As American as apple pie
“I welcome the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands into the American family and congratulate our new fellow citizens.” — President Ronald Reagan, Nov. 3, 1986
THE CNMI is part of the U.S. The local people are U.S. citizens. The armed forces that many of them have joined are the U.S. armed forces.
No surprise then that whenever there are natural disasters or other emergencies affecting the CNMI and its people, Commonwealth leaders, like their counterparts in the 50 states and other territories, seek help from their federal government.
Some say — and they’ve been saying this for many, many years now — that the CNMI doesn’t pay federal taxes (except for the FICA tax which, some point out, is not actually a tax but a contribution to Social Security and Medicare that is eventually returned to taxpayers with interest.) Some also say (or have argued) that 44% of Americans pay no federal individual income taxes. Almost all them reside in the states. Should they be denied federal assistance? All U.S. citizens are equal — but are some less equal than others?
Can you imagine an American politician or official asking that question in public? Can you imagine the public reaction?
The Covenant, which established the CNMI in political union with the U.S., was a product of lengthy negotiations between the representatives of the U.S. government and the NMI people. It secured bipartisan support and approval in both houses of the U.S. Congress, and was signed into law by the U.S. president. (The CNMI Constitution was likewise approved by the White House.)
In other words, the CNMI’s current tax system is allowed under current U.S. laws.
As some may still recall, the NMI had a thriving economy before World War II, but it was obliterated during the American invasion of the islands. What followed, according to the Washington Post, was “31 years of American trusteeship [that] has created a society dependent on government jobs and benefits, an island welfare state whose people are so inundated with free handouts that they are abandoning even those elemental enterprises — fishing and farming — that they had developed before the Americans came.”
Today, the local people, who have freely and overwhelmingly chosen to be part of the U.S., are proud of their American nation and the ideals it stands for. They are also deeply grateful for the generosity of their fellow citizens in the states, and the willingness of their federal government to provide help when it is most needed.
AS in previous midterm elections, the turnout this year is expected to be lower than the last general elections. But regardless of the election results, the problems facing the CNMI will, more or less, remain the same; the people’s expectations, for sure, will remain the same — and the available options to their elected officials are likely to be the same, too.
Considering the predicament the CNMI is in, it may be that the results of the upcoming U.S. national elections will be more consequential for the Commonwealth and its people. After all, it is the U.S. Congress and the president (whoever he is) who will have the final say on whether there will be another stimulus package and by how much. And with the elections finally behind them, perhaps federal officials can be requested to take a good look once again at the CNMI’s valid concerns regarding certain federal immigration rules that are unnecessary or even harmful to the ongoing recovery efforts.
As for the CNMI’s ongoing elections, voters must heed what public health officials have been telling us since early this year: stay safe by observing social distancing, wearing face masks, and washing your hands.