Gov. Eloy Inos and Sen. Ralph Torres met with MILE CNMI, a group of young voters dedicated to voter awareness, at their campaign office in Gualo Rai yesterday evening.
The Inos-Torres meeting was the first of several meetings the youth group has scheduled with this year’s gubernatorial candidates.
At the meeting, Inos and Torres spoke briefly about themselves, their platform, and their views on several CNMI issues.
Later, a Q&A session led discussion to an array of topics that included contract worker status, the integrated casino resort to be developed on Saipan, public transit, utility prices, and alternative energy.
Julius Reyes, a member of the group, asked Inos and Torres about the impact and sustainability of the casino resort.
“I was wondering how this will all be controlled,” Reyes said. “We’ve got a lot of buildings. I’m not sure if we should keep building, especially on the coast side.”
Inos clarified that the mandated 2,000 new rooms under the negotiated casino deal do not have to be built in one location.
“It’s a known situation that you can’t find the real estate here in one central place where you can build 2,000 rooms,” he said.
Working with various permitting agencies, the rooms would essentially have to be spread around the island, he said.
“You’re right,” Inos said, agreeing with Reyes’ concern about infrastructure impact. “I don’t think there’s any available site that would accommodate 2,000 rooms with all the integrated amenities.”
Inos and Torres both expressed appreciation for the contributions of contract workers throughout the CNMI’s history.
“Some of these folks are responsible for our economy, our growth. They’re responsible for the many good things [in the CNMI]. We couldn’t have done it by just ourselves,” he said.
When asked about what he and Torres can do about the status of contract workers if elected, Inos clarified that they do not much have authority on policy decisions, as these are made at the discretion of the secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor.
However, he says he has been working with Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) in putting pressure on federal authorities, as he believes contract workers play a huge role in keeping the economy going.
He cited this year’s good news of the CW program’s extension.
“We put enough pressure on [DOL] to exercise its discretion to extend that looming deadline [for another] five years,” Inos said.
He said he would continue to work with Sablan, saying they both have had discussions to approach Congress and ask for a “special visa” especially fitted for the CNMI, which will allow for continuity and sustainability in the workforce.
“I’m working in parallel with Congressman Kilili, because…the economy needs the service, and we are not prepared. We don’t have the U.S eligible workers to do the work that is currently performed by contract workers,” he said.
Torres said that in his time in the Senate he has supported resolutions to help nonresident workers in the CNMI.
“It’s not ‘us,’ it’s ‘we,’” Torres stressed. “We’re all here for the same reason. You call this home, I call this home, there’s no difference.”
Angel Ichihara, MILE CNMI’s chairman, spoke highly of the meeting and said he was surprised and appreciative of how Inos thoroughly answered their questions.
“I’m thankful that he is also helping CW workers,” he said.
He also told the governor about how he has two U.S.-born friends who have had to move to the Philippines because they’re parents could no longer stay on island.
When asked, Ichihara said he has not decided on who he will vote for but is excited to meet with the other gubernatorial candidates.