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CNMI House Likely To Support Governor’s Impeachment Today
Senate vote uncertain as Fitial prepares defense

By Jerick Sablan

HAGTA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Feb. 11, 2013) – Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Gov. Benigno Fitial, who faces a critical impeachment vote this morning in the commonwealth's House of Representatives, has significant opposition in that body, according to political observers.

The CNMI House of Representatives this morning is scheduled to vote on the results of its recently completed impeachment investigation of Fitial.

Fitial allegedly sprung a federal detainee so she could give him a massage, diverted and misused government services and committed ethics violations, according to the investigation report, which breaks those allegations into 18 specific "findings of fact."

Representatives will vote on each of the allegations today. Allegations that are approved by a two-thirds vote will be forwarded to the CNMI Senate for another vote.

A 2011 attempt to impeach Fitial failed in the CNMI House.

This is the first time the Marianas has seen an impeachment process go this far, said Sam McPhetres, a retired history professor at the Northern Marianas College.

McPhetres said many residents in Saipan are looking for a change in leadership. He said the last election was a clear sign that many voters support impeaching Fitial.

Many of the candidates who said they supported Fitial were voted out of office and candidates in favor of his impeachment were voted in.

"People were saying they had enough," McPhetres said.

A petition signed by hundreds of residents, asking the Legislature to impeach Fitial because he "breached and betrayed the trust and confidence of the people of the CNMI," cites several reasons to impeach him.

They include allegations of corruption, damage to the CNMI economy and fraud.

House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero, an Independent Republican from Saipan, created the Special Investigating Committee on Impeachment and last month named Rep. Tony Sablan, also an Independent Republican from Saipan, as its chairman.

Fitial could face an impeachment vote within the next few weeks if both the CNMI House and Senate approve impeachment allegations by a two-thirds majority of both bodies.

Impeachment process

A two-thirds vote from the 20-member House, or 14 votes, will be needed to move an allegation to the Senate.

It that happens, the nine-member Senate will create a special committee to hold an impeachment trial for Fitial, Sablan said.

In order for Fitial to be convicted, two-thirds of the Senate, or six senators, would have to vote to impeach him.

Brian Kendall, a Saipan resident, is in favor of Fitial's impeachment. He said Fitial is corrupt and has brought the CNMI down.

"It's horrible here. The government has failed its people," Randall said.

He said Fitial has too much power and taking it away from him would be the best thing for the CNMI.

McPhetres said the Legislature has a learning curve with the impeachment process. "Nobody thought this would happen," he said. "This is a very new experience."

Fitial supporters in the House struck down an impeachment attempt in 2011, McPhetres said. Now that new House members are in office, there is a majority in favor of the impeachment, he said.

He said today's vote in the House most likely will go against Fitial since only four of the 20 House members have said they oppose impeachment.

The Senate vote, however, may be less clear, he said.

He said there are four members of the Senate known to support Fitial. However, one of those senators -- Juan Ayuyu, of Rota -- is in federal prison on allegations of smuggling fruit bats.

Even without Ayuyu's vote, the support of one or two other senators could mean Fitial isn't impeached, McPhetres said.

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