Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Conversation with Tina Sablan

Bold is Beautiful

By Jeffrey C. Turbitt

Political life here and elsewhere is such a charade of phoniness that voters often find themselves choosing the lesser of evils. The last governor’s election in particular felt like something out of the Saw movies where the choice was to slice off your own leg, extract your own eyeball with a hot poker or put on a wetsuit drenched in a vat of acid. Honest people have a hard time offering the platitudes required to win dumbed-down elections, so voters usually get choices like those in the Saw movies. I was encouraged when Tina Sablan burst on the scene speaking about actual issues in a progressive fashion, and I was even more encouraged when she decided to run for office. Her candidacy, I believe, is a referendum on whether people really want to change things in the CNMI or just keep doing the same failed things. I had a conversation with Ms. Sablan this week. The following are her unedited answers. Brevity was encouraged given the space restrictions of the print media.

JCT: You suddenly became fairly well known after your manifesto was published. How did it feel to suddenly become so prominent?

TS: I still feel like me. Not much has changed except that now I find myself spending a lot more time talking about politics with people pretty much wherever I go. It's refreshing to observe that citizens are talking more freely now about the issues than they used to.

JCT: You're a fairly unique candidate in that you have no lawn signs; I don't see waving campaigns and horn honking campaigns for Tina Sablan. You've also been pretty open with your viewpoints. Do you think this is a campaign trend that will catch on? Is it a conscious effort on your part to move campaigns away from what many think is a silly, yet seemingly ingrained waving/lawn sign model?

TS: Lawn signs, waving, horn honking and so forth are all elements of a campaign style that has traditionally been run here. Voters are familiar with that campaign style, particularly those who want to be able to publicly show their support for their chosen candidate. I understand that it works for many people, but in all honesty, it has never really worked for me. When I decided to run for office, I felt that it was important to be as true to myself on the campaign trail as I would be in office, and to run the kind of campaign that I have always wanted to see -- simple, honest, frugal, and focused on the issues and on promoting dialogue in the community. This campaign has been based primarily on letters, community forums, house visits, online and telephone communication, and word of mouth.

There is another reason I am running, though, that makes the style of this campaign incredibly important to me, and it is that I want to help open the door for new candidates in 2009 -- for individuals who care about the community, but who don't think they would have a shot at public office because they wouldn't want to raise a whole lot of money, be part of a party, or do any of the things that are associated with a traditional campaign. If I can get elected without having run a traditional campaign, or if I can at least come close, then perhaps more new citizens will begin to seriously consider throwing their own names into the 2009 election. I would encourage them to do so.

JCT: What is your main message in this campaign and do you think it is it getting through?

TS: The message I come back to again and again is the need for good governance in the CNMI. Good governance means open and honest government, accountable leaders, sound and stable policies, and empowered citizens who take responsibility for improving their own lives, and their community. I feel that we are at a real turning point right now in the CNMI -- people are beginning to open their eyes, cast away their fears, and finally speak up and get involved. I truly believe that this is just the beginning of a long-term process of changes for the better in our Commonwealth.

JCT: The casino issue seems to be dominating the debate of late. What are your thoughts on that initiative?

I am voting no on the Saipan Casino Act because I think the initiative itself is seriously flawed and is likely to bring greater costs rather than benefits to the community. I'm not even talking about the social ills that are associated with gambling, nor am I morally opposed to gambling or afraid of change, as some pro-Casino Act folks might imply. I'm talking about taxpayer dollars wasted on the creation of a questionable casino commission that would be prone to corruption, about a perpetual monopoly license given away to a for-profit corporation of middlemen with no experience in the casino industry, and more public land squandered for special interests. These are the elements in the Saipan Casino Act that concern me, and I am urging citizens to take the time to read the Act for themselves before they head to the polls on November 3.

JCT: What was your reaction to the CUC rate pullback? Would you have voted to do so yourself? Why or why not?

I thought it was terribly irresponsible of the Legislature to arbitrarily roll back the rates without a plan for subsidizing the inevitable shortfall that CUC would face. On the other hand, I also thought it was terribly irresponsible of the Administration and CUC to increase the rates as suddenly and as dramatically as they did without any improvements in service whatsoever, and without adequate public education and involvement -- and then, of course, for the Legislature to do nothing for a year while businesses shut down, homes lost power and water, and people moved away. The whole thing, frankly, has been a mess.

JCT: You've been very critical of the government. If elected, do you think you'll be able to persuade your elected colleagues to, shall we say, change their ways of doing business here and enact some of the reforms you detailed in your manifesto?

TS: I shouldn't have to persuade my colleagues to follow their conscience and do the right thing for the good of all people in the CNMI. I would expect it of them, and they can expect the same from me. Citizens should expect that much at a minimum from all their elected officials, and make their views known if they feel they are not being properly represented.

JCT: You're the youngest candidate in this election. Does your youth help or hurt you as a candidate? If you are not elected, do you plan to stay in public life?

When I first began to think about running for office, part of my initial reluctance was admittedly a result of me being overly conscious about my age. Since filing my candidacy, though, I haven't thought about it very much at all. I'm sure some people see it as an advantage, and some see it as a potential liability; my age doesn't matter to me either way anymore. I think that citizens of all ages can contribute immensely to this community. I will remain an active and vocal citizen regardless of the election results.

JCT: You're for federalization and for a minimum wage increase, which are both things the government is and has been aggressively fighting for years. I'm not sure I can think of any elected official that has those positions. Is there a silent majority of voters out there in support of these things?

Actually, we have had elected officials who have publicly supported federalization of immigration and minimum wage hikes. Senator Frica Pangelinan and the Washington Representative, Pete A. Tenorio, come to mind. I think there are many people who support an increase in minimum wage and also support federalization of immigration, and many people who fear and oppose these reforms -- particularly immigration reform -- for their own reasons. Having not done any kind of scientific poll, I can't say for sure if there is a silent majority or not. What I can say for sure, however, is that throughout the years, when our elected officials have bickered with the federal government, paid millions to crooked lobbyists, and defended a harmful status quo against all reason, they were never representing me. And I don't think I am the only one who feels that way.


lil_hammerhead said...

Great piece Jeff. I learned nothing new as Tina's been very clearly out there with all of her positions, but anything that might reach those who haven't heard her is a good thing.

glend558 said...

Well done, great interview.. you too Jeff. 'chuckle'
When I read this on-line in the news I was looking for the comment section.. Never did find it there.

bradinthesand said...

why didn't you question her about her hotness and how distracting it might be on the hill should she land a seat in congress?