‘I want people to remember that they have choices’


Dear Republican Party president Mr. James Ada: Thank you for your open letter of Oct. 8, 2020.

I relied on a wide range of sources for the opinion piece I wrote last week, “A Legacy of Chaos: What They Want Us to Forget,” on the Republican Party’s record of performance in the Northern Marianas. In fact, I provided links to many of these sources in the post on my official Facebook page (see: https://www.facebook.com/notes/tina-sablan/a-legacy-of-chaos-what-they-want-us-to-forget/10158927015878586).

My sources include: local and international news reports; public laws and the legislative record; public records obtained from the Department of Finance and the Governor’s Office; federal and local court documents; audited financial statements; video recordings of legislative hearings with administration officials regarding furloughs, sole-sourced contracts, and federal unemployment assistance; and records documenting illegal overtime and double pay for Cabinet members and other public officials, including yourself and senior policy adviser to the Governor Mr. Robert Hunter, during periods of disaster recovery, austerity, and mass furloughs.

I stand by my statements.

Regarding your claims about my brief stint in the restaurant business years ago: It is sad and unfortunate, to say the least, that in going after me the Republican Party is also attacking a small, locally-owned, family operation that has had nothing to do with me for the past six years and whose current owners and managers are not running for public office.

The coffee shop was a corporation when it opened for business in the late summer of 2013. I separated from the company shortly after its opening when I left the island for graduate school in August that year. I officially sold all my shares in the spring of 2014, when the paperwork was settled, but my actual involvement in the business ended months before that. To my knowledge, and according to the company, the restaurant has never been found in violation of any laws or regulations.

As for my part-time employment with the U.S. congressional office last year: that has always been a matter of public record. I disclosed it every time I recused myself from voting in the CNMI Legislature on matters in which I had a conflict. I disclosed it in my statements of financial interest, which all CNMI elected and appointed officials must file with the Office of the Public Auditor every year.

Anyone can ask for my statements of financial interest: I have waived confidentiality with the Public Auditor each time I have filed. CNMI law makes these statements of financial interest confidential records; my minority colleagues and I have proposed legislation to make them public. Chairman Ada, we would welcome your party’s support of that legislation.

In addition to waiving confidentiality with OPA, I first made my statement of financial interest public with a press release that went out in October 2018, before the general election, and long before the GOP decided to make any noise about my part-time job.

I addressed the issue again in a piece on financial disclosure in August 2019, which I released to local media and posted on my Facebook page (see: https://www.facebook.com/notes/tina-sablan/financial-disclosure-should-be-the-rule-for-every-public-official-heres-mine/722917291512059). I provided details about the nature of my part-time contract with the congressional office, which I completed in June 2019, as well as a report of the income I received from both my federal job and my local elected position. I did take a significant pay-cut when I began serving in the CNMI Legislature.

It’s not that unusual for federal congressional staffers, both Democrats and Republicans, to also hold local elected jobs (see: https://www.rollcall.com/2019/07/19/when-congressional-staffers-are-elected-officials-too/). You are free to disagree with it. You are also free to disagree with guidance I received from the U.S. House ethics committee, the CNMI House counsel, the CNMI Office of the Public Auditor, and the CNMI attorney general, all of whom I consulted prior to working the two jobs. You are free to disagree with anything I do. It’s a free country.

And yes, my office has contracted part-time legal counsel, for a flat fee of $1,800/month, for three months. I have been appointed to serve on two special committees—one that is reviewing disaster-related funding for the Commonwealth, and another that is investigating the governor’s expenditures. The Legislative Bureau has two regular full-time attorneys, both of whom serve House members on both sides of the aisle. Sometimes conflicts arise. Over the course of my work, particularly on the special committees, I have needed the advice of independent counsel.

Lastly, as to your charge of “divisiveness”: I want people to remember that they have important decisions to make that will shape the future of our Commonwealth. I want people to remember that they have choices. For the first time in decades, we have a two-party system in the Northern Marianas. There are differences between what Democrats have to offer, and how Republicans have been running our government. People should remember how they vote makes a difference. That’s not divisive. That’s democracy.

Tina Sablan
Member, CNMI House of Representatives
21st Legislature, Capital Hill

Tina Sablan

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