Thursday, January 08, 2009
By Kristi Eaton
Delegate Gregorio “Kilili” C. Sablan became the CNMI's first-ever member of Congress on Jan. 6, 2009, setting out an agenda that prioritizes President-elect Barack Obama's proposed stimulus package and participation in crafting rules for the impending federalization of local immigration.
Sablan took his oath of office at 2:20pm Tuesday in Washington D.C. (5:20am Wednesday Saipan time), standing on the floor of the House of Representatives with other members of the 111th Congress. Before then, the CNMI was the only part of the United States that did not have representation in the national legislature.
“Today is a landmark day in Commonwealth history,” said Sablan. “Today our islands become full-fledged members of the American political family.”
Sablan's wife, Andrea, and their children, Patricia and Jesse, witnessed the historic swearing-in in Washington, D.C. Other key figures in Marianas history witnessed the swearing-in as well. These included Edward Dlg. Pangelinan, the chief negotiator for the Marianas Political Status Commission and the first Resident Representative for NMI, and Pete A. Tenorio, a member of the Political Status Commission and the CNMI's last Resident Representative.
Tenorio donated the Commonwealth's seal to the new congressional office; it now hangs in the office's foyer.
Allen Stayman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Jay Livingstone, Angie Borja, and Medced Aldan-Ada also attended Delegate-elect Sablan's swearing-in and the open house held at the NMI's new congressional office, in room 423 of the Canon Building.
“The people of the Northern Mariana Islands have waited over 30 years for the full participation of our citizens in Congress,” said Pangelinan. “To a large measure this fulfills the Covenant commitment that we will be participating fully as a self-governing Commonwealth within the American family.”
“It is amazing,” said Sablan's daughter Patricia. “This is history.”
Sablan's son, Jesse, took a break from moving furniture to the new congressional office to contemplate his father's new job. “I'm just really nervous and hoping that he does well.”
Sablan said his first day at the CNMI's first congressman was a humbling experience.
“The fact that I took my oath and am now a member of Congress representing the people of the Northern Mariana Islands, that was a humbling experience,” Sablan said a few hours after being sworn in.
It has been years in the making, he said. “First we were a Trust Territory. Then the Covenant was approved and we were a Commonwealth. And now we have a seat in Congress. The Covenant gave us autonomy, but up until now the Feds could pass laws affecting the Marianas without us having a say. Now we have a role in making those laws,” he said.
The day's events also showed how small the world can be, he said.
Phillip Burton, who preceded House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as a member of California's 5th (later changed to 8th) district, was responsible for the passage of the Covenant, Sablan told Pelosi when he spoke with her during his swearing in ceremony.
“That's a complete circle,” he said.
Sablan then learned that the pastor of Pelosi's church is a friend of Bishop Tomas Camacho. Camacho provided the Bible for Sablan to use in the ceremony.
“So you know it's a small world,” he said.
One of the first things Sablan is going to be working on with his staff is the stimulus package, he said. Not only will infrastructure affect the CNMI, but also other policies can affect the people of the Northern Marianas, he added.
“We need to remain mindful that some economic policies that will apply in the nation will not make such an impact in the Marianas and other territories,” he said.
Sablan said he is looking at some tax issues.
“Not everyone in the Marianas pays taxes. Some of the people who need the greatest help will be left out of any tax credit policy that they could put in the package. So we need to make sure those people are taken care of,” he said, adding that he and his staff will work with other members of Congress on the issue.
As for Bush's announcement of the Marianas Trench National Monument, the new congressman said he would have preferred it be done with a sanctuary, but is happy with the compromise.
“It's done. They made that declaration,” he said, adding that it's time to move on and think about the long term.
Sablan also will be meeting with officials from the Department of Homeland Security on the issue of federalization. He first met with them in November.
“I am talking with other members about having another meeting with the Department of Homeland Security to see what the plans are,” he said. “I am cognizant of the fact that there are certain situations going on with the federalization of immigration that may limit the amount of information they can share. As of today, I am a part of the federal government. We have discussed some of the issues that are of concern to the Northern Marianas Islands.”
Sablan's wife and children will be heading back to the CNMI soon, he said. Although he will reside in Washington, the Commonwealth will always be his home and he will visit as often as possible.
“I will be traveling as much as I can. It's just a little difficult because we're so far away,” he said. “But when necessary I will come to the Northern Marianas. I will be coming often enough to know what it going on.”