Five House lawmakers belonging to the minority bloc urged Gov. Ralph DLG Torres yesterday to follow the law by immediately appointing former Department of Public Safety official Franklin R. Babauta to replace Edwin Propst as representative of Precinct 1.
Reps. Christina Sablan (D-Saipan), Sheila Babauta (D-Saipan), Donald Manglona (D-Saipan), Edmund Villagomez (Ind-Saipan), and Richard Lizama (Ind-Saipan) told Torres in a letter that he should have filled the House vacancy on or before Oct. 31, 2020—as required by law.
The minority lawmakers said in their letter that the governor is required to appoint Franklin Babauta, who was the unsuccessful candidate for the office in the 2018 election who received the highest number of votes. They said Babauta has publicly confirmed he is willing to serve. “It is our understanding that you have yet to reach out to him,” the lawmakers said.
They said the law is clear as the process for filling a vacancy in the Legislature is simple and straightforward. “The people of Precinct 1 are entitled to full representation in their House of Representatives, and you have a constitutional and statutory mandate to ensure that,” they said.
The lawmakers said the people of Precinct 1 have been underrepresented in the House since the resignation of Propst last Oct. 1.
Last week, House Speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao (R-Saipan) notified Torres about his declaration of a vacancy at Precinct 1. Press secretary Kevin Bautista confirmed that the Governor’s Office received Attao’s official communication about the vacancy declaration.
Bautista said that, in line with Article II, Section 9 of the CNMI Constitution and with respect for the separation of powers between two equal branches of government, Torres “respectfully waited” for Attao to officially declare a vacancy before acting on the appointment.
“Moreover, in line with 1 CMC Section 6502 and historical precedent with other legislative vacancies, the governor has 30 days from the date of the declared vacancy to appoint the unsuccessful candidate for the office,” Bautista said.
The speaker asked Torres to appoint a representative for the vacant office as soon as possible so that Precinct 1 may resume its full representation in the House.
Babauta, who ran as an independent, landed seventh place in the last 2018 election for Precinct 1, where there are six House positions.
Babauta’s wife, Celina, won a House Precinct 1 seat under the Democratic Party during Tuesday’s election based on Commonwealth Election Commission’s unofficial tabulation results.
Propst resigned last Oct. 1; his term was supposed to end on Jan. 11, 2021. His name was still on the ballot for the Nov. 3 general elections, which he won handily despite not campaigning for the position. Propst received the highest number of votes among 14 candidates for Precinct 1 at Tuesday’s election based on CEC’s unofficial tabulation results.