Midterms 2018: Congressman Ivan A. Blanco and Public Service from the Heart

In the U.S., members of the House of Representatives are elected for two-year terms. This is the perfect amount of time to ensure representatives serve the unique needs of their constituents. Naturally, 24 months can also pass by rather quickly. And, here we are–midterms 2018.

In this series, we will learn more about the issues and successes facing the CNMI from the sphere of Congressman Ivan A. Blanco. We interviewed him two years ago, before he was initially elected–you can view the Q & A here. Now, we’d like to spend a little time catching up.

TechandBurgers: Thank you Congressman Blanco for taking some time out for us once again. It is clear you understand that informed voters cast the best votes. So, tell us, why a second term?

Congressman Ivan A. Blanco: Given the importance and significance of public service, I do not think the value should be measured by the number of terms a person serves. Public service begins at home, before you become an elected official, and even after you have left public office.

I will continue to serve my community to the best of my ability and with all my heart. Furthermore, I would like to continue to work for all the people of the CNMI as a member of the Legislature.

TB: What are some surprises you encountered after winning your first election?

Congressman Ivan A. Blanco: In my previous occupation, I had the great fortune to have worked with former legislators and those who continue to serve today, so there is no surprise working with them now as I have become a legislator myself. In my experience, I have found them to be hardworking individuals dedicated to their constituents and to the greater CNMI.

I am very fortunate to work with fellow legislators who are passionate about public service. It really is gratifying to have the opportunity to learn from them and to combine our efforts toward a common goal of moving the CNMI forward.

TB: What do you feel are your greatest accomplishments in office, thus far?

Congressman Ivan A. Blanco: The greatest accomplishments for the 20th legislature are prioritizing funding to critical services such as in the medical, educational, and public safety fields. I recall that past legislatures faced mountains of challenges in deciding where to cut funds and by how much from these critical fields.

Those decisions had incredible impacts to people’s lives, and I am certain were not easy to make. Today, we are blessed to see economic recovery where funding cuts are not the issues that must be dealt with, but rather, the prioritization of available funding. This is where my focus needs to remain.

Prioritization of funding presents its own challenges and requires just as much thought and consideration, but I feel that supporting critical services, improving our healthcare system, building the foundations for a world-class education system, and ensuring our people are safe and protected are investments that I have been proud to support.

TB: What challenges remain, that you would like to overcome? In terms of achieving specific goals for your second term? What will you work on?

Congressman Ivan A. Blanco: As we know, Precinct 3 is the foundational key to CNMI’s overall economy and well-being. More specifically, I look forward to continuing to push for the real revitalization of our tourist district in Garapan.

This is a difficult task, but we have developed connections and are learning from experts who have taken on this challenge before. I was encouraged by the planners of Waikiki’s rebuilt and face-lift who were on island to share with MVA and partner agencies their experience and advice with respect to the work we need to do in our most important tourist district.

I am further encouraged that they are continuing to provide their knowledge and support to this effort. We are seeing limited success stories here and there, but much work remains to be done, and it is more critical now to encourage our private partners, particularly in Garapan Core, to join in. This is my priority.

TB: What do you like best about serving in Congress?

Congressman Ivan A. Blanco: I enjoy very much representing my constituents in the House, and I am honored by their trust in my work and decisions. I enjoy very much to bring issues that matter to them on the floor and seek consensus answers with my colleagues, which can hopefully get followed-up with real action and follow-through.

Public service in this capacity is not without its downsides, but having the opportunity to speak for the needs and wishes of my community is more gratifying than I can put to words.

All members of our community–whether it be people of different ethnicities, backgrounds, and occupations–deserve to have a voice on the important issues of our time, and being able to listen to them and work towards solutions is a wonderful reward.

TB: In terms of the island, and helping to ensure prosperity and opportunities for the residents, what keeps you up at night?

Congressman Ivan A. Blanco: Because we live on islands under the sovereignty of the United States and close to 8,000 miles away, we are often left out of the conversation or decision-making process, which directly affect us. For instance, under the current US Cabotage Regulations, foreign airlines are prohibited from providing airlift service between CNMI and Guam.

So, we have no choice but to rely on only one U.S. airline that charges between $260 to $425 per round-trip ticket even though the distance is about a 100 miles for less than an hour’s flight. I understand the same type of flights cost significantly less on the mainland. Access to and from our islands is the life-blood of our economy.

But, this is far greater than just cost. In a global environment of decreasing access of smaller locations to air service, this restriction, which was created without the unique circumstances of the islands in mind created restrictions for our residents’ access to the world, and visitors of whom our economy relies upon.

I strongly believe there is room for the US Secretary of Transportation to consider waiving the Cabotage Regulations for CNMI and Guam just as the US Congress waived the Jones Act for the CNMI. The current lack of a reliable air service between Guam and the CNMI impedes and restricts our ability to reach our full economic potentials and weakens our tourism markets.

The high airfare costs and lack of reliable air service surely warrant the attention of Washington, D.C. especially the US Congress’ Committees on Energy and Natural Resources and the Office of Insular Affairs, DOI of which the CNMI and other territories fall under.

So, what keeps me up at night is not so much that the problem exists, but rather, finding the right door or the right person to champion this cause to help us seek this waiver.

Perhaps the Cabotage Regulations for our islands could be waived under the Trump administration’s Executive Order that for every one new regulation, two must be revoked. The Cabotage Regulations, specifically for our islands, could be one of the two.

TB: In our last interview, you wanted to work on making Saipan a world-class tourist destination. Time flies by quickly, and something like that does not happen overnight. But, how do you feel about the progress so far?

Congressman Ivan A. Blanco: I applaud DPW, MVA,Commerce, and partner agencies for bringing to the front the Garapan Revitalization Plan. It is a plan that was put on the back burner because of economic constraints in the years past, but it has been revisited today.

I am pleased because realizing the need to revitalize Garapan is the first step. I am excited to involve our partners in the private sector, especially those in the immediate area, because at the end of the day, it is they, who will benefit first.

I invite DPW, MVA, Commerce, and partner agencies to provide the legislature a proposed budget on such. I am confident that their budget proposal will warrant the full consideration of my colleagues.

TB: We truly appreciate your honesty and availability. Any last words?

Congressman Ivan A. Blanco: Thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts on areas that still need much work. I do not have all the answers, but I am determined to seek subject matter experts who know what resources are needed, and who are willing to work with the legislature to do what we need to do to improve all our lives here in the CNMI.

 

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