Marianas Variety

Last updateSat, 23 Mar 2019 12am







    Friday, March 22, 2019-12:00:09A.M.






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OPINION | Open letter to 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 October 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 October 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 s**t” 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.”

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. 

Robert Hunter replies:

This is cheap politicking by Tina Sablan.  Her boss, Kilili, apparently with the help of staff, is politicizing an important food program. Was I angry when I communicated with Tina Sablan?  Yes. We’re talking about our U.S. Congressman using an important program, and one that is run very well, for his political gamesmanship.

As long as he plays with this important food program and throws our good staff under the bus, who’ve been recognized repeatedly by the FNS for their exemplary handling of the ENAP...I will continue to challenge him...proudly.

The bullying is not some expletives I used. My message there is very clear. The real bullying has come from the Congressman and his staff, who have time and time again used his position and office to misrepresent the Enhanced Nutrition Assistance Program handling, at the expense of the beneficiaries and the staff — purely to exact his personal vendetta for political criticisms I’ve levied upon him. That Tina Sablan had a role in this is sad. Whether I agreed with her or not in the past, I respected her because I thought she was above the Congressman’s pettiness and not capable of participating in this kind of deception.  I was sad to see that not only was she not averse to lying for her personal political gain, but that she would actively and knowingly do it.

The Congressman and his staff are dastardly for toying with an important food assistance program that has been carried out exceptionally by our department and staff. If they are going to continue to put out misinformation knowingly, to confuse the public about the program — they will hear from me every single time.

So instead of worrying about some bad words...they should be worrying about the dirty scheme they’re participating in, to undermine the management of the ENAP, so that Kilili can exact his revenge for my criticisms.

It’s high time they stop playing politics with our food assistance program.  I have repeatedly asked their office to do this.  I will call them out every time they try to sell their dishonest narrative to the community. Every single time.

I stand by every word and idea expressed in that communication.

This is nothing more than a transparent and cheap attempt to kill the messenger of political ideas that Tina and her boss do not like. It’s a cheap stunt.

My head remains high.