AT INAUGURATION OF 22ND CNMI LEGISLATURE
Hofschneider is Senate president
Several hours after the House of Representatives called its inaugural session to order yesterday morning, the chamber’s lawmakers were still deadlocked on who would be the House speaker of the 22nd CNMI Legislature, with the vote among the 20 representatives evenly split between Rep. Angel Demapan (R-Tinian) and Rep. Edmund Villagomez (Ind-Saipan). This was in contrast to the organizational session at the Senate where, as expected, senators elected Sen. Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) as president.
Twenty-nine mask-wearing lawmakers in both chambers took their oath of office at the Jesus P. Mafnas Memorial Building on Capital Hill as members of the 22nd CNMI Legislature during an inauguration that, for the first time in CNMI history, was closed to the public due to COVID-19 health protocols.
As of press time last night, the House was still at an impasse, with Demapan and Villagomez each receiving 10 votes during three elections. Speaker pro tempore Rep. Jonathan Blas T. Attao (R-Saipan) presided over the House’s organizational session.
When Saipan Tribune left the House chamber yesterday at 5:35pm, the representatives were still in closed-door talks.
During the third voting that happened at 4:49pm, Rep. Ralph N. Yumul (R-Saipan) announced that that was the last time he would vote for Demapan.
Without a speaker, the House cannot organize because there is no leadership and they cannot appoint the committee chairs.
After the first voting, the House had a recess for the members to spend time with their families and take photos so people don’t have to wait while the representatives from both sides then had a meeting.
In an interview after the first round of voting for speakership, Demapan said they will continue to talk to members on both sides of the aisle and see what’s the best path forward so that they can organize the House.
To his recollection, Demapan said it’s the first time in recent history that an impasse happened due to a tie in the votes for the speakership. “I’m very, very grateful for the support from my colleagues, for their trust and confidence in me and my abilities to lead the House. Unfortunately we’re at a tie right now,” said Demapan.
He said they will try their best to find a solution to break the impasse and come together so that they can formulate their action plan and set a direction for the people of the CNMI.
“So I am hopeful that we can do that [electing a speaker] today. I think we owe it to our people to do it,” said Demapan, who was a member of the 19th and 20th House.
Villagomez, in an interview after the first voting, hoped the chamber would figure something out when they reconvene. “The closest we’ve ever gotten to something like this was in the 19th Legislature. We didn’t have a feeling or didn’t know until like, maybe late night before inauguration, as who the majority was going to be,” Villagomez said.
He said even with this impasse, however, they had an agreement to have the speaker pro tempore and floor leader pro tempore to make sure they have this organizational session and to have this inauguration.
“Because without those pro tem officers I don’t even think we’d be able to get sworn in,” Villagomez said.
At the Senate, Sen. Justo Quitugua (R-Saipan) was elected vice president, Sen. Vinnie F. Sablan (Ind-Saipan) as floor leader, and Sen. Victor B. Hocog (R-Rota) as Legislative secretary.
Hocog presided over the organizational session as Senate pro tempore.
Hofschneider later took over the session and during the election of officers after he was elected Senate president.
Hofschneider instructed Sens. Sablan and Karl Rosario King-Nabors (R-Tinian) to report to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres that the Senate is duly organized and is ready for business.
In his speech, Hofschneider said he is grateful for the people of Tinian for allowing him to be their voice the last few years and urged his fellow senators to roll up sleeves and get to work.
“There is no time to waste; we have just the next two years to legislate a proper road to recovery,” he said.
Hofschneider encouraged the senators to revisit the results of the Fiscal Summit and particularly look at currency export fees that can capture some of the monies that bleed out of the islands each day.
He said he personally view the current military presence as a net positive for Tinian and for the CNMI. “However, we must address the threat of a more destructive military presence,” he said.
Hofschneider made it clear that the Tinian leadership is not interested in live-fire training on the islands. “We have expressed time and again that we are open to deals with the DoD (Department of Defense) but outright destruction is non-negotiable,” the president said.
Twenty members of the House were sworn in before Chief Justice Alexandro C. Castro in the House chamber, while nine members of the Senate took their oaths before Superior Court Presiding Judge Roberto C. Naraja.
First-time senators are Edith E. Deleon Guerrero (D-Saipan) and King-Nabors (R-Tinian).
The other senators are Sens. Victor B. Hocog (R-Rota), Teresita A. Santos (Ind-Rota), Paul A. Manglona (Ind-Rota), Vinnie F. Sablan (Ind-Saipan), Justo Quitugua (R-Saipan), Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian), and Francisco Q. Cruz (R-Tinian).
In the House, first-time representatives are Reps. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan), Denita Kaipat Yangetmai (D-Saipan), Leila Haveia Fleming Clark Staffler (D-Saipan), Vicente Castro Camacho (D-Saipan), Roy Christopher Aldan Ada (R-Saipan), and Patrick Hofschneider San Nicolas (R-Tinian).
The other House members are Reps. Edwin K. Propst (D-Saipan), Christina-Marie Elise Sablan (D-Saipan), Sheila Therese Jack Babauta (D-Saipan), Richard Tudela Lizama (D-Saipan), Joseph Lee Pan T. Guerrero (R-Saipan), Angel Demapan (R-Saipan), John Paul Sablan (R-Saipan), Blas Jonathan Tenorio Attao (R-Saipan), Ivan Alafanson Blanco (R-Saipan), Ralph Naraja Yumul (R-Saipan), Joel Castro Camacho (R-Saipan), Edmund Joseph Sablan Villagomez (Ind-Saipan), Joseph Flores (Ind-Saipan), and Donald Manalang Manglona (Ind-Rota).
The ceremonies were invitation-only and were closed to public due to COVID-19 health protocols.
The inaugural event was televised live on Docomo Cable, Channel 23 and streamed live on Facebook in their respective chambers.