Rep. Propst accused of sexual misconduct

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A PRIVATE citizen has called for a formal House ethics investigation into Minority Leader Edwin Propst regarding “longstanding and very serious allegations of sexual misconduct against him while he was a teacher at Marianas High School and also at Northern Marianas College.”

On Sunday, community member Irene Holl wrote letters to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao and Attorney General Edward Manibusan regarding these allegations.

In the letter to the governor, Holl said she had provided the administration with a copy of an Open Government Act request she made to the Public School System, seeking records on sexual misconduct that has taken place in PSS over the decades.

“Unfortunately, I was informed by the PSS that those records are not covered by the OGA [Open Government Act] and were not provided to me,” Holl said.

Regarding the allegations made against the minority leader, Holl said that these may seem like “common knowledge” among community members.

“I have heard the stories for years. Since my OGA request was made and became public, I have been contacted by individuals who have specific details of these incidents, including the names of the students involved,” she said.

Holl said those who are responsible for those alleged incidents should be brought to justice.

“I have therefore called on the speaker of the House, Blas Jonathan Attao, to conduct a formal Ethics Committee investigation of Representative Propst. That there is a member of our House of Representatives who is the subject of these very serious and longstanding allegations is unacceptable. It is unfair to the possible victims, to parents, and to the community,” Holl said.

The House has an obligation to investigate allegations as serious as this, she said.

“We cannot expect that we will assure the safety of our children when there is a sitting representative with these kinds of allegations associated with him. The only way forward, the only way we can show the community that we take these kinds of crimes seriously, is for the House of Representatives to ensure that these kinds of allegations, even when they are members of that body, are taken seriously and investigated fully and fairly.”

Holl is asking that the minority leader testify under oath, under penalty of perjury, whether or not he abused his position of trust as a teacher in PSS to participate in improper acts involving minors.

“Like many parents, as a mother, I am tremendously sickened by these kinds of crimes against children. That many of the individuals who held positions of authority over children at our schools and who allegedly misused that authority to commit terrible crimes of sexual abuse against them were able to temporarily escape justice is unacceptable to me,” she said.

Holl told the speaker, “I hope it is unacceptable to you and unacceptable to our Legislature and all those who are in a position to take action, to investigate, and to ensure that those involved are punished, and that laws are put in place to ensure that all those involved and all those who aid and abet these sexual predators are held fully accountable.”

‘Protect our students’

Press Secretary Kevin Bautista said the governor received Holl’s letter late Tuesday afternoon.

“Any concern brought up by any constituent, either big or small, is important to the governor and lt. governor, and the contents of this letter are serious allegations,” he said.

“Concerns from constituents are important to our government, and our community should speak openly about these allegations and express their concerns with the Executive and Legislative Branches about one of their elected representatives.

“This is a very serious allegation, and this administration will do its part to look into this to see if in fact these allegations about Mr. Propst are true,” Bautista said.

“As this letter calls for a formal investigation by the House of Representatives, we hope the Legislature does their due diligence to look into these allegations and take appropriate action,” he noted.

The press secretary said, “An allegation such as this, and the messages of many in our community that have corroborated it, strike at the moral fabric of our islands.”

“Lawmakers like Mr. Propst,” he added, “should be held to a higher standard. Should the allegations be true, and should he not be willing to submit to a formal investigation, anyone in similar situations should be held to account. We cannot allow public service to be a shield from accountability especially against allegations such as these.” 

Bautista said the governor and lt. governor have committed themselves to work directly with PSS, NMC, and private schools on policies that will create a safe learning environment for our children.

“We can all agree as one community that sexual abuse has no place on our closely-knit islands and that anyone who has engaged in this abusive practice should be brought to light in order to protect our students for the future,” he said.

‘Dirty politics’

In response to the letter from Holl, Minority Leader Propst said, “Irene Holl is a GOP strategist who is known for spreading toxic rumors, hearsay, and outright lies to attack political rivals.”

He added, “I am not the only critic of this administration to be subjected to her vitriolic attacks. I am a key target because I am the minority leader, I am part of the special committee that is investigating the governor's public expenditures, and I am a member of the Democratic Party.”

Propst said Holl has asked for his PSS personnel file, most likely knowing that she is not entitled to it under the law.

“She is not entitled to anyone's personnel file, but I am willing to release mine anyway. Let's be honest though. That will never be enough for Ms. Holl and her agenda to spread rumor and hearsay. I pray for her.”

He said this has been the most toxic campaign he has ever experienced, and he is deeply saddened that he and his family are being subjected to “this egregious level of defamation and dirty politics.”

“For this reason, and this reason alone, I did consider resigning,” he said.

“It seems the ugliness is  only getting worse the closer we get to the election. Because that's how Ms. Holl and her fellow operatives work: through smears, troll attacks, rumor-mongering, threats, intimidation, and incredible pressure on the personal lives of individuals and families who dare to challenge this administration. That's how they silence opponents.”

However, he said, after much thought and prayer, and after talking it over with close friends and family, “I have decided to stay the course, to keep fighting the good fight.”

As a member of the special committee that is investigating Gov. Torres, Propst said he understands that he is in a position to help the people of the CNMI by fairly and reasonably investigating the conduct of the governor while he was in office and not from 20 years ago.

“The more we probe, and the closer we get to the truth, the more vicious the attacks will be on me, my character, and my family. I have made peace with this and I ask for everyone to understand that I may choose to ignore any attacks on my integrity. I have work to do, even if it means that this work will make me a target for Republican smear tactics,” he said.

“To the good people of the CNMI: I ask that you also stay the course, and keep fighting the good fight. Brace for the worst that's still to come, but know that you have the power to change the whole landscape of politics here.”

He said, “In November, you will have a chance to send a strong message: that you, too, are tired of the smears, the dirty politics, the relentless attempts to distract and derail you from standing up to the public corruption and abuses that oppress you and the all-too-familiar tactics of intimidation. And that you want change.”

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