Not unlike her home state of Alaska, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said the CNMI faces challenges and issues that are not familiar to other states and that understanding links her to Commonwealth leaders that met her during her arrival yesterday on Saipan.
“‘To say that U.S. citizens can easily come here and fill jobs in the Commonwealth is easier said than done.’ Such a statement can only be expressed by someone who can relate with the CNMI’s remoteness and workforce shortage,” she said during her speech at a luncheon meeting at the Surf Club in Chalan Kanoa yesterday.
Immediately after landing on Saipan from a trip to Tinian, Murkowski and her delegation headed straight to the closed lunch meeting and met with Gov. Ralph Torres, the Saipan Chamber of Commerce and members of the CNMI business community, and the rest of the Commonwealth leadership.
Torres expressed gratitude to Murkowski for accepting his invitation to visit the CNMI. “We are very blessed and fortunate to have her here. She is the voice of the CNMI in the Senate. I cannot ask for a better person to represent us in the Senate than Sen. Murkowski with her team and staff.
“I hope she can enjoy Saipan and the rest of the CNMI and be the first on the ground. I am sure we will welcome her back in the event she has the opportunity to visit the CNMI again…” he added.
Being from Alaska, Murkowski could relate to the CNMI better than other lawmakers on Capitol Hill, said Rep. Angel Demapan (R-Saipan).
“She spoke about Alaska being one of the states that is not in the contiguous 48 (states) and about the unique needs of Alaska being detached from the mainland. She compared it to our situation, our remoteness and our geographic proximity, being detached also from the 48 states,” he said.
“The challenges are similar. The cost of services is higher because of the distance and there is a shortage in the labor pool because U.S. citizens cannot just drive from the mainland to Alaska and back. The situation is the same with the mainland and the CNMI,” he added.
Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corp. president Alex Sablan said the CNMI business community cannot thank the senator enough for pursuing the Workforce Act legislation and coming to the CNMI to see the circumstances firsthand.
“It was a great lunch meeting and we give thanks to the senator for coming all the way out from Washington, D.C. As I mentioned in our brief comments, she has been a champion for the CNMI in the U.S. Senate.
“She’s our voice in the CNMI by championing this bill. As we have been diligent and vocal that, without the legislation, the economy will collapse and when it does, it will be catastrophic for the people in the CNMI,” Sablan added.
NMBAC officer Gloria Cavanagh said the luncheon meeting started and ended on a positive note.
“It was a fruitful meeting all throughout. She came out here to begin with and she drew real comparison to the challenges between Alaska and the CNMI, which turns out pretty much the same when it comes to workers. Murkowski described the situation in Alaska where they are so remote that they are unable to get into particular industries, which is the same with us as we are so far away that people from California who come here later realize that it so cost-constrictive such as when they decide to visit their parents back in the [United] States,” she said.
“She is thoroughly enjoying it her trip here. We hope that she sees that there is a lot of work that is going on and, as far as workers are concerned, all of this can potentially stop come April 3. I feel confident that she understands and we are just really glad they she came out and thankful for her support,” she added.
A business person who was at the meeting, but asked not to be identified, said he is thankful for the senator’s visit but encouraged the foreign workforce to read the bill as well as it is for their common good.
“We thank the senator for coming all the way here and for working very hard on trying to implement this the bill. Everybody must read the bill and not believe just what you want to hear,” he said. “I call for all the foreign workers to be diligent and not be complacent as when you pass and get your working visa, you stop there. That’s not enough and I suggest you read the bill—what will be expected, the terms, the duration, and requirements as it is very important people must be educated.”
Demapan said that Murskowski, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, can always put together any legislation that the committee feels necessary.
“…she took that extra step to come and physically step foot on the ground to understand fully what the situation of the economy is like,” he said.
“In the past, U.S. government leaders in D.C. are making decisions in haste, being thousands and thousands of miles away for a place, a community, and people they have little knowledge about. For Sen. Murkowski to come here and bridge that gap gives us a sense of assurance and relief … I think that is something that the people of the Commonwealth should appreciate and embrace,” he added.