Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan’s 59th birthday and fundraiser on Sunday night brought together longtime friends, supporters, and a slew of politicians from opposite ends of the local political spectrum. Sablan is running for a fourth term in Congress.
“I wish we all could get along,” Sablan said of his birthday wish as he met and greeted visitors at the Pacific Islands Club seaside Sunday night.
Sablan (Ind-MP), the CNMI’s first and so far only nonvoting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, said “everyone needs to work together” and “have respect for one another” to further advance the local economy.
“We’re all in this together,” he added.
Among those in attendance at his birthday fundraiser were Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider, Attorney General Joey Patrick San Nicolas, senators, members of the House of Representatives, other former and current government officials, businessmen and other private citizens.
The $200-per-person fundraiser also brought together members of the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, former Covenant Party members, and independents.
“I am grateful and humbled by the show of support this evening… It is beyond my expectation. Some people also made donations but couldn’t come,” he said.
Sen. Pete Reyes (Ind-Saipan) said Sablan has his full support. This statement was repeated by others in attendance.
Sablan, who got elected to office for the first time in the November 2008 race, said he is and will remain an independent.
“I don’t work for political parties. I work for the people of the Northern Mariana Islands. When someone comes to my door with a problem, I don’t ask them for what party they belong to. I ask them how I can help. And in Congress, I work with leadership and members on both sides of the aisle. That’s how I get things done,” he said.
As in the past three elections wherein Sablan did not directly endorse any other candidate or party, this time won’t be different “although it’s sometimes obvious who I support,” he said.
“I know that I will have to work with the people the voters elect; and I don’t want to start out with any bad feelings left over from the election. Plus I only have one vote. And Andrea and I usually sit down and discuss our choices and come to agreement on who we will vote for,” he said.
Sablan said that even though he announced his candidacy, he would like everyone to know that he has a day job—“working for the people of the Northern Marianas.”
“So I may spend 5 percent of my time on the campaign for now, but the other 95 percent of my time will be spent working on legislation and problems that constituents bring to me,” he said.
He had said that “experience and seniority make a member of Congress more effective,” adding that the longer he is in Congress, “the more I can accomplish for the people of the Northern Mariana Islands, both in Congress and within the federal government agencies.”
For example, the submerged lands bill that was Sablan’s first piece of legislation introduced in 2009, took five years of pushing to get to the U.S. House and Senate and finally the White House last year.
So far, no one else has made known his or her intention to run as delegate in the November general elections.
Besides ensuring more federal funds and new federal funds for education, the environment, healthcare, and food stamp, Sablan has also worked on addressing immigration issues that affect the CNMI, including an improved status for long-term legal aliens. This also comes at a time when many U.S. lawmakers are also trying to grant a pathway to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented aliens in America.
Sablan has always been attacked on immigration in every election but he said voters “can see through that.”
Meanwhile, Sablan said he has not received word from the U.S. Labor secretary yet on the CNMI’s request for an extension of the Commonwealth-only worker program beyond Dec. 31, 2014. A decision is expected any time soon.
He said he has talked to the Labor secretary’s deputies and his congressional office staff is in contact with the department staff “every week, to make sure the decision does not get lost on someone’s desk.”
Without an extension of the CW program expiring in a little more than 11 months, the CNMI will lose immediate access to some 10,000 foreign workers that the tourism-based economy has relied upon for decades.