Democratic Party now controls House after decades under GOP leadership
Rep. Edmund Sablan Villagomez (Ind-Saipan) is the new speaker of the House of the Representatives after Rep. Ralph Naraja Yumul (R-Saipan) flipped his vote and broke the even split in yesterday afternoon’s fourth voting for the speakership, ending the impasse in the longest House inauguration and organizational session that started Monday at 10am.
The voting also ended the Republican Party’s decades-old control of the House and completes the ascendance of the NMI Democratic Party. The last time the Democratic Party controlled the House was not immediately clear, but some said it was in the 4th Legislature.
The former House speaker, Blas Jonathan Tenorio Attao (R-Saipan), was elected vice speaker, while Yumul was elected floor leader on an 11-9 vote, over Rep. Angel Demapan (R-Saipan), who withdrew from the speakership’s race at the beginning of the 4pm organizational session. That prompted Rep. John Paul Palacios Sablan (R-Saipan) to nominate Rep. Ivan Alafanso Blanco (R-Saipan) to the speakership.
With Yumul voting for Villagomez over Blanco, this broke the 10-10 tie.
Villagomez received applause from lawmakers as he then took over the session from Attao, who was the speaker pro-tempore at the inaugural session.
Villagomez has been serving the House representing Precinct 3 since the 18th Legislature. He was the top vote-getter at the Nov. 3 general elections.
In a later interview, Villagomez said he looks forward to working with all the House members in his new role and moving the CNMI forward. “We have a lot of issues that we’re facing. And we need to all work together to tackle these issues, not just here in the House, and the Senate, but in the administration as well,” he said.
When asked why it took four votes and two days for him to be elected speaker, Villagomez said it’s just part of the process.
“I think this is the first time in history this has happened and it has gotten this far. This is probably the longest inauguration organizational session. But it is part of the process,” he said. “And at least now, we have some kind of a reference for future lawmakers when situations like these come up.”
Villagomez said he is grateful for the opportunity, the privilege, and the honor given to him to serve as speaker. “I’m forever grateful. Even for those who did not vote for me. I am here for them as well,” he said.
As to what people could expect from his leadership, Villagomez said he wants to make this a collaborative leadership, pointing out that he is an independent speaker, while the vice speaker and floor leader are both Republicans.
“And even with the Democrats somewhat having the leadership, we still came to that compromise. And I hope that we continue in that spirit of working together for the betterment of the CNMI,” he said.
As to how the Democratic Party managed to persuade Yumul to vote for him during the 4th voting, Villagomez said he and Yumul have the history of working together and he believes it came down to moving forward.
In a separate interview, Yumul stressed that he is still a Republican and that he only aligned with the Democratic Party in this instance.
“What people don’t understand and realize is I ran with Edmund from the 18th Legislature and on, so we had a good working relationship. And I think people would start to see that we’ve been in the same legislature since I got in. So it wasn’t hard,” Yumul said.
He said he felt it would be an injustice to the CNMI if the voting had resulted in another impasse. “We need to function as a legislature and that’s pretty much why I voted the way I voted,” Yumul said.
As to what triggered him to align with the Democratic Party, Yumul said there were other discussions along the way. “I’m looking at the way how to move legislations from the House to the Senate. …So it wasn’t that difficult,” he said.
Yumul said although he and Villagomez are from different parties, since they both ran since the 18th Legislature up to now, they made it clear that they support him in Precinct 3.
He said the CNMI is going through major challenges right now and they need new visions. Yumul said there’s new members in the House with a lot of ideas. “It is something that I look forward to, with the new leadership,” he said.
Yumul disclosed that the closed-door talks with all 20 House members last Monday became very heated and that he did not want that. “It was better off we come back the next day and voted and everybody had a clear a mind. We all voted and are happy that this leadership has been brought back to Precinct 3,” he said.
Yumul said he is happy to be elected floor leader but acknowledged that, with an evenly split House, it’s going to be tough but he still hopes to pass good legislation.
Blanco said he has the highest respect for Villagomez to lead the House forward during these unprecedented times. “I also wish to congratulate vice speaker Attao, floor leader Yumul and all the standing committee chairpersons,” Blanco said.
He said he looks forward to working with them. “I also thank the members who supported me throughout the process. …We extend the new leadership our best wishes,” Blanco said.
Demapan said he withdrew for the race in hopes of breaking the deadlock since Monday. “After the three rounds of deadlock yesterday and after much reflection, I decided that perhaps if we give another person an option to be considered, that will break the deadlock,” he said.
As for not getting the speakership, Demapan pointed out that it’s a democracy and, in this field, a lot of the things they do are decided by a vote. “At the end of the day, we respect the result of the vote. It’s no different today than from the election. I respect the decision that my colleagues have made today. We respect the new leadership and we look forward to addressing the issues of our Commonwealth together,” Demapan said.
Torres congratulates new leadership
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres congratulated the new leadership of the 22nd Legislature. “I want to extend my sincerest congratulations to House Speaker Edmund Villagomez, House vice speaker Blas Jonathan Attao, and House floor leader Ralph Yumul and to Senate President Jude Hofschneider, Senate vice president Justo Quitugua, Senate floor leader Vinnie Sablan, and Senate legislative Secretary Victor Hocog on their new leadership roles in the 22nd Northern Marianas Commonwealth Legislature,” he said in a statement sent to media.
“It is a great honor to work with our new legislative leadership and the members of both the 22nd Senate and House of Representatives. The selection of officers has been made, and I congratulate everyone in the Legislature for being duly elected by our people.”
He added that his door is always open and that it’s imperative that both his administration and the Legislature continue to work together. “I look forward to addressing issues collaboratively with the goal of overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic, rebuilding our economy, and improving the quality of life here in the Marianas.”