Members of the incoming supermajority in the 18th House of Representatives caucused yesterday to select the officers led by soon-to-be Speaker Joe Deleon Guerrero (IR-Saipan) and the chairpersons of 11 of 12 committees, and they were united in saying they are “ready to impeach the governor” over allegations of corruption, felony, and neglect of duty.
Joining the caucus were officers of the coalition from so-called Independent Republicans and the Covenant Party, including Senate floor leader Pete Reyes (IR-Saipan), former lieutenant governor and representative Diego Benavente, and former speaker and Public Lands secretary Oscar M. Babauta, along with precinct chairmen.
Besides Deleon Guerrero, the coalition leadership also formally chose Rep. Frank Dela Cruz (IR-Saipan) as vice speaker and Rep. Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan) as floor leader.
Rep. Ray Tebuteb (IR-Saipan) will remain chairman of the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation.
“I was pleasantly surprised how smoothly it went. Our [coalition] chairmen (Reyes, Benavente, and Babauta) conducted the meeting. They have lots of experiences behind them in conducting caucuses. It went very smooth. There was a lot of cooperation. The commitment on everybody's part was there, there was no contentious issue,” Deleon Guerrero told reporters in a briefing right after the caucus held at Monte Vista Restaurant on Navy Hill.
Deleon Guerrero said a Special Committee on Impeachment will begin preliminary work so that when the new Legislature comes in next year, they will be able to go full speed.
He said the panel will start reviewing the report prepared by the Special Committee on Impeachment he led. Deleon Guerrero is the main author of the resolution impeaching Gov. Benigno R. Fitial for 16 allegations of corruption, neglect of duty, and felony. The impeachment was defeated by the current majority aligned with the governor.
But because most of the elected and re-elected House members advocated impeachment and clean government, they said they are going to “finish what we started in the 17th Legislature.”
Deleon Guerrero said the coalition will fulfill the mandate given them by voters: to remove the governor.
Dela Cruz said the coalition sees the urgency of the matter.
“We are ready to impeach the governor,” Dela Cruz told reporters.
The incoming House officers said they will also be monitoring the movement in the Senate.
Reyes and Deleon Guerrero told reporters the chairpersons of the 11 standing committees and two special committees.
Rep. Tony Sablan (IR-Saipan) will be chairman of the Ways and Means Committee; Rep. Trenton Conner (IR-Tinian) will chair the Foreign and Federal Relations Committee; and Rep. Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan) the Commerce Committee.
Deleon Guerrero said he offered the chairmanship of the Health and Welfare Committee to Rep. Janet Maratita (IR-Saipan), who is currently off-island. He said the officers would like to give Maratita until Nov. 30 to decide to either accept or decline the offer. Maratita earlier expressed interest in becoming vice speaker.
Only Maratita and Conner were off-island during the caucus.
Rep.-elect Cris Leon Guerrero will be chairman of the Judiciary and Government Operations; Rep.-elect Roman Benavente will chairman of the Education Committee; Rep.-elect Tony Benavente will chair the Natural Resources Committee; Rep.-elect Ralph Yumul will chair the Tourism Committee; and Rep.-elect Larry Guerrero will chair the Public Utilities, Transportation and Communications Committee.
The incoming speaker said if Maratita declines chairmanship of the Health and Welfare Committee, the post could go to either Rep.-elect JP Sablan or Rep.-elect Ton Agulto.
Deleon Guerrero also announced the formation of two special committees: The Special Committee on Retirement Fund Issues will be headed by Rep.-elect Mario Taitano, and the Special Committee on Impeachment.
The incoming speaker, however, said they have yet to make a decision as to who will lead the impeachment panel, although he said all the impeachment panel members from the minority side in the current House will still be on board. They include Deleon Guerrero, who headed the impeachment panel, Tebuteb, Sablan, and Dela Cruz.
He said they will also get members from the new minority of four.
In the Senate, most senators are honoring a so-called “gentleman's agreement” in early 2010 that the Senate presidency in the 18th Legislature will go to a senator from Tinian. However, the possibility of the governor's impeachment and conviction has become a source of internal leadership struggle.