic Party, the Covenant Party, and the so-called Independent Republicans “speaks volume to his ability to reach across the island, work with different people of different parties and different backgrounds.”

“That’s what we really need right now because one voice is so precious. We can’t squander that voice into something that will be a partisan voice. Earlier, he mentioned he’s good friends with libertarians in Congress, with Republicans in Congress, with Democrats in Congress and here locally, with the Covenant Party. I think today’s endorsement from the local Democratic Party again speaks volume to his ability to make that one voice matter and make that one voice truly representative of everyone in the CNMI,” Deleon Guerrero said.

Juan “Pan” Guerrero, for his part, said Sablan is “the kind of person that we need in the U.S. Congress,” referring to Sablan’s productivity and the relationships he has established in Congress to help the CNMI.

‘Choice must be free’

Sablan said he is “not taking anything for granted,” despite the endorsements of two political parties, “Independent Republicans” and the support of many more.

“Of course, everybody knows I am running against a candidate who has the full support of the Fitial administration. And so just as they did in the last election, I am expecting that they will do all that they can to unfairly take the election away by imposing on the free will of the people,” Sablan said during a question-and-answer yesterday.

Sablan is the CNMI’s first nonvoting delegate to Congress pursuant to a 2008 law that also placed CNMI immigration under federal control. The first delegate race in the CNMI was in 2008, which Sablan won. He was re-elected in 2010. He is now seeking a third term.

“I have said this before and I say it again—that the people of the Northern Mariana Islands have given me this extraordinary privilege to serve them in Congress and that when that time comes that the people decide that they think that someone else in Congress can serve them better, then I will accept that. But that choice must be free. And that choice must be fair,” Sablan told reporters.

When asked to elaborate, Sablan spoke of the 2010 election wherein he said there was “herding of people, government employees to a tent set right across the street from the office of the Election Commission.”

He was referring to the Covenant Party which at the time was headed by the governor, now back to the Republican Party as its president.

“And government employees were taken to that tent during government work hours. And they were asked to walk across the street and cast their ballot in what they call the early voting process. I am aware that there were money exchanges during the last election also. That there were things of value exchange for the return, of their request to vote for a certain candidate. I would like to think that law enforcement officials continue to look into those practices here in the Marianas, not because I’m running but because it is wrong, and a violation of both federal and Commonwealth law. We must accept the fact that people make free and fair choices and it is their choice who they elect to public offices,” he said.

The Covenant Party, whose titular head is now Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos, endorsed Sablan in March, on the anniversary of the signing of the Covenant between the United States and the Northern Marianas.

Juan “Pan” Guerrero said he was also “aware of money changing hands” because he was a gubernatorial candidate in 2010.

“I do not believe that people should buy votes. I stand on the belief that we should be elected to represent the people fairly in the best of our ability,” he said.

Guerrero said people are “scared” to speak up because they could get fired from their job. He cited one of his brothers as an example.

“It’s just not right for any single person in this Commonwealth to dominate, suppress the freedom of speech, the freedom of choice … or religion for that matter, to suppress anybody from saying what is right, what he believes in while working for the government…This government has to be cleaned up because that’s what we need for our Commonwealth to go on a right path,” he said.

Guerrero pointed out that he is not running for governor in the 2014 election but he and Manibusan said the Democratic Party will have a complete slate by then.

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