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Fitial formed Covenant Party in 2001

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 10, 2011) – Governor Benigno R. Fitial has been accepted back to the Republican Party of the Northern Mariana Islands (NMI) which he helped organize and lead for the longest time before forming in 2001 his own Covenant Party that helped him win the 2005 gubernatorial election. He got reelected last year.

Republican Party president Juan I. Tenorio and ad-hoc Executive Committee chair Juan S. Reyes said yesterday that Fitial has been admitted back to the GOP effective Jan. 5.

Tenorio reiterated that there's no decision to merge the Republican Party and the Covenant Party, but only to admit the governor as an individual member.

He said Covenant Party members who want to join or rejoin the Republican Party need to write a formal letter of intent to join the party and abide by its rules, similar to what Fitial did when he sent a letter to the party on Wednesday.

"After years of public service to our people and community in the Northern Mariana Islands with most of these years as a loyal member and leader of the NMI Republican Party, I hereby submit this letter of intention to once again join the political party I helped organize. I am a Republican and I will faithfully and vigorously support the principles of the Republican Party and abide by its rules," Fitial told Tenorio in a one-page letter that the party accepted.

Of the six members of Reyes's Executive Committee, five voted in favor of, while one opposed, Fitial's readmission to the Republican Party.

Besides Reyes who is the chairman, the other officers and members of the Executive Committee include: Tom Tebuteb as vice chair, Lilian Bennett as secretary, Luis Kapileo, Arnold Palacios, and Danny Aquino.

"We voted to have the governor admitted to the Republican Party. Five approved it, one disapproved it," Reyes told Saipan Tribune in an interview in the lobby of the Saipan World Resort in Susupe yesterday.

Upstairs, the governor and Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos were meeting with members of the Legislature. (See full story)

Fitial, in an interview after meeting with lawmakers yesterday, said he "feel(s) good" about the Republican Party decision.

"Now I can be a proud Republican governor," he said, adding that he formed the Covenant Party to support his gubernatorial bid.

But when told about Tenorio's statement that the decision was not for the merger of the two parties, Fitial said "but eventually the plan is to bring the Covenant to be part of the Republican Party."

He said he is a lifetime member of the National Republican Committee and pays his annual dues of US$2,000.

But incumbent Republicans have reservations about the governor rejoining the party he abandoned. Nevertheless, they said every registered Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) voter is welcome to join or rejoin the party if and when they accept to abide by the party's rules.

Fitial said the Covenant Party remains in existence until its merger with the Republican Party. He said he looks forward to the Republican Party's general membership meeting in February, when a merger could be decided on.

Reyes said the committee weighed all the pros and cons of accepting Fitial back to the party he helped organize before voting.

He said he as a committee officer believes that given these tough financial times, the CNMI needs all the help it can get to get the islands out of crisis, and this includes tapping Republican members of Congress.

"Fitial wants to take advantage of a GOP-controlled U.S. Congress, knowing our economic situation is very bad. Fitial has lots of contacts and friends in Washington, D.C. that will help the CNMI," Reyes said.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan, who was sworn into office on Wednesday for a second two-year term, is caucusing with the Democrats in Congress. Sablan said he has reached across both sides of the aisle in Congress-the Democrats and the Republicans.

Most Covenant Party members are former Republicans.

The governor said he can only encourage but not force Covenant Party members to also go back or join the Republican Party.

The governor said he will also urge his Cabinet members, who he was scheduled to host at a private party at his private residence in Gualo Rai last night.

GOP's Tenorio said the party officials called for the formation of the ad-hoc Executive Committee to "to take care of the membership drive." This is separate from other committees such as finance and credentials committees.

"This is timely, in preparation for the 2010 midterm elections," Tenorio said.

Reyes said the committee or the Republican Party cannot impose additional conditions on Fitial just because he is the governor. He said other individuals wanting to be part of the party have the same requirements imposed on Fitial.

"As chairman of the committee, now is the time to set aside differences between the Executive and Legislative Branch and others, and find the best solutions to economic problems," he said.

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