Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) will mark his 59th birthday on Sunday by officially announcing he is seeking a fourth term in Congress, saying that “experience and seniority make a member of Congress more effective.” He will remain an Independent.
“The longer I am in Congress, the more I can accomplish for the people of the Northern Mariana Islands, both in Congress and within the federal government agencies,” Sablan told Saipan Tribune.
To date, no one else has made known his or her intention to run as delegate in the November race, in which CNMI voters will also get to pick a governor, an attorney general for the first time, lawmakers, mayors and other officials.
Sablan is the CNMI’s only—and so far only—nonvoting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives by virtue of a 2008 law that also placed CNMI immigration under federal control. He was first sworn into office in January 2009.
He was re-elected in the 2010 and 2012 elections. Each term consists of two years.
In the 2012 mid-term race, he won by a landslide against his Republican opponent, Dr. Ignacia “Acha” Demapan. Sablan got 9,829 votes against Demapan’s 2,503—a remarkable 7,326-vote lead.
This vote margin is considered historic as Sablan is the first political candidate who recorded such a high winning total over an opponent. Sablan received 78 percent of the total ballots cast by the Commonwealth Election Commission in the 2012 polls.
“I would just like to say thank you, again, to everyone who has put their confidence in me to represent them in Congress and to make choices that are in the best interest of the people of the Northern Mariana Islands. This is a tremendous responsibility and I work every day to live up to the trust people have given me,” he said yesterday.
Sablan said the submerged lands bill was the first piece of legislation he introduced in 2009.
“It took five years of pushing, pushing to get the House, the Senate, and finally the White House to agree. We got the submerged lands signed into law; one of only 72 laws enacted last year. Experience and years of building relationships and trust made that possible,” he said.
He said there are more to do in Congress.
“I am looking forward to getting the Northern Marianas into the national food stamp program, so benefits will go up. I have worked for three years to get that legislative change. And if the Farm Bill finally passes, there is a $33 million pilot program for the Marianas tucked in there, when nationally food stamp funding is being cut. Again, experience and years of work produce results,” he said.
Sablan said this year, and even more in the next Congress, he expects to focus on getting more money for CNMI schools and for student meals.
“We are already looking at an increase of $3 million for PSS [Public School System] this year. We’re going up from $4 million for Title I funding to over $7 million. But we can’t stop there. My aim is to get our students federal funding on par with students in the U.S. states. That’s a multi-year process; and the longer I am on the Education Committee the better able I am to make those changes,” he said.
Sablan said his critics are already at work against him.
“That’s what House Resolution 18-34 is all about. That’s what the petition is. But I have been attacked on immigration in every election. Voters are smart; they can see through that,” he said.
Sablan made sure that U.S. Senate and U.S. House national immigration reform bills included a provision granting a pathway to citizenship for long-term legal aliens in the CNMI. The same national bills grant pathway to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented aliens in the United States.
The delegate said he also expects to be attacked by critics because he supports people in the CNMI “getting the same amount of food stamp help as Americans in Guam.”
“But as long as we have children coming to school hungry on Monday because their families can’t feed them enough over the weekend, I will keep fighting for more food assistance. As long as people on Rota and Tinian face sky-high food costs, I will keep fighting for them to get more help,” he added.
Sablan’s $200-per-person birthday fundraiser will be held at Pacific Islands Club on Sunday from 6pm to 8pm.