TINIAN-Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider took his oath of office anew yesterday, this time at a public swearing-in ceremony that also celebrated the installation of the CNMI's first lieutenant governor from Tinian.
Gov. Eloy S. Inos, himself the first governor to come from Rota, reminded that he and Hofschneider are governor and lieutenant governor “for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.”
Inos said the problems facing the CNMI “do not discriminate between party lines and political ideas” either.
“We are all equal stakeholders and we need to do something about it,” the governor said, as he called on every member of the community to work with the administration in addressing its priorities: the economy, healthcare, NMI Retirement Fund, and lowering utility costs.
The new governor is the Covenant Party's titular head, while the lieutenant governor is a Republican.
Most House and Senate members do not belong to any one dominating political party either.
For the first time in the longest time, there is no majority party and opposition party in CNMI politics.
Tinian Mayor Ramon Dela Cruz himself said in his welcoming remarks that this is “truly time for a new beginning, a new chapter in our Commonwealth history.”
“A clean slate, if you will, where we all contribute and have a more active role in the decision making in local matters. We now have the opportunity to work together to move our Commonwealth forward intelligently, purposefully, and responsibly,” Dela Cruz said.
Within days of the Inos administration's installation on Feb. 20 after the resignation of former governor Benigno R. Fitial, plans to reduce government spending and size have been crafted such as merging offices with similar functions or privatizing other government services, freezing salary increases and hiring, signing of a request to extradite former attorney general and now fugitive from justice Edward T. Buckingham III, and realigning limited resources to pump more funds into priority areas.
“We may not be able to finish everything, solve all the problems but at least we need to show our people that we do care and that we can start doing the right thing,” Inos told the crowd that packed the Tinian Courthouse. Inos always only has talking points but not a written speech prepared beforehand.
Hofschneider, in his inaugural speech, said that a government “destined to fail” was created throughout the years because leaders and people prioritized short-term gains over long-term sustainability, and special interest groups were accommodated while sacrificing the needs of the majority, among other things.
“I want to be clear that I am not trying to place blame or make excuses for the difficulties that we are facing. On the contrary, I believe that whatever brought us to this point is in the past and our job now is to address the future. We should learn from our mistakes but should not dwell on them,” he said.
In an interview later, Hofschneider said there would be unpopular but necessary steps that need to be taken to keep the CNMI moving forward.
Major tasks, too little time
The governor, as well as the lieutenant governor, said the problems are “so immense” and their administration has a mere 20 months to work on them compared to previous administration that usually had 48 months “to work things out.”
“It's an uphill battle but nevertheless we have agreed to take the bull by the horn,” Inos added.
CNMI Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexandro Castro administered the ceremonial oath of office for Hofschneider, with the latter's daughters Ashley holding the Bible and Alexis holding the microphone.
Besides the governor, many other CNMI officials from the executive, legislative and judicial branches based on Saipan and Rota flew to Tinian to take part in Hofschneider's ceremonial oath-taking rites.
Guam Speaker Judi Won Pat and Guam Sen. Anthony Ada were also present.
The ceremonial swearing-in was preceded by a 10am inaugural Mass at the San Jose Parish. The refreshments that followed the swearing-in were served and contributed by Hofschneider's family, friends, and other members of the community.
The original ceremonial activities were substantially scaled back in recognition of the government's tight finances and, more recently, the writ of execution against all monies and accounts in the CNMI to address an outstanding land claim.
Two hours later, a newly appointed Tinian senator to fill the vacancy that Hofschneider left at the Senate was also sworn into office yesterday.
Superior Court Presiding Judge Robert Naraja administered the oath of office for Joaquin Hoashi Borja, who will serve the remainder of Hofschneider's term until January 2015.
The governor appointed Borja last Thursday.
The CNMI Constitution states that if less than half of the term remains, the governor shall fill the vacancy by appointing the unsuccessful candidate for the office in the last election who got the largest number of votes.
Borja ran under former governor Benigno R. Fitial's Republican Party in the Nov. 6 mid-term elections, losing to Sen. Francisco M. Borja (Ind-Tinian). He also finished third in the 2009 race won by Hofschneider and Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian). His term will end in January 2015.
Also sworn in yesterday at the Tinian Courthouse were Arsene M. Borja to serve on the Civil Service Commission, and Michaela U. Sanchez to serve on the Northern Marianas College Board of Regents.
Ray Cing served as master of ceremony, while Fr. Ryan Jimenez led the invocation and benediction.
The young people of Tinian also have high hopes for having a first lieutenant governor from Tinian.
Leona C. Dela Cruz, 14, a member of the National Honor Society at Tinian Junior/Senior High School, said that “Tinian will get more involved” in the workings of the central government.
Gerald K. Crisostomo, 13, also a member of Tinian Junior/Senior High School's National Honor Society, said “Tinian will have a stronger voice in the government.”
“I hope Tinian schools will have more funds to be able to hire more teachers. We lack teachers here,” he told Saipan Tribune.
Hofschneider, 42, started as deputy director for the Department of Public Works-Tinian. His first entry into politics was when he ran and won a seat on the Tinian Municipal Council. He was elected senator representing Tinian during the 16th, 17th and 18th legislatures.
Hofschneider's term as Senate president in the current 18th Legislature in January this year was short-lived because he ascended to the lieutenant governor post when Fitial stepped down and Inos became governor.
As the Tinian mayor put it during yesterday's ceremony, Hofschneider is the first Senate president in CNMI history to serve for only a month.
Toward the end of his speech, Hofschneider said, “Governor, it's time to make a difference. Let's make the CNMI proud.”