Six of the CNMI’s nine senate seats are up for grabs in the election this year. These include seats held by Senate president Jude Hofschneider, and Senators Victor Hocog, Teresita Santos, Francisco Cruz, Justo Quitugua, and Vinnie Sablan.
Mr. Sablan is running for lieutenant governor with Gov. Ralph Torres, so his seat is up for grabs.
The timing of the remaining five senators’s re-election hopes (if, indeed they are running for another term) is complicated by a significant factor: The House has thrown its impeachment of Mr. Torres into the Senate’s court.
Between now and the election, Senate action or inaction on whether to remove the governor from office may have a significant impact on how the next Senate looks. And in a sense, the prevailing political winds of each major island of the CNMI will determine who stays and who goes.
For example, Mr. Hofschneider and Mr. Cruz may find themselves in an electoral bind if they retain fealty to Torres while the voters of Tinian expect them to get rid of him.
And, unlike the voters – who are protected by the secrecy of the ballot box – all eyes are on the members of the Senate. Their votes may become a litmus test for trust and even likability going into the general election.
Of the five senators, four identify as republican. Ms. Santos identifies as an independent.
If Mr. Hofschneider and the floor leader, Mr. Quitugua, actually bring the impeachment articles for a vote for removal, it is expected Sen. Karl King Nabors and Sen. Sablan will vote against the removal of the governor, and Sens. Paul Manglona and Edith Deleon Guerrero will vote to remove the governor. In this case, at least four of the remaining five senators will need to vote to remove Torres from office in order for the governor to lose his seat. If even two of the five vote to acquit the governor, Mr. Torres will remain in office, and he will remain eligible to run for re-election.
Kandit Friday emailed the six senators asking: “May we know whether you support or are opposed to the removal of the governor from office? Or, whether you have yet to make up your mind?”
We await their responses.
In 2012 and amid growing controversy, the CNMI House of Representatives failed to impeach then-Gov. Benigno Fitial from office, saving the Senate from having to vote on any articles of impeachment. The public withdrew its mercy during the election that year and sacked most of the incumbents who voted against the impeachment.
The new House swiftly drew up articles of impeachment and passed those articles the following February. The Senate then drew up rules for Fitial’s trial. Ironically, then-Sen. Ralph Torres drafted those rules. Senators never got to hold their trial or vote on the articles once Mr. Fitial resigned from office.
Sources tell Kandit it was Mr. Torres himself who delivered the news to Gov. Fitial that the Senate had the six votes needed to convict the governor and remove him from office. That informal poll of the Senate prior to the start of the trial is what convinced Fitial to resign, rather than be removed and barred for life from ever seeking public office.
Mr. Torres was among those senators at the time who would have voted for Fitial’s removal from office, according to well-placed sources.