CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres and Lt. Gov. Arnold Palacios were sworn into office on Monday, taking up the challenge to rebuild the typhoon-shattered commonwealth and promising to run a better government.
“This inauguration day is in some ways a symbol of a new beginning,” Torres said in his inaugural speech at the Northern Mariana Islands Soccer Training Center in Koblerville, one the villages on Saipan most badly hit by Yutu on Oct. 25, 2018.
“I hope we will all welcome a fresh start, a new approach, even as we face problems that are familiar,” said the 39-year-old governor, the CNMI’s youngest elected chief executive, who was sworn in by Chief Justice Alexandro Castro.
Gov. Ralph Torres takes his oath of office in Koblerville on Monday. Photo courtesy of David Butterfield/Marianas Variety
Torres and Palacios won a huge mandate in the November elections amid the commonwealth’s struggle to recover from the devastating supertyphoon.
“The opportunity of this recovery, the responsibility to lead in service; you have given me a tremendous gift,” Torres said.
The Republican Torres-Palacios team garnered 62 percent of the votes cast — the largest received by a CNMI gubernatorial ticket.
Torres, who is on his second term as governor, has become a veteran of disasters, having seen one devastating typhoon after another during his stint in Capital Hill.
The CNMI rose from the rubble caused by typhoon Soudelor, which battered Saipan in 2015. Then Mangkhut came in September 2018, blasting Rota.
In October last year, Yutu killed one person, knocked out power and water, damaged the airport and destroyed houses, schools and businesses, offsetting years of economic gains from spike in tourism. Yutu came less than a week after the commonwealth celebrated its 25 percent economic growth in 2017.
“We will rebuild from this typhoon, we will be stronger for the next,” said Torres the CNMI’s ninth governor. “Today begins an opportunity to improve our government and improve our commonwealth.”
Torres also took the opportunity to thank federal agencies, military commands, neighboring islands as well as the national charity groups for their immediate assistance.
“We take care of each other, in hard times like these. And sometimes in a disaster, you discover you have neighbors that are a lot closer than you think,” he said.
“When the leaves blow away, when the roofing tin is cleared, our friends seem to be just that much closer. That’s what has happened these last difficult months, and what is still happening. Our neighbors, our friends, have shown how close they are.”
The governor also noted the community’s characteristic resilience and volunteerism.
“I saw a young man who lost his home, only to head right back out to volunteer to distribute food to his neighbors. I saw a public school teacher, living in one shelter and then commuting to work as a shelter manager in another village,” he said.
“I saw children playing, parents cooking, and singers singing. I see our commonwealth differently because I now see the true beauty all around us, I see strength in our people, and I see a great opportunity ahead.”
For his part, Palacios said he acknowledged the community's big expectations from the new administration.
“Our islands have endured much in the past four months. And we are on the road to recovery. While we still have a long way to go, progress is underway,” the lt. governor said.
He assured the CNMI constituents that the new administration “accept the challenges this extraordinary time presents and vow to lead the commonwealth to a new future.”
Lt. Gov. Arnold Palacios takes his oath of office in Koberville on Monday. Photo courtesy of David Butterfield/Marianas Variety
But it won’t be easy, Palacios said. “The task at hand is monumental,” he said, noting that Mangkhut and Yutu have brought the CNMI back to square one.
The typhoons, he said, taught “a painful lesson about saving for rainy days – no pun intended.”
“Just as we set aside in our personal life a savings account for unexpected emergencies, so too must the commonwealth. Any spending to be made must be tied to fiscal discipline, spending based on priorities set by data-driven information on community needs,” Palacios said.
He underscored the need for the government to adopt a more strategic approach to government spending.
“Much remains to be done as you can see around you. Governor Torres and I pledge our commitment to provide you with effective and exceptional leadership,” Palacios said.