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Precinct 3 Republicans talk about election issues

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PRECINCT 3 Republican candidates — Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao, Reps. Ivan Blanco, Jose Itibus, Marco Peter, and Ralph Yumul — were on KKMP radio Wednesday to discuss their accomplishments and vision for the precinct.

Attao has been serving since the 19th Legislature, Blanco and Itibus since the 20th, and Yumul since the 18th.

Peter is serving his first term in the House.

Blanco chairs the House Committee on Ways and Means, and is a member of the House Committee on Federal and Foreign Affairs, as well as the House Committee on Gaming.

Itibus is the chair of the House Committee on Health and Welfare, and is a member of the House Committees on Judiciary and Governmental Operations; Public Utilities, Transportation, and Communication; and Ways and Means.

Peter serves as the chair of the House Committee on Public Utilities, Transportation, and Communications, and is a member of the House Committee on Ways and Means.

Yumul is the chair of the House Committee on Gaming, the House Special Committee on Fiscal Review of Executive Expenditures, and the House Special Committee on Federal Assistance and Disaster Related Funding.

He also serves as vice chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means and as a member of the House Committees on Commerce and Tourism; Education; Federal and Foreign Affairs; Health and Welfare; Judiciary and Governmental Operations; Natural Resources; and Public Utilities, Transportation, and Communications.

Highs and lows

Touching on a variety of topics, the incumbents shared the highs and lows of serving in the 21st Legislature.

Highlighting the disaster recovery that the Commonwealth is facing, Yumul said, “Being in this office now, we have to be very creative in trying to find revenues, whether it’s through [the Federal Emergency Management Agency], the [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] Act, the stimulus act, revisiting our taxes system or earnings taxes, rebates — we have to look at all of that to be creative as far as trying to get back on our feet.”

He added, “We are having difficulties, but being part of the Legislature, we have to pretty much take the bull by its horn and take what we got and pretty much roll with it.”

He said alternate funding sources have alleviated the burden of utilizing the general fund for expenditures.

Rep. Itibus, for his part, shared the difficulties that come with handling medical referrals in the committee he chairs.

From left are Rep. Ivan Blanco, Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao, Reps. Jose Itibus, Ralph Yumul, and Marco Peter. CNMI Republican Party photo

“It’s really hard to deny our patients when it comes to the medical referrals because right now, we do not have the capability of helping our patients out here, so we just have to send them off-island and that’s where it’s really hurting our government budgets,” he said.

Furthermore, he emphasized the present predicament that the CNMI is facing with the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Rep. Peter touched on his experience as a first-term member of the House.

He said  he knew it was going to be tough, given the budget cuts and the post-Super Typhoon Yutu recovery efforts.

“I knew what I was getting into, so I kind of prepared my mind for the challenge,” he said.

The high points of his term include community outreach through interdepartmental and interagency collaboration, as well as the pieces of legislation he authored to help his constituents and the greater community.

Accomplishments and plans

If reelected, Peter said he will continue to work on exporting CNMI products to Asian countries — to bring local products to tourists who may be hesitant to travel amid the Covid-19 crisis.

He also noted that since Precinct 3 is “the heart of the [CNMI] economy,” he is pushing for legislation to support businesses and help them recover from the pandemic.

Road projects are also something that he is looking into, to enhance and improve roads in the precinct and the greater community.

Rep. Itibus highlighted his bill for early pregnancy therapy, which is now public law, as well as another bill that became law, which supports the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.’s clinical data warehouse.

He said there are other pieces of legislation he has worked on that are coming into fruition, including one that addresses runoff water issues throughout the precinct.

Rep. Yumul discussed the future of the gaming industry.

Regarding the Imperial Pacific International casino, he said, “They are going through some unprecedented fiscal crisis… No one is scared here in the CNMI. We’d like to get them back up and running again.”

He said that there have been talks between IPI and Legislature regarding how lawmakers can assist them, but there are issues that IPI is facing in the courts that the Legislature cannot touch.

As far as trying to make things “better,” Rep. Yumul said the House has to revisit a lot of things and look into financing options, including economic diversification.

Rep. Blanco, for his part, said he is focused on rebuilding the economy from the unprecedented pandemic and post-typhoon recovery efforts, and passing a budget for Fiscal Year 2021.

“I don’t think there’s a standard operating procedure on how to restart our economy after this Covid-19 pandemic,” he said, noting that this pandemic is the first of its kind.

He said  if the Commonwealth would stick to the basics of economics — such as enhancing tourism sites, promoting the CNMI to major markets, supporting the tourism industry — he thinks that the CNMI should be on “the right track.”

In terms of precinct projects, he wants to focus on improving and enhancing Beach Road, and other key areas in the precinct that need road resurfacing.

He is also in favor of community improvement projects in all the senatorial districts that will allow community groups to concentrate on certain areas to improve.

Moreover, Blanco stressed the importance of passing a budget for the new fiscal year, which starts on Oct. 1.

Speaker Attao said he is focused on the environment and infrastructure.

“The greatest thing about Precinct 3 — and this is not just in this Legislature, but in the past legislatures — is we’ve always stuck together in providing the needs of our precinct,” he said.

But he said there are several ongoing projects in the precinct that have unfortunately been placed on hold due to the economic downturn.

However, they continue to look into other funding sources to assist not just Precinct 3, but the CNMI community as a whole.

He said now is the perfect time to build the infrastructure and enhance tourism sites, thanks to the millions of dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Regarding the runoff water issues within the precinct, Speaker Attao said  the rainwater that tends to flow into the sea during the rainy season needs to be captured and saved for the dry season.

A number of federal grants will address this and other similar issues within the Commonwealth, he said.

Loans

Regarding loans, Speaker Attao said that one FEMA loan in particular can be forgiven if economic activity within the CNMI does not reach that of fiscal year 2017 within four years.

As for the Marianas Public Land Trust loan, it pays for itself, Speaker Attao said.

He said it should be paid off in seven years.

“With the MPLT loan, we were able to take care of that loan through the interest that they actually remit to the central government for appropriation purposes, so we don’t get that interest and the loan pays [for] itself,” he said.

“We have a lot of challenges ahead of us, but together, we can get it done.”

The speaker said the House is working on a number of revenue-generating measures based on the ideas brought up during the 2020 CNMI Fiscal Response Summit in April.

In Precinct 3, the Democratic candidates for the House are Vicente Camacho, Corina Magofna, Denita Yangetmai, and Alfred Saures.

The lone Independent candidate is incumbent Rep. Edmund Villagomez.

 

 

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