Our democracy will showcase its strength and resilience this week as early voting opens and we all count down to Election Day on Nov. 8, 2022. The people of this great Commonwealth are presented with many candidates who wish to serve this community and I am thankful to all those who have put their names and hearts into answering the call to service. I, along with my running mate, Vinnie Flores Sablan, have also chosen to put our names forward for the highest seats in our government and I would like to address the community to provide our reasons why we feel this election is so important for our islands.
Trust is a word that is being thrown around much this election. Candidates across the board are discussing trust in different ways. They are asking the public to trust that old ways of our government will return. They ask to put the trust of the people behind negativity and disparagements without solutions.
I have always stood by my record and ask that we look to what results have each candidate brought toward our shared goal of advancing our islands forward. Results you can see cannot be spun, especially when we see it in our everyday lives. Results that people can truly trust.
I believe our greatest successes over the last four years have been a historic demonstration of the unlimited, dramatic, immense power of yes.
When a young college graduate returns to the Commonwealth filled with the urge to give back to this community and looks for the opportunity to do so, saying yes unleashes their potential to become a change agent that drives our islands forward.
When a small business owner looks to the community that she serves and wishes to bring her experience and insight to improve how her government supports businesses like hers, saying yes builds a stronger system for all of us and makes her a part of the government that represents her.
When a Filipino citizen who has labored for these islands all his adult life building our infrastructure with his sweat and blood, making these islands his home, looks to the community he and his family love as their own, and asks if there will be a place for them in the future here, saying yes sparks a fire to advocate for all those who call these islands home to the highest ranks of our government.
When a young athlete seeks to choose competition, sportsmanship, and teamwork over the dangers of drug abuse or crime, saying yes to supporting his passion and dreams for success on the field gives him and all our athletes the foundation of confidence, and discipline that will see their success in whatever they choose to do in life.
Simply saying YES has unlocked so much within us over these years.
We have made the choice to not go backwards, and not hide in fear over the criticisms that are inevitable when you try and do something big.
Dreaming big and doing the hard work and see their success is what we chose.
We chose not to have transportation limit our people from going to work, to school, or to the hospital and asked why not put our hearts into developing the CNMI’s first public transit system, the public transit system that is the most modern and well-managed in Micronesia through the Commonwealth Office of Transit Authority. This public transit system has grown to support the changing needs of our community. The Demand Response Service saw 14,735 trips provided last year alone, with 3,958 trips given to passengers with mobility equipped devices and provided 300 transit passes to support the needs of PSS’ Cooperative Education program, giving our students access to transportation to get on-the-job training. We have invested more of our resources to expanding the fixed-route system with $600,000 to continue their efforts through the community.
We looked at the heartbreak of families suffering from addiction and substance abuse and dreamed of a community that recognized addiction as an illness and not a crime in itself. But we didn’t just hope for it, we made it a reality, and together established the CNMI’s first ever in-patient substance abuse treatment facility currently operating out of the HOPE (Hinemlu O’hala Para Enteramenti) Recovery Center.
And we are seeing success. Through this program in the last year alone, four graduates have gone on to acquire new homes, four secured gainful employment, and two earned their high school diploma through the Adult Basic Education program at the Northern Marianas College.
We did not look to the world’s largest military and their plans for bombing our islands of Pagan and Tinian and give in to our fears of our inadequacy. We asked our nation’s federal government directly why the voice, dreams, aspiration, and lives of the people of these islands can’t matter in the important conversations related to our national security. We stood and asked why not treat the security of our people—the security to our lives on the land we call home—as a critical part of our nation’s wellbeing. Through these efforts we have succeeded in ensuring there will be no bombing of Pagan and no bombing of Tinian.
Through the persistence of our Department of Public Works and the collaboration of our agencies and departments, this administration has paved more roads than any single administration before us, finalizing Isa Drive, repairing Beach Road, and securing the monumental connection of the Route 36 Cross Island Connection.
We saw the creation of new parks and green spaces, with families, children and visitors seeing life brought to new spaces like the Governor Inos Peace Park and the San Vicente Children’s Park.
We have planned for our future, charting our next era of prosperity through the hard work of the Office of Planning and Development and the publication of the first ever CNMI Comprehensive Sustainable Development Plan.
We have retained landmark investors who have contributed so much to our development like the Hyatt Regency Saipan, welcomed new and exciting additions to our business community through the Crowne Plaza Resort Saipan, and saw the reopening of our tourism industry through partners like the beautiful Kensington Hotel Saipan.
We have competed for and secured the largest amount of competitive grant funding in recent history, with $13 million secured for the revitalization of Garapan, over $100 million for a brand-new, energy-efficient, and state of the art campus for Northern Marianas College, the expansion of education and training institutions for the Northern Marianas Technical Institute, the development of our sports and culture through the $21-million Oleai Sports and Cultural Complex, and the once-in-a-generation advancement to the infrastructure of the government to support economic development through the Economic Resiliency Center.
We have spurred economic recovery, survived historic collapse and have set the groundwork for our second great resurgence with the historic relationship we have developed with South Korea, and the new partnership we have gained with Japan. We have expanded our ability to take charge of our development with the creation of the Commonwealth Economic Development Authority and empower our agencies and community to take part in ensuring the success of the hundreds of millions of dollars we have been provided to upgrade our infrastructure.
This new era will be driven by the newest infrastructure we have ever seen. Today, there is more power being generated by renewable energy than ever before with solar powering our hospital, our homes, government offices, and our schools. We have finally reached our renewable portfolio standard of 20% under this administration and we will do what is necessary to go even farther.
We have invested into our utilities with the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. driving forward and acquiring the first modern engine for our power plant since 1991. And for the first time ever, the goal of 24-hour water across our villages will be a reality.
Twenty-four-hour potable water will take more than $100 million to secure, but we have made greater strides than any other time in our history and are committed to securing the resources to make it happen.
The past four years have been a concerted effort to untangle decades of overlapping and conflicting rules impacting the ability for even the most knowledgeable individuals to find opportunity here. I am proud to say this journey toward finding a solution that would see government inefficiency being one less hurdle for an entrepreneur will finally be realized.
The new Energov e-government platform launching this year will bring the power of technology to the way in which the government interacts with its people. The capabilities to streamline permits and business licensure through an online portal have been around for ages, but it is this administration that has put the focus on making it a reality and finally bringing the CNMI government into the 21st century two decades into it.
We are keeping our streets the safest in the Marianas. We have made critical investments to our public safety tripling the number of officers serving our community and ensuring their first increase in compensation in more than 20 years.
We have done all we can to set the stage for the future of our islands in the post-pandemic world and beyond but have brought with us the lessons of our past, our history, our culture into the modern story of the Marianas.
We have put our Chamorro and Refaluwash culture at the center of the identity we are marketing to the world. Through new programs and initiatives, and partnerships between our tourism stakeholders and cultural assets in Indigenous and Carolinian Affairs Offices we are in the driver seat of showing the world who we are. And who we are… is beautiful.
And we chose on Day 1 to commit to ensuring that we did all we could to make 100% pensions for our retirees a priority, asking ourselves why not do what is necessary to live up to the promises we have made to our retirees, and going further, making the hard decisions to ensure that our retirees have received their FULL pension benefits every single month since I came into office.
We made all these choices because if we don’t, who will?
We do this because we believe not just in these islands, but the idea of the Marianas. That our forefathers had a dream for future generations to inherit a Commonwealth that will welcome their new skills and passion for these islands. We have operated these past four years with the youngest generation of public leaders in our history.
I am proud to be the youngest governor in our nation. Yet despite my age I remain the most senior governor within both the U.S. territories and the Association of Western Governors. These past years of developing and placing our next generation of leaders throughout our government tells a similar story. Proud young men and women are now serving in more boards and commissions and in director and leadership levels than ever before. Our founders dreamed of future generations taking the lead and through our efforts they are.
We have so much to be proud of in our islands. Some with ulterior motives would want you to look around hide your pride for your home. Don’t. Together we have done so much. We have made these islands stronger together through public private partnerships that have brought the private sector and government together to beautify and transform our public spaces. We have seen record rates of economic growth, having the highest rates of growth in the world for two consecutive years. We have encouraged aspiring entrepreneurs to take charge in the private sector through programs like BOOST. Workers today are earning more on average than ever before with per hourly wages increasing 65% since I became lieutenant governor in 2014. And we kept our community safe from the onslaught of disasters and a global pandemic.
The pandemic collapsed our economy and impacted the lives of every individual living here. And we remained safe. Through this, we were fortunate to live in this great country and to be a part of national relief efforts of the federal government. The resources we received through CARES Act and ARPA supported incomes, our safety, and our ability to operate this government.
And we took steps to ensure everyone received support. We lead the charge, issuing $46.97 million in direct payments to 27,000 families, helped to offset the rising costs of fuel through vouchers to 12,000 homes to offset your energy bills, and issued $287 million directly to individuals to approximately 20,000 individuals whose employment was impacted by the pandemic.
I look at all the disasters that we have faced and I think of how we have overcome them together in a short period of time and along the way I learned how to best take care of our people.
Through these disasters, I have learned how to respond, how to keep our people safe. We have built our government to be the most prepared group of public servants in the nation. Together we have proven not just our resilience against disaster, but our strength to stand against the greatest threats our planet can force against us. Our community stands firm against the onslaught of nature.
These are the facts of these last years that give the people an opportunity to look around and measure trust by the results we have achieved—together.
If you have a family member whose loved ones rely on their retirement benefits to survive, we have made the difficult decisions to keep your pensions whole.
If you are an aspiring entrepreneur looking for support to start and grow your business, we have supported this economy to ensure it revives and grows to welcome your dreams.
If you are a child of a CW-1 worker searching for who will advocate for your family, we have built the relationships with the federal government through the only two successful 902 consultations and congressional advocacy to achieve amendments to federal immigration law, regardless of political affiliation because we believe we can all call the CNMI home.
If you see the changing climate around us and worry about the impact of the next disaster, we have shown we can respond, recover, and support our community during crisis to save lives and rebuild our community back even stronger.
If you live on Tinian, Rota, or the Northern Islands seeking for opportunity to thrive on your home island, we have achieved historic increases to interisland transport and established the CNMI’s first federal marine highway that will unlock programs to decrease the cost of transport and allow you to succeed at home.
Do not let anyone let you believe these things were easy to accomplish. It took serious work and focus on what really matters to achieve, but we did this for you.
In the coming days, we ask that you look around at the islands we all call home. Our roads are better, our healthcare system is better, our children’s education has improved, and our streets are safer than ever before. Let’s be proud of who we are after the many challenges we have faced and continue this movement toward progress for our community.
Vinnie and I cannot do this alone. I ask for your vote of support to allow us to secure even more victories for our Commonwealth and that you allow us to work with our team of hardworking, diverse, and compassionate Republicans in the CNMI House and Senate and in the mayorships of our islands to bring our islands forward.
Please give us the opportunity to build upon our successes and provide you with the resilience and vision we need to transform our islands for the better. Please vote for Ralph DLG. Torres and Vinnie Flores Sablan for governor and lieutenant governor this November, and the entire slate of Republican candidates.
We are proud of what we have done, proud of who we are as a community, and proud for the opportunity to continue to serve you for the next four years.
Thank you, si yu’us ma’ase, ghilisou.
Ralph DLG Torres (Special to the Saipan Tribune)
Ralph DLG Torres is the governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. He, together with Sen. Vinnie F. Sablan, are the NMI Republican Party’s candidates for governor and lieutenant governor, respectively.