There are several elections going on in the US today. Of note are gubernatorial campaigns in Virginia and New Jersey along with a slew of ballot measures in California. But I do not care about that stuff. What is more interesting to me is today's election in the the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI).
More folks may know the place by the name of its largest island: Saipan.
It has a bit of a strange relationship with the United States. It is not an independent country. It is not a part of the US. It is not even a territory of the US. It is a.... (from the CIA World Factbook)
commonwealth in political union with the US; federal funds to the Commonwealth administered by the US Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs
So they basically America's little buddy in the specific. The closest comparison that I can think of is an Indian reservation. But They get money and protection from the federal government while their children join the US military or go off to live on the mainland. It is a relationship that the people of the CNMI voted for in the 1970s. As Dan Quayle once said about Samoans, the people of the CNMI "look like happy campers to me."
But all is not well in paradise and we recently had a strongly contested election to prove it:
As it turns out, the 2005 Gubernatorial Election for the commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands may just be decided by those who did not visit the polls on Election Day, which took place this past Saturday. In a four-way race, because the numbers are so close between the top three gubernatorial vote-getters, it's the results of the absentee ballots that will more than likely bring closure to the CNMI election.
After Saturday's election came to a close for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, initial results reveal that covenant party standard bearer, Benigno Fitial is leading the race for governor with a 126-vote lead. However, his rival, independent candidate, Heinz Hofschneider trails close behind, with a lead of 143 votes over incumbent Republican governor, Juan Nekai Babauta, who as it stands is 269 votes behind Fitial.
Final results for that election will not be known until up to 1,602 absentee ballots are counted on November 19. Since Republicans generally do well on absentee ballots, the final results could be even closer. You can see the full results here.
CNMI politics are so convoluted they make Korean politics seem stable by comparison. To put it gently, CNMI politics are an unholy mess of petty person conflicts, which should not be surprising considering how small the voting population is only about 15,000. In any election, almost everyone will have a relative or friend running for office, which may explain the impressive 93% turnout in last Saturday's election.
The division of the CNMI into various island constituencies also makes for interesting politics. For example, one party thinks it will do well on Rota (the third largest island in the CNMI) after 1,000 of 1,5000 registered voters there showed up for a rally they put on. And don't forget to read down to the candidates submitting to voluntary drug testing.
The dominant parties are the Republicans and the Covenants.
As best I can tell, the Covenant party split from the Democrats in 2001 and has since eclipsed them as the leading 'liberal' party in the CNMI. In this year's election, the Covenant Party is running 27 candidates for various offices compared to the Republican's 29 and the Democrat's 13. Their candidates are for Governor and Lieutenant Governor are "Ben & Tim."
According to Elections Around the World, the Covenant Party has half of the 18 seats in the CNMI House of Representatives.
The Republicans were running incumbents this time around but were hurt by a split in the party. A Republican representative decided to run as an independent after the party leadership decided not to run a primary. That independent candidate, Heinz S. Hofschneider is currently in second place pending the counting of absentee ballots. The split has also cost the Republicans support in local races.
I find it interesting to compare the ads of the three main candidates that I picked up while there a few weeks ago (Click on ads to enlarge.). The Covenant ad is, to be gentle, dumb. But dumb works and it makes sense is s simple way if you realize that Green is the color of the Covenant Party and Yellow is the color of the Republicans, the ad starts to make sense (I don't know who is red.). They are also dress in traditional clothes, which makes them look friendly and appeals to nativist voters.
The Republican ad looks like the work of the Serious Party. Their candidates (Juan Babauta and Diego Benavente) are dressed in suits and are shown working at their jobs. The ad is also pretty defensive, which makes sense under the circumstances.
Hofschneider is an angry man (with some cause, as noted above) and he ran an angry ad. For me, this is a real money quote:
I am not afraid of hard work, but there are no jobs for me out there, not even in the government, though I have applied many times. (Emphasis added)
So I guess people in the CNMI think that the government is, or should be, the employer of last resort. It makes one wonder how efficient the government is if people think like that. I should also point out that Saipan has tens of thousands of guests workers, mostly from the Philippines and China.