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By Steve Limtiaco

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (October 29, 2001 – Pacific Daily News)---Voters in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands will head to the polls Nov. 3 to select a new governor, lieutenant governor, Washington representative and mayors, as well as six senators and 18 house representatives.

Some residents also will be selecting municipal council and school board representatives.

The commonwealth's four main political parties have fielded 82 candidates for the election and there are four nonpartisan candidates for the positions of mayor and senator.

The leaders of the commonwealth's political parties said the struggling economy and the CNMI's relationship with the federal government are two key issues going into the election.

Gregorio Sablan, executive director of the Commonwealth Election Commission, said the commission will be using optical ballot readers for the first time, which means election results could be available within a couple of hours after tabulation begins.

The election commission received the two machines in August, Sablan said, adding that they cost about $84,000.

This means voters will cast their votes by shading ovals on the ballot, as opposed to marking X's or check marks, as has been done in the past, Sablan said.

The issues

"The key issues have been the stagnant economy and the bad relationship we have with the federal government," said Democratic Party Chairman Lorenzo L. G. Cabrera.

He said political instability in the commonwealth has had a direct effect on the economy.

"We know that investors view this as a detriment. They want to be able to go into a place where they have good laws, good tax structures and stable government -- in that laws are not changed overnight because they are not in the best interest of a special interest," Cabrera said.

"Political stability is very important, and, basically, that is one of the reasons we have been viewed by Washington as not being trustworthy."

Working together

Cabrera said political stability can be improved if the next governor works with the Legislature and discourages it from passing special-interest legislation.

"We need to be able to show Washington that we mean business and we're going to have a stable government. We're good people and we can govern ourselves," Cabrera said.

Quality of education also is an important issue to voters, Cabrera said, but he said the future of education rests in the hands of the elected school board, and not the governor or lawmakers.

He noted that lawmakers cannot affect the education budget because the CNMI constitution already earmarks 15 percent of government revenues for education.

"A responsible candidate would have to publicize his or her plan and promise to work with the board of education," he said.

Republican Party Chairman Joseph Reyes said he believes the economic downturn is one of the most important issues for voters heading into the election.

"The NMI is confronted with a lot of priorities. The current situation, after the tragedy of Sept. 11, has just made things worse as far as work is concerned," he said.

"If things are to balance out here, I think it's going to have to balance between the private industry and the CNMI government overall. We do have the plans to address all this."

United front

Reyes said the Republicans plan to present a united front in the future when dealing with the federal government.

He said the commonwealth has "always been getting the loose change," when compared to other territories and states because it has not been sending a consistent message.

"I'm sure that by working together, things can be better addressed and resolved. We've got to speak with one voice. We've got to have a set of priorities," Reyes said.

"If communication and the relationship between this government and the U.S. federal government is improved, ... I'm sure that things can and will be resolved."

Stable economy

Covenant Party Chairman Eloy Inos issued a written statement, saying the party believes, "A stable economy is the only means by which other improvements in government and social systems can happen."

According to the Covenant Party, its candidates want to repeal anti-business laws.

"Covenant Party candidates agree that this should be the first thing to go, since restrictive laws discourage new investments," the statement said.

The Covenant Party also said it plans to maximize all venues of representation to the federal government to ensure more federal support.

Reform Party representatives did not submit comment on the party platform.

For additional reports from the Pacific Daily News, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Pacific Daily News (Guam).

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