NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS — “We have won in Congress—against the odds,” U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan told supporters today. “And we will win in the election on November 6.”

Kilili filed his signature petition at the Commonwealth Election Commission this afternoon, declaring himself a candidate for a sixth term representing the people of the Marianas in the U.S. Congress. He spoke to his supporters of the difficult legislative goals he had set—and accomplished—over ten years and laid out his vision for the next Congress. And he thanked them all.

Reminding his gathered family and friends of his first run for Congress in 2008, Sablan said, “When the odds were against us, you believed.” Sablan won in a nine-way race to be the Marianas first representative in Congress.

“You believed in me: to work for you in Washington and to make sure that Washington works for the people of the Marianas. Because you are still here, you must still believe.

“I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Succeeding “against the odds”

Sablan spoke to his supporters about what has been accomplished over his years in office.

“Negotiating, writing the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act so the bill would have any chance of passage, then getting it passed — in ten years, this was the hardest thing I have done. 

“The Speaker of the House could not get his immigration bill passed by his own Republican majority last month. The Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee could not get his immigration bill passed. But we passed the Marianas immigration bill — against the odds.”

The U.S. Workforce Act was signed into law on July 24, giving the Marianas more time to reduce reliance on foreign workers and more protections for U.S. workers.

But, Sablan said, in every Congress he has been able to pass legislation for the Marianas that seemed impossible.

“In the last Congress, we changed the formula for federal school funding. Powerful state Senators like Richard Burr of North Carolina and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania argued back and forth in the conference committee about changing this formula. In the end, the only change — increased funds for island schools — was the change I proposed.”

This year, Marianas teachers and students received an extra $4 million in federal funding as a result, an increase that should now continue year after year. 

“The Congress before, we got an extra $30 million to help Mariana families put food on the table,” Kilili reminded his supporters. “The Republican majority cut food aid nationwide that year. Only the Marianas got more.” This May 1, the CNMI raised food stamp benefits to the national level, using the Sablan money.

Agenda 116: “So everyone can see where we are going”

Each legislative accomplishment has sharpened his skills, Kilili said. He worked in the U.S. Senate as a Fellow for a year and served four years in the Marianas legislature, but those experiences did not match up to what he has learned over the last ten years as a Member of Congress.

His time in Congress has also enlarged his vision of what is possible to accomplish for the Marianas.

“Every time I climb one of these legislative mountains — like getting more food aid, more school funding, the workers we need for another ten years — every time I get to the top of that mountain I can see farther ahead. I can see more mountains to climb.

“And I know we can do it, because we have climbed mountains before. We have a record of success.”

Sablan told supporters that he had already started rolling out his “Agenda 116,” a legislative to-do list for the 116th Congress that begins in January. And he would be adding to it.

“I have introduced legislation to give our long-term workers — and their employers — a way to get off the CW roller-coaster, a permanent home in the Marianas.” Sablan introduced his bill, H.R. 6578, two days after the U.S. Workforce Act was signed, and based on the definition of “long-term worker” in the new law.