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Precinct 1 Republican candidates talk about goals, accomplishments

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WITH the Nov. 3 elections just around the corner, Precinct 1 Republican candidates Angel Demapan, Roy Ada, Randall Pangelinan, Rep. Roman Benavente and Rep. Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero made a guest appearance on KKMP radio Wednesday to touch on their goals and accomplishments.

Demapan is the chief of staff for the administration, and formerly served as a House member in the 19th and 20th Legislatures.

Ada has experience with the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, the Department of Public Safety, and the Division of Youth Services, as well as being an active member of community-based and non-profit organizations.

Pangelinan is a strong advocate for the LGBTQ community, and has experience in working with the youth centers.

A former Board of Education chairman, Rep. Roman Benavente  served in the House of Representatives in the 18th, 19th, and now the 21st Legislature.

Rep. Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero has served in the House since the 19th Legislature.

Tourism, casino, and cannabis

Regarding the tourism industry, Guerrero, chair of the House Committee on Commerce and Tourism, said  he doesn't think that the Commonwealth has enough attractions

"We have the Northern Islands. I know that a lot of people are not so keen with the idea of building infrastructure in the North. I think our Northern Islands are…due to be put out there in the market. We used to have copra there. I think that's a viable industry," he said.

The lawmaker said the Commonwealth also needs to assist the casino industry.

"I know that the community is not so keen about the casino industry, but if we really support the industry and work with the investors here in this industry, we can see this industry address our economic issue," he said.

"I think that we, as a community, must embrace this because it's here already. We can't just let it go. We can't continue criticizing this industry. It's here. Let's work with this investor and hope that the high-rollers do come back and spend their money in our only casino."

As for the cannabis industry, Guerrero said, "We do understand that [cannabis is] illegal in Japan and other Asian destinations. Once we have this cannabis industry up and going — most especially the lounge and the dispensary — I foresee that we can have a lot of tourists come here for such recreational use."

He said there have been discussions about the medical aspects of cannabis, noting that there is a Japanese medical practitioner who intends to come to the CNMI to study the medicinal purposes of cannabis, as well as to learn what is required in order to set up shop in the Commonwealth.

The lawmaker said he has also reached out to the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., the CNMI Board of Professional Licensing and the Health Care Professions Licensing Board to learn how foreign practitioners can obtain a license so that they can bring their clients here.

"This is something that we should seriously look into. I would support anything that would revive this industry as another economic aspect for the CNMI," he said.

He highly encourages all local cannabis growers and users to procure legitimate cannabis licenses, to be fair to the industry.

Led by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres,  CNMI Republican Party officials, supporters and candidates pose for a photo at the election commission in August. Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol

Education

Rep. Roman Benavente, chair of the House Committee on Education, said the financial issues facing the Public School System are “very challenging.”

“Sometimes you look at it and it seems like there is no solution to the situation,” he said, “but…no matter what obstacles there [are], we have to stand up…for future generations.

He added, "As islanders, we need to be more resilient with how we approach the situation."

Regarding virtual learning in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, Benavente said  there is still a lot of uncertainty, noting that it is still unclear how long this pandemic will persist.

"Right now, I would say that virtual learning is not viable. It's a challenge. It's something new to a lot of students," he said, referring to younger students who may  find virtual learning difficult without parental supervision.

"At this point in time, there's no easy solution to that. We have to innovate ourselves and be ready to take the challenge as we move along."

Buy Benavente said he is proud of the younger generation of leaders in the school system who are adamant about moving ahead and tackling the challenges within PSS.

He also encourages community members to put in their two cents to assist with the efforts to educate the children of the Commonwealth.

Public service

Making a comeback to the legislative branch is Angel Demapan said his decision to seek an elective office boils down to his commitment to public service.

The governor's chief of staff noted that his tenure as a lawmaker came at a time when the Commonwealth was hit with Typhoon Soudelor, which had a devastating impact on the community.

"It was a magnitude of a storm that we were not prepared for, and the response and recovery efforts were something very foreign to us, but as a resilient community, we learned to pull together, come together, and help each other recover," he said.

"I think that it is the challenge of overcoming adversity that drives our passion for public service. It's questionable why people should seek public office at a critical time like this in the face of a pandemic, but I think it's a demonstration of our commitment to help lift our community out of the crisis that we're facing today, and make the sacrifice personally and professionally in the name of public service."

Economy

"Before we can improve all other facets of our government and our Commonwealth, we need to make sure that we reestablish and stabilize our economic footing," said Demapan.

He said the Commonwealth needs to come together to find innovative ways to revive its economy.

"When we have the economy back on its foot, we can focus our energies on our priorities, such as education, healthcare, public safety, [and] medical referral.”

Demapan said  his track record with his Republican colleagues in the 19th and 20th Legislatures was highlighted by the most funding in CNMI history for education and healthcare.

"That is our commitment as a Republican leadership: to make sure that our Commonwealth is not just strong, not just safe, but healthy for every resident and every visitor who comes here," he said.

Retirees' pension

Demapan said  another commitment of the Republican leadership is to protect the retirees' pension.

In the 20th Legislature, he said  the casino business gross revenue tax was exceeding $100 million annually.

"We saw an opportunity to make improvements to our retirees' pension," he added.

He explained that at the time, the CNMI was always coming up short with the casino license fee, by about $4 million to $6 million on the retirees' pension, to the point where money had to be borrowed from other sources, particularly from the municipalities of Rota and Tinian.

Legislation was then passed to move the funding source to the casino BGRT.

"As a result of that legislation, our retirees were receiving 100% of their pension and their retiree bonus every year," said Demapan.

He added that had the fate of the retirees been left with the casino license fee statute, there would have been no funding for retirees today, especially given that the licensee is not able to pay the license fee.

Demapan said the Republican leadership continues to come up with creative ways to make sure that retirees receive their pensions.

Businesses

Every business should be evaluated, said Demapan, in regards to their impact on the economy.

He said  every responsible business in the CNMI deserves to be helped, noting that the Commonwealth government needs to continue demonstrating its commitment to being business-friendly.

Businesses, old and new, are all part of the fabric of the community, he said.

"I think that as leaders, it is our inherent responsibility to make sure that we take care of our businesses and in turn, spur economic activity so that all of us residents can have livelihoods here," he said.

New candidates

Randall Pangelinan and Roy Ada are among the newest candidates to run for office.

"It's a step for me to come out and push for more help for the community and our youth," said Pangelinan, placing an emphasis on strengthening youth and LGBTQ presence in the political arena.

"I'm very passionate about our youth. I believe that the youth centers are a place for our kids to go to [and] serves as a second home."

He said if elected, he intends to find funding sources to support afterschool programs for the youth in the Commonwealth.

With regards to the LGBTQ community, Pangelinan said he is proud that the administration supports it.

For his part, Ada said he is focused primarily on addressing the major concerns of the Precinct 1 community, including ongoing post-Yutu recovery efforts.

As for the Commonwealth as a whole, Ada said  he looks forward to working with different departments and agencies to address prevalent issues, such as health care and addressing the current pandemic and other related issues.

"What affects the community affects me, so I relate very closely to everybody," he said.

Ada said he has been following local, regional, national, and global news to see how the world is addressing the global economic downturn.

He added that he supports efforts to make the CNMI more self-sufficient.

Running against the Precinct 1 GOP candidates are Democratic candidates Celina Babauta, Antonio Cabrera, Peter Muna, Ben Piteg, and House Minority Leader Edwin Propst.

Running as independents in Precinct 1 are Vicente Aldan, Rep. Luis John Castro, Rep. Joseph Flores, and Glenn Manglona.

 


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