A Saipan teacher who – 10 years ago – became tired of complaining of the problems in government and was elected to the CNMI House of Representatives now wants to solve the CNMI’s problems at the national level. Edwin Propst, the popular Precinct 1 congressman who became the household name in the early fight against the corruption of the Torres administration and the casino, announced Tuesday night he is running to replace U.S. Delegate Gregorio “Kilili” Sablan in November.
The democrat was joined at his late parents’ home in Susupe by his family, Governor Arnold Palacios and several members of the legislature and the cabinet, along with Mr. Propst’s long-time friends and supporters.
Mr. Propst and his wife, the former Daisy Manglona of Rota and Saipan, live in Dandan with their four children in a modest home from where he often live streams spontaneous and unscripted monologues detesting corruption, waste, and dishonesty in public service. Those Facebook live episodes angered the political power base that controlled the government for decades. Elected to the House in 2015, his colleagues increasingly marginalized him for questioning government contracts, suspicions of kickbacks, and the exclusive casino license.
Following the 2019 federal raids of the former governor’s home and office, the casino, and the law offices of the Ralph Torres’ brothers, Mr. Propst kicked up his public pressure of the Torres regime and the republicans in power in the legislature. He was the first among elected officials to call for Mr. Torres’ resignation or removal from office and repeatedly beat the drum on corruption in the last administration.
The regime retaliated, and in the lead up to the election of 2020, Mr. Torres’ cronies orchestrated a campaign against him based on third-party sexual assault allegations later determined by the Office of the Attorney General to be unsubstantiated. The congressman, who was then one of only three minority members out of 20 in the House, pulled out of the race for reelection that year. He was so popular, however, voters elected him anyway, along with a new majority in the House.
The Senate, however, remained in republican control, deadlocking the House’s dogged efforts to hold the incumbent governor at the time accountable. House measures to take away Mr. Torres’ unilateral control over hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds, and to require financial reporting from his finance secretary died in the Senate. The House impeachment of Mr. Torres in early 2022 – a political milestone in which Mr. Propst was one of the lead advocates – also was killed by Senate republicans.
The unabashed cronyism, documented in thousands of pages of in-your-face evidence, together with increasing reports of Mr. Torres’ spending spree of federal discretionary funds throughout 2022 thickened the opposition’s resolve, and in 2022 voters made a wholesale change in the leadership of the government.
In January of 2023, Mr. Propst was elected Floor Leader of the House in a series of inaugurations that saw his good friend, Mr. Palacios, sworn into the governor’s seat, and a bicameral democrat-independent coalition majority controlling the legislature.
Unfortunately, the new leadership walked into a government in massive debt with an economy that no longer had the benefit of federal pandemic funds aid. Mr. Torres not only spent all the money, but according to the new secretary of finance, he left more than $70 million in unfunded federal funds obligations. The past year in office for the new leadership has been a domino tumble of bad news for government employees enduring austerity measures, businesses short on tourist and local customers, and a post-pandemic, post-Torres CNMI that just can’t seem to catch a break.
Amid the daily pressure for relief coming from all corners has been the sobering reality of a government that cannot survive financially without raising revenue or significantly cutting costs beyond what it already is doing. That has placed Mr. Propst and the other members of the new majority in the precarious political position of having to consider tax increases.
Will voters in November remember that the current economic doldrums and financial crisis were created by Ralph Torres and the republicans and the very policies Propst literally screamed against for years? Or will they be unforgiving, expecting that Mr. Propst and, by extension, Mr. Palacios should have solved the problems Torres created by November this year?
For Mr. Propst’s rumored opponents – Kimberlyn King-Hinds and John “Bolis” Gonzales – they would be foolish not to capitalize on the latter proposition in order to contrast the popular Propst from whatever agenda they may promise voters that has for the CNMI what appears to be missing from the current leadership’s messaging: a rainbow with a pot of gold that will appear after the storm.
Ed Propst’s past political prowess, however, has been his ‘I’m one of you’ populist appeal, at least to Precinct 1 voters, who have responded to his charm each election by making him the top vote getter.
During the pandemic, and while scores of Torres cronies were being granted millions in federal pandemic and local funds, Mr. Propst took a part time job as a car salesman. He would get off work from the legislature to get to his part time job, then go home and go live about the struggles of an honest living against the rising prices. It was a story that sharply contrasted the glitz and excess of the republicans in power, who posted incessantly on their Facebook pages about their nights out, new cars, exotic vacations, home renovations, and luxuries most Commonwealth citizens can only dream of affording.
According to his resume, which he sent to Kandit at our request, Mr. Propst has held several jobs in the private sector, and also is a small business owner (he owns a photography and editing service). After graduating from high school and spending a year at Northern Marianas College, he worked for Continental Micronesia in Saipan as a reservations and sales agent for four years. He moved to Hawaii in 1996 and by 1999 earned his Bachelor of Arts in Communication degree from the University of Hawaii, Manoa.
He moved back to Saipan immediately and became an English teacher at Marianas High School before working at NMC in a couple of leadership positions. In 2009 he went back to the Public School System, where he managed the Head Start Program until 2014, when he ran for his first seat in the House.