Thursday, August 23, 2007

Re: Non-Voting Delegates

Whoa…stop the presses, did I just write a headline about something serious…AND political!? Yeah well, it did take me 3 minutes to find the man in the picture below so we know I’m an idiot for doing this but I did say this was going to be a blog about anything, everything and nothing so, here’s what tickled the one motivational bone in my body. It’s the issue of the CNMI’s potential non-voting delegate to the United States Congress.

What got me thinking about this issue was how lame people on Saipan seem to think this idea is, especially Mr. Bruce Bateman, who surprised me with how harsh he was on Donna Christensen, the non-voting delegate from the USVI, in his Sour Grapes commentary in the Saipan Tribune. But he likes controversy because it gets people reading his article and sells papers, but it also makes people think, which I appreciate.

He says “A Non-Voting Delegate is not a representative, but a lobbyist, a hanger-on near the outskirts, or underskirts of the U.S. Congress. If you have no voice, no vote, then you cannot represent anyone. Our cause will not be furthered by delivering speeches to an empty room, or jockeying to carry a real Congressman's briefcase home from school.”[1]

Ouch…but hey, I’ll admit on first reading the term “non-voting delegate” does sound a bit like “non-barking dog” but lets take a closer look at what exactly this entails, since as we can imagine the “non-barking” dog could be the little biatch (and I totally just used that in context) that sneaks up on you and bites you in the @ss without you knowing it.

The real kicker seems to be that even though they can’t vote in the full House, a non-voting Delegate may vote in a House committee of which the Delegate is a member. And we’re all aware that it’s at the committee level where the real work is done on a bill, usually by the time a bill makes it out of committee it’s fate has already been decided, the vote on the full House floor is many times just for show.

It seems unfair for Bateman to say “While you are back there in D.C. not voting, or whatever it is you do all day, please consider helping us out here on Saipan.” Well, not only is she voting (in committee) but she’s currently the Chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs[2]…sounds like a pretty powerful position considering the fact we’re an “Insular Affair”.

Incidentally, the Congresswoman from Guam, Madeleine Bordallo is currently the Chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans, another pertinent and powerful position considering Guam’s location. Keep in mind both of these are possible positions for a potential CNMI delegate.

Another point to ponder is the fact that a non-voting delegate is funded by the Federal government. The legislation states that:

“the Delegate from the Commonwealth of the Northern
Mariana Islands
shall receive the same compensation,
allowances, and benefits as a Member of the House
of Representatives”[3]

Which means, no more local money for a “Resident Representative” which truly is nothing more than a lobbyist who has to rent their own building (which comes across like some sort of an embassy). Imagine having a delegate who would have an office of their own in the halls of the US Congress and who was completely federally funded.

Also this ISLA bill, as it’s come to be called, makes no provision for the CNMI to start incurring federal taxes. So it’d be kinda like the NutraSweet of politics, all the great taste of representation without the calories of taxation.

Remember too that this is not an appointed position. The delegate would be elected from the CNMI at large by US citizens, so that means none of those pesky potential non-immigrant visa holders would be able to vote. It also means that if we did get a delegate who went and sold the CNMI down the proverbial river then we’d have no one to blame but ourselves.

(b) Manner of Election-
(1) IN GENERAL- The Delegate shall be elected at
large and by a plurality of the votes cast for
the office of Delegate.[4]

Unfortunately there’s no runoff clause like there is in the statute creating the Guam delegate.

The Delegate from Guam shall be elected at large and
by a majority of the votes cast for the office of
Delegate. If no candidate receives such majority, a
runoff election shall be held between the candidates
receiving the highest and the second highest number
of votes cast for the office of Delegate.[5]

This would ensure that the winning candidate had a clear mandate with the majority of the voters behind him.

It seems that this ISLA bill is the closest the CNMI has ever come to actually gaining the position of a non-voting delegate in Congress. There is the “Northern Marianas Islands Delegate Act” but without being attached to H.R. 3079 it appears to have fallen on deaf ears with this Democratic Congress. Incidentally, this idea was first proposed during the original Covenant negotiations but was rejected by the U.S. mainly due to the CNMI’s small population size. This actually could still be an issue with the whole "one man, one vote" case law which places pressure on Congress to keep the population of federal Congressional Districts roughly equal. Who knows, some big Congressional District back in the States could even decide to challenge our small size to delegate ratio and win?!

But regardless, we should all realize that politics is about bartering. I’ll give you this widget if you give me that doodad. And from the start it was almost implied that the federal government would eventually take over the CNMI’s immigration, the founders of the Covenant even concede to this. So we should be taking this opportunity to at least bargain for something in exchange and in fact the current legislation (H.R. 3079) offers us that in the form of a non-voting delegate to the U.S. Congress. But unfortunately the CNMI seems to be missing out on its chance to bargain for this important and, in my opinion, powerful position. I say lets get it while the gettin’s good, or at least before we’re force fed the federal widget without getting our doodad in return.

Wow…that was way more than I intended to say, but I do feel good that its been said…and its even a little controversial, sweet maybe now I’ll get lots of hits on my blog like the cool kids over at the Saipanuvian and Mt. Olympus…or maybe not, either way at the end of it I’m all like…”Whatever”.






Student Quote of the Day:

"Mr. Redd, Mr. Redd, Mr. Redd, Mr. Redd, Mr. Redd, Mr. Redd, MR. REDD!!?"
To which I patiently reply..."WHAT!?"


Beth and Luke said...


KelliOnSaipan said...

Good stuff! You might want to submit a version to the newspaper.

Jeff said...

You're so damn controversial!

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