CNMI Legislature Bars Former Insular Affairs Head From Speaking

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Cohen sought time to speak against Casino repeal measure not on agenda

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, June 25, 2014) – The Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation yesterday did not allow Marianas Stars Entertainment Inc. consultant David B. Cohen to speak on a measure that repeals and reenacts the Saipan casino law.

A day prior to the delegation session, Marianas Stars and its consultants, including Cohen, informed delegation chairman Ramon A. Tebuteb, Ind.-Saipan, that he wanted to express his views on House Bill 18-195.

The bill, introduced by House Floor Leader Ralph S. Demapan, Covenant-Saipan, is said to retroactively correct the Lottery Commission’s flawed process to select the party who will get the license for casino operations, by "curing ambiguities" in the gambling law.

A majority of the Saipan delegation members knew that Cohen, a former U.S. assistant Interior secretary for insular affairs, would speak against H.B. 18-195, when they saw him and other Marianas Stars officials in the gallery.

Hoping that his colleagues would allow Cohen to speak, Tebuteb asked for "latitude."

But Rep. Tony P. Sablan, IR-Saipan, objected because H.B. 18-195 was not included in the order of business. Majority of the members supported Sablan’s objection so the Marianas Stars officials and consultant left the House chamber without being able to speak.

In an interview, Marianas Stars’ other consultant, Sean King, said: "We wanted to make a statement that we feel H.B 195 is so flawed and so broken that it should be scrapped and a new bill introduced."

He said they respect that "procedure is procedure."

"But we think it is unfortunate. What are they afraid of? Why did they not allow us to speak?" he asked.

He said, "we’ll just find another way to make our case to the public."

In an interview after the session, Tebuteb said he was disappointed that Cohen was not allowed to express his concerns, adding that the former Interior official contributed a lot to the CNMI.

"We all know what good things he has done for the CNMI," Tebuteb said.

He noted that Cohen played an important role in convincing the Bush administration that it was time to allow the CNMI to have its own delegate to the U.S. Congress.

Cohen, he added, also lobbied to exempt the CNMI from the matching requirement for federal capital improvement project funds.

These are a few of the many things that Cohen did for the betterment of the commonwealth, and his colleagues seem to have forgotten them already, Tebuteb said.

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