I helped Governor Teno do political TV
Confession: He didn’t need it to get re-elected
As the serving governor when I first came to Saipan as a TV reporter in 1983, Pedro P. Tenorio did not make my job easy. It’s not that he was unpleasant, harshly partisan or an opponent of the public interest, whatever that may be defined as in 2018. Quite the contrary, his public persona, so far as I ever observed it, was polite and humble. That is a radically different approach from politicians who storm their way through holding office, demanding enactment of their programs and producing convenient to write and dispense news stories along the way. Teno was a veteran of a lot of rough and tumble Northern Marianas politics and had chalked up quite a few victories by simply being his unflashy self, abetted of course by his indispensable life partner, Sophia.
Newly arrived or visiting reporters regularly tried to goad the governor into producing a bit more drama, with little success. While I am sure that he occasionally kicked the trash can in the backroom in frustration, no one who knew the man could imagine him ever sending out rage-filled tweets to a perceived universe of enemies.
Growing to like living on Saipan, I eventually wound up working for the CNMI government. With the 1985 election coming up, I am sure it occurred to others in the administration that having a TV guy on board could add a new element to the campaign, never mind that the TV guy had never produced a commercial or political spot.
So I went ahead, took a leave of absence from my job—to the probable dismay of my landlord—and proceeded to figure out how to win votes through video.
For younger persons, 1984 was the TV stone age. Not a video camera or recorder to be found in an island village that was not the property of cable TV and no YouTube carrying the latest slick production from your neighbors. I rented equipment from cable and negotiated to use news video that fit my purposes. And I drafted TV scripts in English.
My thought was that I would take some of the issues that played so well in our newscast and present them to the political advantage of the governor. And he approved! Little did I realize that this was more in the spirit of “I don’t want to pop this poor guy’s bubble.” Teno certainly talked to voters about these matters and quite articulately, but his sense, born of long experience, was that a long harangue in English would stifle the communication.
Video recordings, as thousands of politicians have learned to their dismay, can be painfully revealing about those seeking to use them. Governor Pedro P. Tenorio, confronted with a TV camera, lights and a script in English, was never the picture of a man at ease. This is not a critique of his skill with a second language, but more likely a matter a matter of self-consciousness. He genuinely wanted to be clearly understood and often could be seen buttonholing those around him for a second opinion about the wording of speeches and other communications.
But Teno, as it turned out, had his TV strengths.
On Saipan, in 1984, using political TV commercials was a novelty that wasn’t being pursued by his opposition. You got credit simply for being there. But the fundamentals, the door to door blitzes and pocket meeting performances counted for a lot more.
Among the video material I had to work with were clips of Teno working a couple of pocket meetings which proved to be TV gold. With translation help from John DelRosario, I realized that here was the Teno I was looking for, but would never find through communication in English, making clear points, getting audience response and delivering the occasional whack to the knees of the opposition. Right at home and at ease.
I heard polite responses to the other spots we did, but that one did the job of winning positive attention, though as Teno certainly was well aware, it wasn’t needed to chalk up a victory.