Marianas Variety

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    Sunday, October 20, 2019-7:08:47A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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Variations | A good start

IT was a well-thought-out gubernatorial inauguration — and the most interesting I’ve witnessed so far.

It started with a free concert on Saturday that also raised funds for typhoon victims. Among the appreciative crowd was the CNMI’s youngest governor and his lovely wife, both in casual attire, dancing to the island beat. We’re all in this together.

The following day, Sunday, the newly elected officials led by the governor attended the traditional Red Mass at the cathedral. Joining them were family members, other Commonwealth officials, former officials and off-island guests. One Marianas under God.

On a sunny, windy Monday morning, the governor and lt. governor were inaugurated in typhoon-devastated Koblerville. The traditional conch shell was blown, and the Refaluwasch warrior dance and chant were performed.  The governor took his oath of office in Chamorro. The press secretary who delivered the introductory remarks, the master of ceremonies with the booming voice, and the priest who offered the invocation are younger than the governor. The entire event was live-streamed. Respect, tradition, culture, the future.

(There was a time when the CNMI government, at all levels, was heavily dependent on “imported” [from the states] talents. Today, thanks to one of the Commonwealth’s outstanding achievements — its education system and scholarship programs — many young U.S.-educated locals are helping to run their government.)

The inaugural speeches were not too long. Two-and-a-half pages for the lt. governor; three-and-a-half for the governor who, in jest, assured the crowd, “Don’t worry, [the entire ceremony is] only 45 minutes [long and will end] just right before dinner. The whole goal was to keep you hungry and not focused [on the speeches]. So we’re halfway there.”

In the 2007 midterm elections, Ralph Deleon Guerrero Torres was among the brightest new stars in local politics. He topped the Precinct 1 House race, dislodging the ever popular David M. Apatang from his usual no. 1 spot. In that year, CNMI voters also elected to the House Tina Sablan of Beautify CNMI fame, and two lawyers: Joseph N. Camacho and Rosemond B. Santos.

In the general elections two years later, Ralph Torres once again finished first, this time in an eight-person race for Saipan’s two Senate seats. Sen. Pete Reyes was second. Tina was fifth (behind Cinta Kaipat and Justo Quitugua).

For Governor Inos in 2014, choosing Ralph Torres as running mate was a no-brainer. Eloy Inos was originally from Rota. He needed a partner who could bring the votes on vote-rich Saipan. And Ralph Torres on the ticket delivered big time.

It was not surprising that except for the husband of his sister-in-law, no one else wanted to run against Governor Torres in last year’s elections.

At 39 years old, this governor is already battle-tested. He was the acting governor when Soudelor slammed into Saipan in Aug. 2015. A few months ago, he had to deal with two typhoons that plowed through the CNMI’s three main islands. So far, he has skillfully navigated through the highly emotional and contentious issue that is the military buildup. Together with Congressman Kilili, he also prevented an economic disaster by successfully lobbying for the passage of the NMI workforce bill in the U.S. Congress.

The retirees are getting their pension checks. CNMI government employees have received pay hikes. No more payless paydays and work-hour cuts on Capital Hill. CUC is getting paid. Ditto land compensation and court judgments. PSS, NMC, CHCC and scholarship programs are getting more funding from the central government.

To be sure, there are challenges and difficulties, including unforeseen ones, that lie ahead. But that’s always the case anywhere.

Governor Torres, in a way, is a “lucky” politician. He is lucky that his opponents continue to  underestimate him. Many of them have never acknowledged how tough, hard-working and smart he is. Or how, through all the brouhaha of the past two years, he has maintained his composure, sense of humor, focus.

The CNMI political landscape is ever changing, of course, and much depends on the state of the local economy; but it is also undeniable that today, someone with a steady hand is at the helm of the Commonwealth.

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