CNMI leaders welcome Kia’aina to Capital Hill


A strong advocate for climate change, with superb knowledge of the islands, passionate, and well versed on territorial issues.

These were just some of the descriptions used by Commonwealth leaders after their dialogue with Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs Esther P. Kia’aina, who is making her first official visit to the CNMI this week in her new capacity

Kia’aina met with acting governor Jude U. Hofschneider early yesterday morning at the Governor’s Office on Capital Hill. The hour-long courtesy call culminated in discussions on issues of interest to the CNMI and the other insular islands and the Freely Associated States.

“She was wonderful to talk to. Her knowledge of our islands’ issues is superb; she has a very strong grasp of both existing concerns and current events affecting the Commonwealth. I feel that with her at the helm of the Insular Affairs Office, the CNMI has a great friend and colleague in Washington, D.C. I welcome her back to the Marianas, and request that we extend a warm welcome to her as well,” said Hofschneider after the meeting.

House Speaker Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) said he, Senate President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan), and Reps. Trenton Conner (Ind-Tinian) and Richard Seman (R-Saipan) discussed a “myriad of federal issues” with Kia’aina that the Commonwealth is concerned about. These include immigration, submerged lands, militarization, and the Marianas Trench Marine Monument.

“…Esther is very well versed with the issues. She came here prepared and gave us a lot of feedback…[and] we learned about her position on these issues. I think she appreciates the local concerns here. She’s very supportive of the concerns that we have,” said Deleon Guerrero. “This is not the end of it. We both agreed that they go back and get a response back to us on some of things they will be doing as far as supporting the CNMI.”

Even controversial issues like the Department of Defense’s proposed use of Pagan as a training area, the divert airfield on Saipan, and other sticky issues didn’t seem to faze her, according to Deleon Guerrero.

“She seems very passionate about the CNMI as far as insular areas go, especially as the islands have been taking the lead on alternative or renewable energy. That is something she feels passionate about that she said they could help. We also talked about submerged lands and underwater resources. Of course it will be Interior that will be granting any license. She wants to make sure that we’re not only kept in the loop as far as any information is found, but also on the potential for revenue. …I feel she’s a champion of the people that she’s [representing]. She’s an islander.”

Acting press secretary Ivan Blanco said Kia’aina is a strong advocate for climate change adaptation programs. He said yesterday’s discussions with Hofschneider centered on how local programs can align goals and objectives to protect and preserve the CNMI’s environment.

Other issues discussed with the acting governor included economic and energy development, labor and immigration, the Guam-CNMI visa-waiver programs, the Department of Defense buildup, and Compact Impact.

The Guam-born Kia’aina said it was good to be back in the CNMI, where she spent part of her life growing up.

“I have fond memories here, especially [studying] junior high on Tinian. I’ve been here several times on a professional capacity, but it always warms my heart to be here. The flame trees here are one of my favorites,” she said. “I have fond affection not only for the people of the Northern Marianas but care deeply about the issues you are facing and will do whatever I can on my end to help the people.”

Kia’aina was appointed by President Obama in the latter part of 2013 to take over the Insular Affairs Office.

Mark Rabago | Associate Editor
Mark Rabago is the Associate Editor of Saipan Tribune. Contact him at

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