Sunday, November 04, 2007

2007 CNMI Elections

Republicans Regain Control Of House
By Frank S. Rosario on Saipan
November 04, 2007
Pacific Magazine

Voters in the Northern Marianas yesterday returned the Republican Party to power in a mid-term election that had what Board of Election Executive Director Greg C. Sablan called “the lowest voter turnout in 10 years.”

While the Saipan casino gambling initiative was soundly rejected, voters on Rota overwhelmingly approved an initiative to allow gaming on their southern island.

The Covenant Party, which currently controls the Legislature and governorship, was soundly defeated in the House. Voters questioned what happened to the Covenant Party’s promise of “better times” during the 2005 general election. Many also blamed the high electricity rates and poor state of the economy on incumbents.

The Republicans, long the dominating party in the CNMI, regained the House after party officials elected new officers and reconciled differences that led to its worst defeat in recent memory in 2005.

Republicans now control the 20-member House of Representatives with 11 elected and may win additional seats once the absentees are counted. The remainder of the House members includes independents, Covenants and one Democrat.

Among the winners is Tina Sablan, a community organizer and advocate who came in sixth in the most crowded race of election precinct one, which had 15 candidates for six seats. Sablan ran as an independent and on her own platform.

Other winners are attorneys Rosemond Santos and Joseph N. Camacho, who bought sought office for the first time, and Ralph Dlg. Torres, who garnered the most votes in election district one.

Former speaker and lieutenant governor Diego T. Benavente and former speaker Heinz S. Hofschneider, both Republicans, also won handily.

In the Senate, incumbent Saipan Sen. Luis Crisostimo is leading by 44 votes over Republican Andrew S. Salas.

Rota voters returned incumbent Sen. Paul A. Manglona, the longest serving senator in the history of the commonwealth.

Incumbent Covenant Tinian Sen. Henry H. San Nicolas is comfortably ahead of the Republicans’ Trenton B. Conner.

Elections Director Greg Sablan said more than 1,500 absentee ballots were sent to residents staying overseas or those who were allowed to vote early due to traveling commitment.

The biggest issue that divided the Saipan community was the casino gambling initiative. A similar initiative was overwhelmingly rejected in a 1979 referendum throughout the commonwealth. Proponents argued that with the worst economic meltdown in recent memory fueled by the collapse of the garment industry and the contraction of tourism, gambling is the answer to an economic recovery.

Opponents, led by the powerful bishop of the Roman Catholic Church, responded that gambling would increase crime, prostitution and gambling addicts, which is currently affecting local residents who play poker.

Other opponents included Governor Benigno R. Fitial, who last week strongly opposed gambling saying some of the initiative’s provisions are unconstitutional.

Gambling opponents needed two-thirds of eligible voters, or more than 8,200 affirmative voters, to approve the casino initiative. It never got close, as a total of 8,213 voters from Saipan cast their ballots, or 4,721 against and 3,492 yes votes.

Rota approved its gambling initiative by an overwhelming 788 in favor and 144 against. Tinian is the only Northern Marianas Island where casino gambling is currently allowed.

While most U.S. states would be more than happy with a 60 percent voter turnout, Executive Director Sablan said yesterday’s 76 percent turnout was one of the lowest. Historically, though, general elections, or on gubernatorial elections, always resulted in the more than 90 percent turnout. A total of 10,605 voters out of the more than 15,000 registered voters cast their ballots yesterday, including 8,738 on Saipan, 980 on Rota and 887 on Tinian.

All four judges--one Supreme Court associate justice and three Superior Court judges—were returned to office, including husband-and-wife Associate Justice John A. Manglona and Associate Judge Ramona V. Manglona. Superior Court Presiding Judge Robert A. Naraja received the lowest number of affirmative votes, as compared to Associate Judges Manglona and Ken Govendo.

The legislative initiative (15-1) to amend the CNMI constitution to take away the authority of the Northern Marianas College to license post-secondary education and create Higher Education Commission was approved.

The other legislative initiative (15-16) approved by voters would amend the CNMI constitution to require a run-off election for governor and lieutenant governor if no candidate received a majority (50 percent plus 1) of votes cast in the general election.

The election results are unofficial pending approval of the Board of Election after counting of absentee ballots on November 17th. Sablan cautioned, however, that some races can still change when absentee ballots are counted on Nov. 17.

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