Rep. Christopher Leon Guerrero’s (Cov-Saipan) plan to craft an initiative reducing the number of lawmakers from 29 to 18 has gotten support from the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, which has long advocated for a leaner Legislature.
Chamber president Alex Sablan and board of directors said during the weekend that they unanimously support the drafting of a legislative initiative that will pose the question of a reduced number of lawmakers before CNMI voters.
Leon Guerrero said on Sunday that he may pre-file the initiative this week. But he said the number of lawmakers proposed may still change.
“The Saipan Chamber of Commerce has repeatedly called for government to reduce its operations when there would be no loss of services provided to the people of the Commonwealth. It’s nothing any business in the CNMI hasn’t already done. The plan being proposed by Rep. Christopher Leon Guerrero, a member of the ad hoc committee to reduce government expenditures, is exactly what the private sector believes is the right thing to do,” Sablan said in a statement.
Leon Guerrero’s planned initiative comes a little over a year after a similar proposal was defeated in the 17th House of Representatives.
The freshman lawmaker said he hopes that this time around, there would be enough support from members of the 18th House and Senate, to give voters a chance to decide whether or not they want a smaller Legislature.
The Chamber president said Leon Guerrero’s “announcement amounts to an announcement, as did a similar initiative announced last year.”
“But should this initiative be placed before the voters, not only would we witness real responsibility by our elected leaders, in turn we should witness another resounding message from our CNMI voters that they believe this is a government by the people for the people. There’s no doubt in our minds this initiative would pass if placed on a ballot,” Sablan said.
Leon Guerrero’s planned initiative seeks to amend the NMI Constitution’s Article 2 sections.
The Chamber board of directors said it acknowledges other lawmakers’ concerns that the initiative needs to respect basic precepts or rules reflective of the voting populace as it affects representation, yet states the real issue at hand “is a government that cannot meet its financial obligations in a recessive economy.”
Sablan asked lawmakers to figure out how to best put the question before the voters and act on it.
“We all know it needs to be done. The Legislature has sent this same message before, that it understands the necessity, and if it again does not come before the voters this time, we will further lose respect for a government we so badly want to represent the will of the people,” he said.
Leon Guerrero’s plan is to ask voters whether they want to cut the number of lawmakers from 29 to 18, a longer term for House members from two to four, and islandwide voting for House members, to help shrink the CNMI government’s size.
“The CNMI has been talking about reducing the size of government for a long time. It has to start somewhere,” he told Saipan Tribune.
The CNMI’s population has gone down to 53,883 as of 2010, from 69,221 in 2000 based on the latest U.S. Census.
Based on Leon Guerrero’s initial plan, the initiative would ask voters whether they want to reduce the number of senators from nine to six—or from three senators each for Saipan, Tinian, and Rota to only two on each island.
He also plans to ask voters whether they want to reduce the number of House-Saipan members from 18 to 10. He seeks to maintain one House member each for Rota and Tinian.
Former representative Joseph Palacios, author of the defeated initiative in the 17th Legislature, welcomes Leon Guerrero’s plan to propose a similar initiative.
He, however, said it may not be a good idea to put a limit of two representatives for each of the five Saipan precincts if the goal is to have an islandwide voting for House members on Saipan.
“I agree with a four-year term as opposed to a two-year term for House members because it is too costly to hold elections every two years. Plus if the House members are not doing a good job, people can remove them in the middle of their term,” Palacios said at the Labor Day festivities on Sunday.