Former House speaker Heinz Sablan Hofschneider declared yesterday his intent to run for governor—his third try since 2005—this time as an independent and with Senate floor leader Ray Naraja Yumul (Ind-Saipan) as his running mate. With at least four eyeing the top post, the CNMI looks headed for a second gubernatorial runoff race; in the first one, Hofschneider lost to Benigno R. Fitial in 2009.
“We are your choice for change,” Hofschneider said at the start of his and Yumul’s announcement yesterday morning in the Hofschneider family compound in Upper Gualo Rai.
Hofschneider said his seven to eight months of house-to-house visit, “listening to people,” led up to yesterday’s declaration.
At the presentation, Hofschneider’s wife Susana was by his side, and Yumul’s wife Maritess was also by his side.
The Hofschneider-Yumul team is running opposite at least three others: Gov. Eloy S. Inos and Senate President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan) of the Republican Party; former governor Juan N. Babauta and former senator Juan S. Torres, who are asking the GOP for an open primary; and former Commonwealth Ports Authority executive director Edward “Tofila” Masga Deleon Guerrero, a Democrat.
The gubernatorial race so far pits against each other two sitting senators as lieutenant governor candidates and two former gubernatorial opponents running against each other once again, among other things.
There are still some nine months before the November general elections.
GOP president James A. Ada, meanwhile, said yesterday there is no decision yet on Babauta’s request for an open primary, but an emergency meeting will be held this week to tackle the matter.
Some Republican leaders said the GOP already endorsed the Inos-Torres ticket in September, so a primary is no longer needed.
Babauta is not commenting yet whether he would run as an independent if the Republican Party declines his request for a primary.
Hofschneider and Yumul are campaigning under the slogan, “Change starts with you,” referring to voters who would be the driving force behind what they hope is “positive change.”
The former speaker said he chose Yumul as running mate because he is “young and energetic” and brings with him an “extensive experience which the people would like to see in dealing with problems.”
“The third is probably the most important request from people—please pick a partner that you can trust and work hard with and I find those things in Mr. Yumul, the senator, and I’m very happy and proud to have him as the lieutenant governor [candidate],” Hofschneider said.
This is Hofschneider’s third run for governor, after being a candidate in the 2005 and 2009 elections.
He won the popular vote in 2009 as a Republican but failed to get a majority vote, resulting in the first CNMI runoff election opposite Fitial. Hofschneider lost to Fitial by 370 votes in the runoff race.
During question-and-answer with the media yesterday, Hofschneider was asked about his position on the impeachment process against Fitial because at the time, he wasn’t heard from. Hofschneider’s response was about the results of the 2009 runoff election.
“In the campaign leading up to the tabulation, the decision in 2009, all of the things that went wrong, I told the people in our campaign that these things will happen—the retirement (fund), the utilities, the hospital, they all came to reality and I lost to Fitial. I respect the mandate of the people when they voted for Fitial and Inos but that is not to say I condone or accept how the election was won,” Hofschneider said.
Yumul, meanwhile, previously identified himself with the so-called Independent-Republicans who left the party when Fitial took over it again.
When he was still a member of the House, Yumul was one of the co-authors of two impeachment resolutions against Fitial; the second one succeeded.
Hofschneider, who spent over 16 years as a lawmaker including as a one-term speaker, said public policy has been shaped by political expediency and short-term thinking that he said has a human cost. He said this is evident in the courts, security issues, and economic turmoil.
He also talked about “weak and failed government policies,” and high health care and health insurance costs.
“But perhaps more importantly, the people suffer from a lack of confidence in the government’s ability to make a positive difference in peoples’ lives,” he added.
Hofschneider, in responding to media questions, said the high utility rates is a result of the government’s inability to pay its utility bills and the 25 percent cut in pension could be addressed if priorities are changed.
When asked why he is no longer running under the Republican Party, he said in his seven-month house-to-house visit, he has come to the conclusion that “people are tired of party politics.”
“This is overwhelming message. And so it’s not about belonging to a party but believing in the people first is more important and taking care of their concerns,” he said.
On the issue of the Commonwealth-only worker program, Hofschneider said the economy revolves around the availability of enough human resources to run businesses.
“We obviously do not have the human resources to maintain the level of economy that we have. We really have to engage the federal side and have a clearer understanding of the future of CWs,” he said.
If the CW program is not extended beyond Dec. 31, 2014, the CNMI loses immediate access to some 10,000 skilled and professional foreign workers.
As to the U.S. Department of Defense’s planned expanded use of the islands, Hofschneider said there needs to be a balance between the U.S. military’s needs and economic opportunities and CNMI peoples’ needs.
Hofschneider also urged government employees to “report political intimidations” and at the same time encouraged people to be involved in the political process without fear of “political consequences or retaliation.”
The committee to elect Hofschneider-Yumul is headed by David Attao. Also present at yesterday’s announcement were their family, friends, and supporters.