Rep. Tina Sablan: The conscience of the CNMI Legislature
Saipan — When something seems not right, CNMI Rep. Cristina “Tina” Sablan is the first to blow the whistle. On April 12, she asked the CNMI House leadership to place on session agenda the Office of Public Auditor’s opinion that thumbed down a House resolution allowing legislators to drawn down up to $5,000 in monthly allowances from their office allocations. Her request was shut down by the House leadership.
As a member of the minority bloc, pushing her advocacy for a responsible government is not a walk in the park. She is not into filing bills after bills. Rather, she is more interested in scrutinizing every single piece of legislation — especially those that deal with public money.
Sablan, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, recently called on the Department of Finance Department and the Officer of Management and Budget to provide the real state of the government's finances so the Legislature could plan ahead and map out the spending for the coming fiscal year.
\As for Gov. Ralph DLG Torres' decision to reduce the monthly allocation for the Legislature, Sablan said, “[It’s] way beyond the proportionate across-the-board reduction that the governor ordered. That’s a 60-percent cut to our operational budget for each member.” If the governor were to implement a much larger proportionate reduction, Sablan said, the legislators must be notified first. “That’s required by the Planning and Budgeting Act. There’s a process, and that process was not followed,” she said.
Sablan, an Independent, fashions herself as the Legislature's conscience. She champions accountability and transparency in government, a self-appointed mission that she shares with other members of the minority bloc.
On social issues, Sablan engages in community discussions based on reason rather than emotion. While vocal about her concerns with the Imperial Pacific’s gaming venture, Sablan said she is “not against the casino.” She said she wants it to “succeed so CNMI can benefit from it.”
Part of Sablan’s appeal is her youthful idealism. She was born on Saipan May 18, 1981 to Eugenio and Carmela Sablan. She grew up in Chalan Kanoa and Tanapag and is now a resident of Susupe. Sablan holds a master’s in urban and regional planning from the University of Hawaii in Manoa, 2016, a graduate certificate in conflict resolution also from UH, and a bachelor of science in conservation science from College of Santa Fe, where she graduated in 2003.
Sablan won a seat in the 16th Legislature as an independent for Precinct 1, finishing sixth in a crowded 15-candidate field behind now Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, incumbent Saipan Mayor David M. Apatang, former lt. gov. Diego T. Benavente, Joseph Pinaula Deleon Guerrero and Joseph C. Reyes.
She then decided to try her luck in the 2009 Senate race for the two seats at stake for third senatorial district but lost her bid, landing fifth out of eight candidates. She described the experience — being a one-term legislator and losing in her next reelection bid — as a humbling experience that helped mold her to become a better person and lawmaker.
“I think the years that followed in my first term helped me gain more knowledge,” said Sablan, who became a television reporter and managed the non-profit group Commonwealth Cancer Association after her loss.
She also worked for the CNMI Congressional Office in Washington D.C. under current Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) while also trying to complete her post-graduate degree.
Sablan became more involved in what’s happening in Precinct 2, after moving there from Precinct 1. “I was really paying attention to what’s happening politically in the local government and the issues that affects my Precinct where I was currently was living. I started to participate with the sitting members of the Legislature who are Independent and with other individuals who were planning to run for office,” she said. “It was a very supportive group. We’ve met frequently and talked about issues that we were concerned about. At some point it kind of just came to the question if I am going to run or not. And, I looked around in a table full of people that were also trying to make that decision of putting their names forward.”
She then decided to run again as an Independent candidate, hoping to earn one of the two slots for Precinct 2. She went against the Republican bets of then House Speaker Rafael Demapan and Rep. John Paul Sablan. Sablan added that the even though she was running as an Independent the third time, she was excited more relaxed since she now has allies supporting her congressional bid unlike before when she tried to move to the Senate in the 2009 elections.
“It felt that I would be coming in to the race with a lot more support, in the sense of having this community that wants to be part of public service. And I want to be part of that. I’m glad, I won,” said Sablan, who finished on top of Precinct 2 and was joined by J.P. Sablan therefore dislodging Demapan.
“What had happened was, some of the independent candidates decided to form an alliance and we were also in talks with the [local] Democratic Party back then. The Democrats are trying to revive the party. We had a lot of common interests and share the same values.”
That’s why, Sablan said that it was fitting for some of the Independent candidates to form some sort of coalition and try to help each other out. “By then, all of us who were running as independent’s had already made a decision to run as independent’s. We already reached out to our supporter and announced as independent candidates. And, we’re supporting other independents.”
She added that when the Democrats finally get themselves organized and entered the picture, she and the other independent candidates had already filed their candidacies as without any party affiliation. “We welcomed the support and partnership. What ended was a Democratic Party-independent coalition. I know the Democrats would continue to rebuild and rebrand the party as well.”