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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gubernatorial race gets crowded
Former governor Babauta asks GOP for ‘open primary’

Gov. Eloy S. Inos of the Republican Party is headed for a crowded gubernatorial race as at least three others are eyeing the top post, including former governor Juan N. Babauta, former Commonwealth Ports Authority executive director Edward M. Deleon Guerrero, and former House speaker Heinz S. Hofschneider.

Babauta asked the GOP on Friday for an “open primary,” while Deleon Guerrero confirmed during Saturday’s successful Democratic Party reorganization that he wants to run for governor, even as the Hofschneider camp maintains a low-key campaign at this time.

If the three other individuals besides Inos pursue their intentions, then it would be harder for any of certified candidates to get at least 50-percent plus one of the votes cast in the November race. The CNMI would see another runoff election.

Members of the Republican central executive committee told Saipan Tribune that Babauta’s request for an open primary would be thumbed down as early as this week because the GOP had already endorsed the tandem of Inos and Senate President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan) in September.

Republican leadership members said there is no need for a primary because of the GOP’s endorsement in September of Inos and Torres.

Babauta, in an interview, said he would wait for a formal response from the Republican Party and “we will then make a decision what to do next.”

The former governor said at this time, he could not answer questions related to whether he would run as an independent if and when the GOP executive committee decides to reject his request for an open primary.

But he acknowledged that it would be “difficult,” if not “virtually impossible,” for any one candidate to get at least 50-percent plus one of the votes cast in the November race if there are many candidates.

Ivan Blanco, chairman of the GOP Central Committee’s public relations team, said the central committee received numerous letters of intent for the slots by the close of the Friday 4pm deadline for submission of letters of intent.

A GOP emergency meeting will be held to decide on Babauta’s letter to the GOP, received at 2:55pm on Friday.

‘Open primary request’

Babauta picked former senator and former representative Juan Sablan Torres as his running mate.

In their one-page letter, they offered their candidacy to run as governor and lieutenant governor for the 2014 general elections under the Republican Party.

“My running-mate and I pray for the general membership’s consideration for an open primary election in the selection for candidate for governor and lieutenant governor,” Babauta and Torres said.

Babauta said that Torres is now on his way back to Saipan from Boise, and they plan to hold a joint news briefing at a later time.

Babauta, 60, served as CNMI governor from January 2002 to 2006. He is also a former senator in the CNMI Legislature from 1986 to 1990, and served three terms as CNMI resident representative to Washington, D.C. from 1990 to 2002. He has a master’s degree in health planning/administration and a master’s degree in political science and American history. He also served as chief executive officer of the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.

He said Torres’ financial management background complements his background and experience, making their team a formidable one.

“We have known all these years that our party’s strength is grounded upon the principle of openness, of inclusion, and of participation, all based upon proven democratic principles that have led our great party to victory in the past. We hope that we as Republicans will follow in that winning tradition,” Babauta and Torres added.

Babauta and Torres’ request for a primary comes nine years after the Republican Party leadership chose Babauta despite the request of Hofschneider, then a representative, for a primary.

Meanwhile, Republican central committee members said no one submitted a letter of intent to run as delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives as of Friday’s deadline.

The Republican Party will hold a kickoff rally on March 23, Sunday, at the Susupe basketball courts.

Inos, 64, is currently in Washington, D.C. for a series of official meetings and is expected to be back on Feb. 28. Inos became governor on Feb. 20, 2013, when former governor Benigno R. Fitial resigned days before the start of his impeachment trial at the Senate over charges of corruption, neglect of duty, and felony.

Inos’ current lieutenant governor, Jude U. Hofschneider, is seeking a Tinian senatorial seat once again in November. Hofschneider was Senate president prior to Fitial’s resignation.

Democrats reorganize

On Saturday night, the Democratic Party of the Northern Mariana Islands held a general membership meeting and successfully reorganized itself, with the nomination of the Central Executive Committee members, election of officers, and official opening of the submission of letters of intent to run in the November gubernatorial elections.

Former chief justice Jesse Borja, who has been acting chairman of the Democratic Party since former presiding judge Edward Manibusan resigned in January, led Saturday night’s meeting at the Garapan Central Park.

Gracing the occasion was former Democratic governor Carlos Camacho, along with wife Winnie.

Benjamin M. Cepeda was elected the new chairman of the Democratic Party, while elected vice chair was Teresita Pertudo. The new secretary is Jashlie Nicole Camacho, and the treasurer is Emilia Chargualaf.

“I wasn’t expecting it. It’s an honor and I’d do my best to lead the party,” Cepeda told reporters at the meeting. He used to work at the Department of Corrections, and ran for representative of Precinct 1 but lost. He came back from Washington State and Guam.

He said as of Saturday night, there were already envelopes turned in containing letters of intent to run in the November race but he said the central committee has yet to open the envelopes.

‘Deleon Guerrero for governor’

Edward Masga Deleon Guerrero, a longtime Democrat and former CPA executive director, confirmed Saturday night that he is “interested in running for the office of governor.”

But Deleon Guerrero pointed out that he is not yet a candidate because at the time of the interview he has yet to submit his letter of intent. The party also just reorganized and elected executive committee members that will select the Democratic Party’s candidates.

As of this weekend, there’s no telling who his running mate will be, once the party picks him to be the gubernatorial candidate.

The deadline for submission of letters of intent to run under the Democratic Party is on May 5.

“The emphasis of the Democratic Party is reorganizing,” Deleon Guerrero said, adding that the Democratic Party “used to be a very powerful party” and he thinks it would be a powerful one again.

Deleon Guerrero is a former representative under the Democratic Party in the 5th Legislature. He served as vice chairman of the Democratic Party, and a board member of the party for almost 10 years.

“My father, mother, the people I see here tonight, come from a family that used to be Democrats. So it seems like Democrats are coming back now, reunited. I’m just helping the process of trying to do the right thing now, how to reunite the Democratic Party,” he added.

Former Tinian senator David Cing, also at the meeting, said if nobody else would like to run for the Tinian mayor’s post under the Democratic Party, “then that’s the time I’m going to throw in my name.”

Just like the other Democrats, Cing said he’d like to see the party reorganized first.

“We have to work very hard, extra hard this time. As a matter of fact, the Democratic Party has to fight tooth and nail in order to get to the top,” he added.

Also at the Democratic gathering were former Commerce secretary Andrew Salas and former representative Rosiky Camacho. Jess Taisague led the registration team at the meeting, while Barbara Iglecias also helped organize the meeting.

Former speaker Heinz Hofschneider’s camp has yet to announce Hofschneider’s candidacy but some groups have already been holding meetings to pledge their support to him. Sources said his possible running mate is Senate floor leader Ray Yumul (Ind-Saipan), although there were others also approached earlier, including former lieutenant governor and former speaker Diego Benavente, and Rep. Ralph Yumul (Ind-Saipan).

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