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New Democrats aim to balance NMI political scale

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HOUSE Minority Leader Edwin Propst and Reps. Sheila Babauta and Tina Sablan held a joint online press conference Friday to expound on their decision to join the NMI Democratic Party.

The three ran and were elected as independents in the 2018 elections.

“A healthy democracy really depends on vibrant and diverse voices being represented at the table of government,” Sablan said. “For so long, we in the Commonwealth, our politics have been dominated by one party. The time is now, the time is right to reestablish a two-party system to build up the Democratic Party and welcome everybody into this party and restore, ultimately, public trust and accountability in our Commonwealth government.”

Babauta, for her part, said, “I decided to run as a Democrat because I truly believe that we can create the CNMI that we all envision, something brighter, a government that we all can trust, a government where the people feel heard and where we can close the gap.”

She added, “This is my first term, so I’m very new to the political arena, but early on, I did see how being an independent in the House really just had its own fair share of challenges, and so I, too, believe that we can strengthen our government by really giving other people an option, something other than just the Republican Party.”

Furthermore, she said, “I chose the Democratic Party because my values really do align with the Democratic values of civic engagement, grassroots organization, and community empowerment. You can see that in my history with volunteerism, community programs, [and] community outreach. I think that’s something that’s very important to our community: to be involved with politics and encourage civic engagement if we truly want to create the CNMI that is better for everyone, that will really prosper, and a place that will be attractive to newly graduated students [and] returning residents. We need to work together to ensure that there’s representation, to ensure that issues that matter most are being addressed, and to ensure that there’s transparency and accountability in the government, because that is really the only way that our community can trust us.”

According to Propst, “Now is the time to establish another party rather than reinvent the wheel and try to create our own party…. I’m frustrated and tired of special interests. I’m tired of kowtowing and bowing to corporations and businesses [and] pulling the strings of politicians. I feel that the Democratic Party is a party that will truly put the interests of the people first, and that’s why I’m running as a Democrat and not as an independent again.”

He added, “Everyone has a seat at the table. Your opinions matter. We will hold on to the issues and discuss them. We cannot and should not ever attack each other when we’re discussing this unless something infringes on the rights of the people. I won’t support or even entertain anything that is insulting to a person’s ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, or anything else of that nature. We look at these common core principles, and truly come up with the best solutions for people.”

When asked of the potential polarizing effect that the two-party system will have on the Commonwealth, the three lawmakers said that they don’t believe that there will be any polarization.

“While we are encouraging people to join the Democratic Party, we’re not twisting anybody’s arms,” Propst said. “We’re not trying to ensure that they must follow our core principles. We welcome everybody to the table, to have a seat at that table, but we also understand this from running as independents that there are some really great candidates who are going to be running as an independent or [Republican], and we’re going to discuss the best solutions for the Commonwealth.”

Propst said they are “not going to bow down to anything that we feel is wrong [or] is a continuation of the problems that we are so accustomed to, where we have sole source contracts or people that operate above the law in some regard. We don’t embrace that. We want to ensure that we are all equal, whether you’re a representative, senator, or a governor, we all have to follow [the law], be fiscally conservative, and be wary of our laws.”

For her part, Sablan said, “I can’t think of anything more polarizing in a community than one-party rule. That’s the truth. That’s been our reality for decades now. Monopolies are never good for any community. Any organization, any institution that has any sort of monopoly over power or resources tends to be prone to complacency and to corruption. Sadly, we have seen that play out in our Commonwealth these last 30-plus years under one party.”

Furthermore, she said, “we’re not always going to agree on everything. There will always be and should always be healthy debate on the issues [and] policies that we might be considering in our government. We can have these exchanges in a mutually respectful, civil way. It’s time to come together to make decisions that are ultimately in the best long-term interests of our community.”

She added, “We have ended every year, for the last several years, in the red in our government. We in the minority, and as Democrats, have raised red flags about this overspending [or] government spending just running amok, and want to bring some measure of oversight and accountability that just isn’t there now under one-party rule.”

Babauta said, “Right now, I feel like we are lopsided. The scale now is [tilted to] one side, and what we’re trying to do is jump on the other side just to try and provide some balance. It does not mean that we’re putting up any walls or any kind of fence. We’re just trying to work towards a more balanced way of representing our CNMI in the House.”

“We come from a small community,” she added. “There’s a lot of complex relations to be mindful of, but in order for us to really move forward in a positive light, we need balance. That’s something that I support and that is another major reason why I’m choosing to run with the Democrats.”

The NMI Democratic Party used to be one of the islands’ two major political parties. But starting in 2001, it had been eclipsed by a breakaway Republican faction, the Covenant Party, which rejoined the GOP in 2011. Since then, independents have usually formed the minority bloc in the Legislature.

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