Most chief executives have a list of day-one legislation they pass to make good campaign promises and take immediate action on prescient issues. However, Northern Mariana Islands governor Arnold Palacios (I) was inaugurated recently and has been swamped with administrative work that has hampered his ability to pass priority policy and actualize his legislative goals.
Palacios was elected on a promise of a balanced budget and an end to the corruption that plagued his predecessor Ralph Torres’ (R) administration. One of his first acts as governor was to conduct a still-ongoing audit of all of the commonwealth’s financial documents and records. When the review is completed, Palacios promised the results would be made public to keep Norther Mariana Islands constituents in the loop on the financial state of the islands.
Palacios followed up this internal review by calling upon the Department of the Interior and consulting with Carmen Cantor, the United States Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs, over the financial state of the commonwealth and a path to fiscal prudence. Their meeting produced a $1.6 million package in Compact Impact funding for the Northern Mariana Islands.
However, Palacios’ process of restructuring the Northern Mariana Islands’ finances and government has met significant obstacles. On January 19, he requested that government employees in the executive branch who were appointed by his predecessor Torres resign, a procedure that has become standard as the chief executive usually appoints their own staff. However, most officials have refused to do so, and the Palacios administration is facing a number of holdouts. Palacios promised the matter would be dealt with soon, but at present, the government is largely dysfunctional as the transition of executives remains unfinished.
Palacios promised to rid the Northern Mariana Islands of corruption, but the exigency of his task has only escalated since he took office. The CNMI transition team reported that the islands’ police department has been a hotbed of political cronyism and financial imprudence, a matter Palacios promised to address. The report accused former police chief Robert Guerrero of being inexperienced, politicizing the department, pressuring officers to attend partisan events, and using government funds extravagantly and gratuitously. Among other specific allegations, the report claimed that Guererro purchased a fleet of brand-new white police vehicles, then had them stripped and repainted black, paid more overtime hours to officers than regular working hours by a factor of 1.5, and had officers attend former Governor Torres’ events while on the clock. Governor Palacios responded to the bombshell report by promising cleanup and a re-evaluation of the department but has yet to take action.
Corruption scandals and the commonwealth’s poor financial state have so far stood between Palacios and his legislative priorities, instead swamping the governor in administrative work. As the governor finishes working through the bureaucratic mess he stepped into a month ago, his policy priorities will be further revealed.