Senate president switches out committee leadership after Babauta announced hearing on contentious subpoena bill

The rumored rift between the CNMI Senate president and fellow democrat Celina Roberto Babauta has spilled over to a major shift in Senate leadership. Edith Deleon Guerrero has exercised her powers as Senate president to place a republican in charge of one of the most powerful committees of the upper chamber. Karl King-Nabors of Tinian has replaced Ms. Babauta as chairman of the Judiciary, Government, and Law Committee.

Ms. Babauta had just told her colleagues about her intention to call a public hearing through her JGL Committee on House-passed legislation by Marissa Flores that would have clarified the subpoena powers of the attorney general, when Ms. Deleon Guerrero on May 7 replaced her with Mr. King-Nabors. The government’s corruption prosecutor, James “Jim” Kingman, has expressed the need for the legislation as the Commonwealth continues to investigate the alleged crimes of its former governor, Ralph Torres.

Mr. King-Nabors was instrumental in the previous republican-led Senate in preventing Senate ouster of Mr. Torres following the last House’s impeachment of the former governor.

“There are 30 Senate bills and 28 House bills pending in the JGL Committee and the last committee meeting was held on September 14, 2023,” Ms. Deleon Guerrero, who won election as a democrat but has since switched allegiance to an independent reelection run, gave as her reason for the switch out. “Senator Babauta is also Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Executive Appointments & Government Investigations and the committee has been extremely busy with Senate confirmations or executive appointments.”

Interestingly, the JGL Committee has been unable to conduct business due to a lack of enough members since the resignation of Rota republican Dennis Mendiola last year. Ms. Babauta appointed every member of the republican Tinian delegation to her committee, but each took between two to four months to send formal declinations.

However, on the same day that Ms. Deleon Guerrero made the switch, Mr. King-Nabors sent a notice of his appointment of every republican senator – including Mr. Mendiola and the other two republicans from Tinian – to the JGL committee. Also appointed was independent member Corina Magofna of Saipan.

The JGL now is the only committee of the legislature run by and populated by the republican minority.

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