Impeachment Of CNMI Governor Likely To Fail

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Vote to remove Fitial may happen today

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Sept. 3, 2012) – If and when a milestone resolution impeaching Gov. Benigno R. Fitial is put to a vote today, it is likely to be defeated based on the position so far taken by most of the 20 members of the House of Representatives, most of whom are just getting the details of Fitial's secretive 25-year, $190.8 million power purchase agreement that is among the 16 acts of corruption, neglect of duty, and felony listed in the resolution.

At least 14 yes votes from the 20-member House are needed to impeach the governor, and at least six affirmative votes in the nine-member Senate are needed to convict him.

So far, only eight members have a definitive "yes" vote, based on "on-the-record" interviews.

At least two are voting "no," at least one will "abstain" over conflict of interest, and one is not expected to be back on island soon for medical reasons.

That leaves eight who are either still "undecided" or still do not want to talk about their position on the matter, and these eight are aligned with Fitial.

Lawmakers, however, told the media that at any time, their positions can "change" depending on their own review of each of the 16 articles of impeachment, the outcome of some lawmakers' lawsuit on the $190.8 million power deal, the investigations on the power deal by at least two House committees, the findings and recommendations of a soon-to-be-formed special committee on impeachment, calls from the public, and what Fitial might say when he comes back.

Fitial is expected to return to the CNMI this week after a three-week official and personal trips to Hawaii, American Samoa, Florida, and Boise, Idaho.

Breakdown

The eight voting "yes" so far include the seven members of the House minority bloc led by Rep. Joe Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan), who co-authored the impeachment resolution.

Besides Deleon Guerrero, the six others from the minority bloc voting "yes" are Reps. Frank Dela Cruz (R-Saipan), Ray Tebuteb (R-Saipan), Ray Yumul (R-Saipan), Tony Sablan (R-Saipan), Trenton Conner (R-Tinian), and Janet Maratita (Ind-Saipan).

The eighth "yes" vote comes from Rep. Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan).

The two "no" votes, so far, are from Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan) and Rep. Joe Palacios (R-Saipan).

House floor leader George Camacho (Ind-Saipan) told the media he will be "abstaining" from voting on the resolution and from even becoming a member of a special committee on impeachment because of "conflict of interest."

Camacho's brother-Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph Camacho-is the former delegate candidate allegedly hosted by former attorney general Edward Buckingham during a gathering at the governor's house in 2010, and this is among the issues being used against the governor in the impeachment resolution.

Rep. Froilan Tenorio (Cov-Saipan) is currently off island for medical reasons and is not expected to be back anytime soon.

The six who are still "undecided" as of yesterday include House Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan), vice speaker Felicidad Ogumoro (Cov-Saipan), Reps. Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan), Ray Basa (Cov-Saipan), Fred Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan).

Rep. Sylvester Iguel's (Cov-Saipan) and Rep. Ray Palacios' (Cov-Saipan) positions on the matter have yet to be known, although both are known to be aligned with the governor.

Special committee

The House speaker, in an interview on Friday, said he will form a special committee on impeachment during the next session, which could be on Tuesday or Wednesday, or any time within the week.

He said he will announce during the session his appointees to the committee, which will review the impeachment resolution and make recommendations to the full House.

"We are not going to rush this. It's all about fact-finding," Cabrera told Saipan Tribune.

Cabrera said the committee could have six or eight members, and will have the same number from the House leadership and the House minority.

Basa, for his part, said the Legislature as a whole should prioritize passing the fiscal year 2013 budget of $114 million by Sept. 30 or the government will temporarily shut down again by Oct. 1.

Rep. Fred Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) said he is still undecided because he has yet to see all the documents that need to be reviewed to make an informed decision on the matter.

He said he also wants to know whether Maratita, Yumul, and the Senate as plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the $190 million power deal have conflict of interest in the impeachment.

"How could can they ensure that there will be a fair and impartial impeachment process if they are part of that lawsuit? Impeachment is a serious process. Everyone has to review the allegations carefully and then make a decision," Rep. Fred Deleon Guerrero told Saipan Tribune last night.

Santos, for her part, said she will heed acting governor Eloy Inos' advice to the Legislature not to act on the impeachment resolution in haste.

"I echo the acting governor's call not to rush to judgment, and make sure we have all the facts and documents before we make a decision," she said.

This is the first time in CNMI history that a resolution to impeach the governor has been pre-filed, but is the second time that an impeachment plan has been hatched.

The 17th House minority bloc's House Resolution 17-111 lists 16 articles of impeachment, including five acts of corruption, seven acts of neglect of duty, and four commissions of felonies.

The 22-page resolution's impeachable offenses were in connection with Fitial's use of a federal inmate temporarily taken out of prison to give him a massage at his house during the wee hours of the night to morning in January 2010, failure to nominate a Supreme Court chief justice and members of the Public Utilities Commission, failure to remit full contributions to the NMI Retirement Fund since 2006, ordering or conspiring to use armed police and ports police officers to shield the former AG from being served a penal summons in connection with criminal charges filed against him, and the secretive signing of a 25-year power purchase deal with Saipan Development LLC.

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