Gov. Benigno R. Fitial (C)
Benigno Fitial was elected governor of the CNMI in November 2005 as a candidate of the Covenant Party. He is the first governor of Carolinian descent; the Carolinians immigrated to the Northern Marianas from Micronesia about a century ago. He grew up on Saipan and graduated from the University of Guam. He was elected to the first CNMI Legislature in 1977 and served for the majority of the years since, and had much to do with fashioning the CNMI immigration and property laws which led to the vast growth in the garment and tourism industries in the 1980s and 1990s. He was also an active participant in the Bank of Saipan, Tan Holdings and various insurance, travel and home improvement companies. Long a Republican, he was head of the islands’ 2000 campaign for George W. Bush and says he was a “good friend” of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who took members of Congress on junkets to the islands. He decided to run for governor in 2005 under the label of the Covenant Party. It was an exceedingly close race. Fitial won by only 99 votes.
Fitial opposes the imposition of federal immigration law on the CNMI, and in September 2008, he filed a lawsuit challenging it on the grounds that it violated the covenant agreed to by the Marianas and the United States in 1976, which allowed the commonwealth to pass its own labor laws. After Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano agreed to delay implementation of federalized immigration from May 2009 to November 2009, he called for a further delay, and he pressed Congress to grant visa waivers for Chinese and Russian tourists without which, he said, the CNMI would face “economic genocide.” During his May 2009 State of the Commonwealth Address, he said, “Over the past three years, the commonwealth essentially faced the perfect financial storm.”