Rep. Ray Tebuteb (R-Saipan) and other sitting Republican lawmakers questioned yesterday Gov. Benigno R. Fitial’s election as the new president of the CNMI Republican Party when Juan N. Babauta stepped down Saturday night, saying party bylaws were changed and a meeting was held without informing all party members about them.
Tebuteb, who already had misgivings about the July GOP membership meeting and general elections wherein Babauta was elected, said as far as he’s concerned, a sitting elected official cannot be president of the party.
He said if some Republicans changed the bylaws to allow Fitial to become president, he and other incumbents were not even notified about these amendments, and were not even invited to the meeting on Saturday.
“His grip on power is stronger. We know he controls the House, now he can control the Senate. Like I said before in July, I still recognize Juan Tenorio as GOP president. That is still true today,” he said.
Despite his misgivings, Tebuteb said he is still a Republican.
Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota), when asked for comment, said he’s surprised by Tebuteb’s statement about Fitial now being able to control the Senate.
“I would like to think that the Senate is an independent body,” said Manglona. He said he was on Rota on Saturday and was not even aware of a GOP meeting that day.
Senate Vice President Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian), so far the only Republican senator confirmed to have attended the GOP meeting, said yesterday that he’s “happy with the choice of president, both as a party-mate and also as a member of the Legislature.”
“Now it’s time to move forward and focus on addressing critical issues of the CNMI,” he said.
Sen. Ralph Torres (R-Saipan) said he’s not aware whether the GOP bylaws were amended to allow a sitting governor to become president of the party. Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian) said he’s not also aware of the meeting.
House minority leader Joseph Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) and Rep. Ray Yumul (R-Saipan) also were not in the meeting. Yumul also said he’s not aware of the bylaws’ amendments.
Fitial was unanimously selected by about a hundred members on Saturday to replace Babauta, who stepped down as the CNMI Republican Party president so he can devote his time to the new healthcare corporation as its chief executive officer.
The governor won the seat unopposed, and Babauta said that Fitial’s selection was made in accordance with the party’s rules.
Babauta and Fitial touted Fitial’s “strong relationship” with the national Republican committee in Washington, D.C., Fitial good rapport with the current chairman of Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, and his constant communication with key members of the committee at national level.
Fitial founded and headed the GOP until he formed his own Covenant Party for his gubernatorial bids in 2001 and 2005. Babauta ran against Fitial in these two elections. Fitial was re-accepted to the Republican Party early this year, and called on other Covenant Party members to follow him. Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos and other Covenant members remain with the Covenant Party.