Stop the harassment and bullying behavior

Dear Gov. Ralph DLG Torres: I write to bring to your attention the harassing and bullying behavior of Community and Cultural Affairs Secretary Robert Hunter, against me, because of my work as a staffer at the Northern Marianas congressional office. I bring this to you in the hope that you will recognize how poorly Secretary Hunter’s misconduct reflects on your leadership, and that you will take immediate corrective action. Specifically, I request that you order Secretary Hunter to cease and desist his harassing and bullying behavior, and that you consider requiring him to undergo counseling and/or training to address his unprofessional, abusive conduct.

I currently serve as the outreach coordinator/deputy communications director for U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, based in the Saipan district office. I have held this position since 2015. In the chain of command of our district office, I am one of five congressional staffers, and we answer to three individuals: Mike Tenorio, our district director; Bob Schwalbach, our chief of staff and communications director; and, of course, Congressman Sablan.

Since early this year, Congressman Sablan has urged you, in a series of letters, to more quickly spend tens of millions of dollars in food stamp money by increasing benefits and raising income thresholds so more people could be helped. One of his concerns was that with so much federal money left unspent, it would be difficult to convince the Republican leadership in Congress to increase food stamp funding for the Marianas in the Farm Bill reauthorization. As you may know, Secretary Hunter has responded angrily and defensively to most, if not all, of the congressman’s communications to you, in the local press and on social media.

But Secretary Hunter has also reached out to me, via private message on Facebook, to harass and bully me. Most recently, he was displeased that the congressman had written a letter to you, on Oct. 11, inquiring about the status of new food stamp eligibility levels, which your administration had announced in August as having been approved by USDA Food and Nutrition Service, and would go into effect on Oct.1. The congressman had learned, through reports from constituents, that the eligibility guidelines did not in fact go into effect as promised, but there had been no public explanation as to why.

Secretary Hunter made it clear in his private Facebook messages that he was communicating with me because of my job as a congressional staffer: “I send this to you, because you are listed as an assistant communications director for Kilili […]” He called the congressman “a piece of shit” and “a scumbag trying to keep his seat.” He accused me of being a “stooge for Kilili,” a “sycophant,” and “thoroughly dishonest.” He accused my colleagues and me of “lying to the public,” “dirty politics,” and “shitting on good staff.” The full exchange is enclosed with this letter.

I ask that you consider the reverse scenario, if any of my male bosses were to send private messages laced with profanities and abusive language to any of Secretary Hunter’s female subordinates. I am sure you would also find such behavior highly inappropriate. Any normal person would.

Governor, I thought long and hard about writing this letter to you. I hesitated, because I have observed Secretary Hunter’s conduct on social media, and I have seen him escalate his attacks on anyone who disagrees with him or challenges him. In my own exchange with him, responding and advising him that I would not be bullied only resulted in more aggression.

But then I realized that I may not be the only person whom Secretary Hunter has harassed and bullied. I also realized that the only way to deal with harassing and bullying behavior is to confront it openly and directly. And, in this case, when a member of your Cabinet is harassing and bullying a woman because of her work as a congressional staffer, the appropriate response would be to bring the matter to you, as his boss, for corrective action.

Governor, you set the tone for your administration. Please, do what is right. Harassing and bullying behavior is never acceptable, and should never be tolerated or ignored.

Please contact me anytime if you wish to speak further. I can be reached at 285-3935 or tinasablan@gmail.com. I hope to hear from you soon.

Christina Sablan
Susupe, Saipan

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