Staffler is Tina’s running mate


In this file photo taken by Glen Hunter in September 2012, Rep. Christina Marie E. Sablan (D-Saipan), left who was at the time a KSPN reporter, is shown here reporting on group of people, including Leila Haveia Fleming C. Staffler, who were protesting public corruption during an impeachment rally against then-governor Benigno R. Fitial. Sablan is now the Democratic Party’s candidate for governor in the coming November general election, while Staffler, who is now a member of the House of Representatives representing Precinct 5, will be Sablan’s running mate as lieutenant governor. (Contributed Photo)

Rep. Christina Marie E. Sablan, the NMI Democratic Party’s gubernatorial candidate this November, has chosen Rep. Leila Haveia Fleming C. Staffler as her running mate, making them the first two women in CNMI history who are running together for the top executive positions in the government.

In response to Saipan Tribune’s inquiry Wednesday night, Sablan said they just made the announcement during a meeting that night with their team: the Democratic Party executive committee members and their elected members.

She said yesterday that she has known Staffler since 2007 when they started organizing public forums to bring the community together to discuss difficult issues of the day.

“We also worked together on the popular initiative to reapply the Open Government Act to the Legislature,” said the 40-year-old Sablan.

In a separate statement yesterday, Sablan said Staffler is a fresh face in politics who brings a positive energy and collaborative spirit to her work in the Legislature.

Staffler (D-Saipan), 42, said she is deeply humbled and honored to accept the Democratic Party’s endorsement to stand as lieutenant governor with Sablan in the 2022 election.

“I am honored to be part of the first female tandem to run for the top leadership positions in our Commonwealth,” said Staffler in a statement.

A daughter of Tinian, Staffler now represents Saipan’s Precinct 5 in the House of Representatives after she was elected in 2020. An educator by profession with a master’s degree in educational leadership, she currently chairs the House’s Education Committee.

At the moment, three teams will be vying for the CNMI topmost post in the November general election: The Sablan-Staffler tandem will be running against re-electionist Gov. Ralph DLG Torres who has Sen. Vinnie Vinson F. Sablan (R-Saipan) as his running mate under the Republican Party, and the independent tandem of Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios and Saipan Mayor David M. Apatang.

Sablan said that Staffler has already built a reputation as a listener and a “bridge builder,” often reaching across party lines to foster relationships and push legislation.

“Although she is relatively new in politics, Leila is a seasoned public servant and community leader,” she said.

The lawmaker said that, as a beloved teacher, counselor, and administrator, Staffler has taught and mentored thousands of Marianas youth in her 20-year career in public education.

“She has long been, and continue to be, a passionate advocate for people with disabilities, and a champion for good governance and a safer, healthier community,” Sablan said.

“Leila also brings many wonderful qualities to the team: she is honest, humble, intelligent, capable, and kind. She genuinely cares about people, and the well-being of the community,” she said.

Sablan said her running mate understands the importance of education and health to the Commonwealth’s long-term development, and that all children deserve opportunities to thrive.

Sablan said Staffler is committed to fairness and transparency in government.

“Leila will be a terrific lieutenant governor, and I am proud and honored to be running with her on the Democratic ticket for 2022,” she said.

Sablan noted that the decision to select Staffler was made following an extensive search process that included vetting and interviews of nominees by an advisory search committee.

Sablan also personally met with potential running mates and consulted with members of the party, supporters, and other stakeholders.

She said that after a roundtable discussion, party members at the meeting voted by acclamation to endorse Staffler for lieutenant governor.

Sablan is the first woman to run for CNMI governor.

Staffler said she has known and worked with Sablan in different civic and community outreach initiatives over the past 15 years and she has consistently shared her vision of what good governance could be like in the Marianas, with the right leadership and direction: open and honest government, accountable leaders, sound and stable policies, and empowered citizens.

“These are principles that I also value, and Tina and I pledge to bring these principles to the highest seats in our CNMI government,” Staffler said.

She said public trust and confidence in government can only be earned through transparency and accountability.

The lawmaker said people are hungry for innovative and common-sense leadership, and they want a fiscally responsible government that serves its people efficiently and effectively, without favor to special or personal interests.

Staffler said she has often heard people tell her that voters in the CNMI want new faces to step up to the challenge. “Well, here we are. Good governance is on the ballot in 2022. Our people finally have a real choice and a chance to vote for a brighter, more hopeful future in the Marianas,” she said.

Staffler is the first person from Tinian to run for lieutenant governor.

NMI Democratic Party chairwoman Nola Hix said Sablan’s announcement marks a new day for all people—not just historically but there’s a lot of enthusiasm with the type of energy and representation these two women have to offer.

“A new beginning is on the horizon,” Hix said.

She said Sablan and Staffler are the role models that the CNMI needs, with morals that continue to inspire all and the future generations to come.

“This is leadership we can count on, and leadership we can trust. I share the excitement of the party and we will remind everyone that Tina and Leila’s success is the CNMI’s success. Yes, we can, CNMI! It’s time!” Hix said.

The NMI Democratic Party’s gubernatorial campaign will kick off this Wednesday, Jan. 26, at the Garapan Fishing Base starting at 4:45pm.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at
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