Monday, September 22, 2008

272. Thinking about the News

Today's Tribune has the headline announcing Matt Gregory's resignation from the post of Attorney General. There have been occasional cries of discontent over Matt's handling of the post. There have been occasional rumors that Matt was being canned by the Governor. But mostly, there's just been Matt being very quiet in the job.

And I was surprised by the news of his resignation. The Governor has another 18 months in office. There doesn't seem to be any pressing reason to change Attorney General.

I read the news story looking for clues about the story behind the headlines. Matt's basic reason is a desire to return to private practice. Not every lawyer likes public service; and private practice is generally more lucrative. So this reason seems to cover the decision to resign completely.

But wait--in addition to this, Matt's statement announcing his resignation apparently mentions three specific topics:

1. the AG Office's commitment to fighting corruption (and their close working relationship with the feds in the case against Lieutenant Governor Tim Villagomez).

2. the AG's success in winning a lawsuit against the IRS and bringing in a "major monetary award" of $33 million.

3. the likely increase in tourism soon with an increase in flights, and the relatively small negative effect of federalization.

I find it interesting that Matt chooses these three particular items to highlight in his resignation statement. To me, it hints at stress and disagreements with the Governor.

The first --anti corruption--could almost be a white-wash. This government isn't any better at stopping corruption than any other has been; and in fact it seems wedded to the same corrupt practices of perks and nepotism that we've seen before. But Matt's quote on the bravery of his staff, who fight corruption "at severe career risk" suggests something else. It suggests a reality that the AG's office really is committed to enforcing the law and faces some pressure against doing their jobs.

The second tells us exactly what we've been asking--how much money is the Governor hiding from the CNMI Legislature in his budget projections? It seems that the Governor is funding the federalization lawsuit with public funds, and that he's not put those funds in any budget projection, but has them squirreled away, having received them as awards from litigation. Appropriations, however, are a congressional job, not an executive privilege. This money needs to be reported to the Legislature and subject to Congressional appropriation. Matt's mention of these funds is ammunition for the Legislature to use in getting control over all CNMI public funds.

The third is the most telling of all.
"While federalization has the capacity to damage the economy of the Commonwealth, we have increasing tourism numbers and you'll soon find out there is going to be a significant increase in flights. I believe we may see 19 additional flights in the next few months. So it's a couple steps forwad and one step back. Federalization is a negative but there are positives developing in parallel."

In other words, the doom and gloom disaster that Howard Willens has predicted isn't exactly an accurate portrayal of our likely future, from Matt's POV. And just the fact that Matt would suggest that federalization isn't the evil bogeyman that will send us into a tailspin from which we can't recover makes me think his resignation ties in to disagreements and stresses with the current Admininstration.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Now, I'm wondering who will be the new / next AG?
My predictions: AAG Greg Baka, AAG Tom Gorman, or Howard Willens.


The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

The AG is one of the toughest jobs on the island. Has there ever been a non-controversial AG?

Anonymous said...

I have strong reason to believe that the administration is well aware of the fact that the lawsuit he entered into with the Federal Government has to be placed by our local AG. I believe Matt would not do this. He maybe changing the guard in order to refile under the AG's office.

Saipan Writer said...

Angelo, in the "old" days the AG's position didn't seem to be quite the lightning rod for controversy that it is now. Perhaps that's just my rosy spectacles...

Anon. Of course the current administration knows that lawsuits on behalf of the CNMI must be prosecuted via the AG--that's a matter of written law. If this were the major concern, it would have made more sense to file the lawsuit after Matt resigned with a new AG's signature on the petition.

Assuming "sense" is a factor in decision-making, of course.

Lil' Hammerhead said...

It may also be that the Governor wants someone in that position willing to carry forward the lawsuit agains the US.. and Matt does not want to do this. At first the Governor said he's capable of doing that.. and then said he doesn't have the experience to do it. And then Matt resigns.. and following the legislature's determined unwillingness to put public funds towards the lawsuit.

I think this scenario has to do with the federal lawsuit and little more.

Lil' Hammerhead said...

..sorry.. I should read all of the comments before commenting myself.

I think commenter number two is on the mark.

Saipan Writer said...

I caught a glimpse of Matt at lunch today. He seemed relaxed and happy. I think he's very contented not to be part of any litigation challenging the federalization of CNMI immigration.

I do think it's odd, though, that this issue would be the reason he's out of the AG's office. I mean, the Fitial administration filed the lawsuit without Matt's participation.

Unless they really don't want to be paying Jenner & Block. (And that would be a moment of sanity!)

Lil' Hammerhead said...

They'd have to put up money to continue that.. They may be coming to some realization that the money isn't going to be forthcoming, and whether for this reason or the reason noted by noni2.. the AG will have the responsibility of taking on this case.

Just a guess.

Jeff said...

I bumped into Matt around town a handful of times and really got to like him. I like Greg, too, but it seems he has done a lot of sucking up to some of the CNMI's worst instincts regarding labor and immigration.