Tuesday, June 5, 2007

It's time to fix one of our problems at the source, we need a fresh crop of lawmakers this November.

Food For Thought 5-11-07

Hi friends, this is Harry Blalock; General Manager for radio stations KZMI & KCNM. It’s that time once again to take a look at the issues of the week, and to offer some Food For Thought.

Before I launch into my topic today, I feel it’s only fair that this commentary should come with a warning, kind of like the movies that say, “Warning, this movie contains scenes that may not be suitable for all viewers”. So here is mine, “Warning, this commentary contains thoughts and ideas that politicians will find extremely objectionable. It will most likely cause a severe case of nausea for above-mentioned individuals, and it also has a very good probability of costing them their jobs and their power and influence. All career politicians may want to do everything within their power to make sure that as few people hear or read this commentary as possible”. Now that we have that little detail covered, I feel that I can launch into a topic I’ve wanted to talk about for a very long time.

I have been carefully watching everything that has been happening in government and politics in the CNMI for the last 10 years and I have come to a few conclusions. #1 – I don’t believe that the political parties that have been operating in the CNMI serve the interests or the needs of the people. They have been full of cronyism, dirty deals, lies, manipulation, and they have actively been trying to get people elected for all the wrong reasons. Elections in the past have been determined by how many jobs you promised to various families, who could spend the most in advertising leading up to the election, and by who provides the most beer and food at the pocket meetings. And let’s be honest here for a minute about “pocket meetings”, they are nothing but a chance for the politicians to try buying your votes with food and alcohol. Politicians for years have been making empty promises at these pocket meetings and saying the same old things. So if nothing new is ever really said at them, and you can’t really believe anything that’s said anyway, why continue to have them? The answer is simple; it’s a way to bribe the voters with beer and food! We can pretend they have a deeper meaning that that if you wish, but it would have to be pretending, because we all know better. Vote buying has a long and colorful history here. Although it’s not usually giving cash in exchange for a promise of a vote, that has happened as well. Our candidates have done everything from paying for voter’s utility bills, buying caskets for voters when a loved one passes away, making car payments and the list goes on and on. It has been a very corrupt system, one that encourages dishonesty, and yet for many years people have had their hands out seeing what they could get from the various candidates. When we elect our leaders through a corrupt system, and encourage them to play by those rules, why should we be surprised when the politicians turn out to be corrupt and incompetent, what other kind of leaders would you expect?

Some of the politicians will try fooling us by telling us that politics is only something they engage in before the election, that once they are elected they put politics behind them and then their loyalty is to the voters. Can I be perfectly blunt for a minute? That is a complete load of crap in almost all of the cases. I remember right after Juan Babauta was elected as Governor; he had a hissy fit because someone dared used the color green for something in the Executive Office. Green was the official color for the Covenant Party, and of course Babauta was a Republican. Politics dead – yeah right, and if you eat enough beans you will have all the gas you need to power your new environmentally friendly methane powered car! And if politics is dead after the election in the legislature, then why do we have such things as the majority and minority? That’s all about who has the numbers for control of the respective Houses. The party that has the most members and can persuade the most people to defect and join them in return for powerful chairmanships and additional funding becomes the majority, and the rest of the unlucky saps then become the minority. They get the offices on the outer fringes, they don’t get any chairmanships, and they certainly don’t get much additional funding. Politics and party loyalty are always alive and well in our current system, it thrives on it, and it gives the party leaders the influence they need to control their party members votes on critical legislation. After all, if you don’t vote the way I want you to, you may find yourself without a party in the upcoming election.

I have come to the conclusion that in order for us to fix anything in our broken down and messed up government; the change needs to start in the legislature. It is after all the law making body, and the body that is supposed to have oversight of the budget and number of employees. The Governor can only do so much unless he has control of both Houses of the legislature. If he does, he can push his own agenda and accomplish almost anything he wants, but if he doesn’t it becomes a stalemate, unless the legislature comes up with the votes to override any potential vetoes from the Governor. But I have not seen our legislature work properly the entire time I’ve been on island. It seems to be a bunch that wants a nice cushy job that they can build toward a government retirement. I have seen a few that I believe were there for the right reasons, but they are in the vast minority.

So if the place that the change needs to start is in the legislature, do you really think we can count on the same ones that have been there for years to implement the needed changes? If you do, you might want to start stocking up on beans and shopping for that new methane powered automobile. And if you think that the political parties are going to embrace candidates who want real change and who will rock the boat, you’re sadly mistaken as well. We need a clean sweep in the legislature, with a couple possible exceptions. Honestly, I can only think of two people up there that I think deserve another term based on their performance thus far. We know that our political parties won’t do what needs to be done, so what do we do, start another party? The Covenant Party did that a few years ago, and now look at them, they are the same as the other parties, and a part of the problem, not a part of the solution. Honestly I believe that running under any party banner will be the kiss of death in this coming election. Educated voters are sick of all the junk they’ve been seeing from the parties the last several years, and they will be looking for alternatives in this coming election. I believe what we really need is a good crop of independent candidates, not recycled political hacks. Candidates who will vote based on their conscience and voter input and feedback, not who are more concerned about party loyalties and deals. And if they don’t have any political experience, is that really a bad thing? Honestly, do we have to take a look at where voting on political experience has gotten us? Isn’t this supposed to be a government of the people and for the people? I can’t think of a better way to make that happen than to get some people running for office that truly love this place and want to see it improve, no matter what it takes. Forget the party loyalties, and forget the old way of campaigning. How bad do you want change? How much worse do things have to get before we realize we need to change the way we do things?

Do you realize that you don’t necessarily have to give up your day job right now to be in the legislature? There are some exceptions, such as if you work for the government, however there is nothing that says you have to give up your private sector job if you are a congressman or a senator. And the truth of the matter is, being a congressman or a senator is not a full time job, even though they have turned it into one for themselves. I have talked to quite a few people recently about running for office, and it seems that everybody has some misconceptions about the qualifications and the costs involved in running for office. Some people told me they thought you had to pay a $10,000, $25,000 or $50,000 fee just in order to run. Now it is possible that the parties themselves have some kind of financial requirement if you want to run under their banner.

But let me tell you all that is required if you want to run as an independent candidate. If you want to run for the House of Representatives you must be at least 21 years of age, have lived in the Commonwealth for 5 years, be a U.S. citizen and be registered to vote in the precinct you are running for, and have no felony convictions. That’s it, not very tough is it? Then you must gather the signatures of 5% of the voters in your precinct or 50 signatures, whichever is less, and pay a $100 filing fee to the Board of Elections. That’s all there is to and your name will appear on the ballot in the coming election. If you want to run for the senate, you must be at least 25 years of age, have lived in the Commonwealth for 5 years, be a U.S. citizen and be registered to vote in your senatorial district, and have no felony convictions. Again you must gather signatures of 5% of the voters in your senatorial district or 100 signatures, whichever is less, and pay a $250 filing fee to the Board of Elections. It’s really not that difficult to run for office, and if you decide to skip the whole political party circus, it is even easier.

I would like to see a new crop of candidates in this upcoming election, who are ready to overhaul a broken system and show us that things can be done differently. I’d like to see them run independent, and forget about trying to buy the election through signs and advertising. Take the opportunities for interviews in the newspaper, radio and TV, and tell us why you are running for office and what some of your ideas are. I don’t expect to see you or hear you at pocket meetings in my neighborhood, and typically I refuse to vote for anyone who does that kind of campaigning anyway. If you approach it this way, you won’t have to worry about having fundraisers or taking out loans. I truly believe the voting public is looking for something different this election, are you going to be a part of the new solution? If you’re elected, it won’t be easy, and there will be many difficult decisions awaiting you, but wouldn’t it be exciting to be a part of the solution instead?

I’m Harry Blalock, thanking you once again for giving me a generous slice of your valuable time, and allowing me to share my Food For Thought.

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My commentary that airs on radio stations KZMI - 103.9 FM & KCNM - 101.1 FM