September 29 saw the three candidates for governor of the Northern Mariana Islands face off in a debate ahead of the November 8 general election. The debate was hosted by the Saipan Chamber of Commerce at the Saipan World Resort’s Taga Hall.
Questions were raised by chamber members as well as members of the general public. The debate covered many topics pertinent to the Northern Mariana Islands, including the environment, economics, healthcare, infrastructure, the workforce, and tourism. The candidates presented their stances and plans on these topics and had 2 and 3 minutes to present their opening and closing statements, respectively.
The three candidates running for governor of CNMI this year are Governor Ralph Torres, Lieutenant Governor Arnold I. Palacios, and Representative Christina Sablan.
Republican Ralph Torres is the incumbent governor of the Northern Mariana Islands, running alongside Senator Vinnie F. Sablan. Torres has been in office since the death of Governor Eloy S. Inos in 2015 when he ascended from the position of lieutenant governor. After his 4 years in office following Governor Inos’s passing, he ran for governor alongside current Lieutenant Governor Palacios. Despite Torres’s impeachment in January of this year on account of allegations of felonies of theft, corruption, and neglect of duty that he denies, he is seeking his second elected term. His running mate, Senator Sablan, refused to vote in the impeachment trial against Torres, and the senate of the CNMI acquitted Torres of the charges in May.
Running as an independent, Lieutenant Governor Arnold I. Palacios is running with David Apatang, the Mayor of Saipan. Palacios was hospitalized in Hawai‘i in June; he then had 40 days away from the Islands to deliberate on the future of his candidacy. Ultimately, he decided to resume his campaign and continue offering “an alternative to what the CNMI administration has today.” He recognized the contention between the candidates, some of which came from his campaign, and urged his team to maintain civility: “I think we can get it done without creating such divisiveness in our community.”
Democratic representative Christina “Tina” Sablan is campaigning with Leila Staffler, another Democratic member of the CNMI House of Representatives. Sablan is the Chair of the House Committee on Health and Welfare and has made her stance on healthcare in CNMI clear in several letters to the Saipan Tribune. In one letter to the Tribune, she states that the lack of stable healthcare in the Northern Mariana Islands is “an abject failure of leadership.” She called out Torres’s administration specifically, stating, “The health and well-being of our people may not be priorities in this administration. They will be in mine.”
Palacios spoke to the Marianas Variety after the debate, saying, “I think I did very well in answering the questions and giving my perspective and my thoughts… I think we all did well. We all came with our own thoughts and agendas, and I think everybody expressed what they wanted to express.”
Sablan issued a similar statement to Variety: “I know I prepared and I thought a lot about the potential questions that could be asked tonight. I do wish we had a little bit more time to hash out our ideas and really accentuate the differences in our positions on the different issues, but the rules are the rules and I want to thank the chamber for giving us this opportunity.”
The general election will be held on Tuesday, November 8.