Northern Mariana Islands Governor’s political future at play in Senate trial
Northern Mariana Islands Governor Ralph De Leon Guerrero Torres (R) was impeached by the CNMI House of Representatives on February 9 on charges of felony, neglect, and corruption, including abusing public funds to finance a lavish lifestyle during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This includes at least 120 plane trips and 85 boat trips over Torres’ six years in office amounting to $550,000. Additionally, Torres is accused of stealing more than $177,000 in utilities through the taxpayer-supported Commonwealth Utilities Corporation for his three houses and a commercial piggery.
Other allegations include using taxpayer funds for exorbitant meals and alcohol. Articles of Impeachment are in the process of being brought to the Senate but Torres is confident that the impeachment process would not be successful in the CNMI Senate due to his political allies. About a month ago, Torres was held in contempt after he failed to appear for a legislative subpoena, but Torres has challenged this in court and still has maintained he has done no wrong, refusing to resign.
The voter breakdown of the House impeachment charges of Governor Torres is as follows:
– Article I: Commission of a felony, theft of utility services: 15 yes, 4 no, 1 abstained.
– Article II: Commission of a felony, theft: 15 yes, 4 no, 1 abstained
– Article III: Corruption: unlawful first-class and business-class travel: 15 yes, 4 no, 1 abstention
– Article IV: Corruption, misuse of government resources: 15 yes, 4 no, 1 abstention
– Article V: Neglect of duty, negligence during crisis: 15 yes, 4 no, 1 abstention
– Article VI: Neglect of duty, contempt of the Legislature: 15 yes, 4 no, 1 abstention
This impeachment takes place during an election year. One of Torres’ opponents, Representative Tina Sablan (D), is both a member of the Special Investigating Committee on Impeachment and is running for governor under the Democratic Party. Torres brushes off the House impeachment as a product of political partisanship, despite the significance of the charges brought against him. Should the upcoming trial not go as he expects, his political future could be in peril.