Trump’s selection as deputy Secretary of Labor is Patrick Pizella, whose previous career included working with Jack Abramoff to turn the Northern Mariana Islands into what corporations would like to see throughout the United States–an area of free market extremism, replete with sweatshop labor and other free market wet dreams such as school vouchers.
When Abramoff signed the CNMI government as a client in July 1995, the US Senate had already unanimously passed a bill to strip the islands of its minimum-wage exemption, setting up what looked to be an uncontentious vote in the House. The year before, representatives from the Interior and Labor departments and the US Immigration and Naturalization Service had testified at a Senate hearing about mistreatment of foreign workers. CNMI Gov. Froilan Tenorio joined them to say he was “disgusted” and “ashamed” by the stories of human rights abuses. “Unfortunately,” he added at the hearing, “they are generally accurate.” Still, the workers kept coming. According to a 1998 federal government report, “indentured alien workers,” mostly from Bangladesh, China, and the Philippines, made up 91 percent of the CNMI’s private-sector workforce. The majority of citizens, on the other hand, worked in better-paid government jobs. Immigration laws that were supposed to protect the CNMI’s indigenous population had made many citizens into overlords who were outnumbered by their guest workers.
ut Tenorio argued that the CNMI could fix the problems without eliminating the exemptions. Other lobbyists, Abramoff wrote in his memoir, told Tenorio that preserving them was a lost cause. Abramoff disagreed. To save them, Abramoff wrote, he told the governor’s chief of staff that the CNMI just needed to convince the conservatives running Congress that the fight was about defending a free market.
In a 1995 pitch letter to Tenorio, Abramoff argued that personal tours could help sway public officials. Pizzella led this effort. By his second month on the job, Pizzella was spending more than 100 billable hours per month on the CNMI account, about as much as Abramoff. The centerpiece of Pizzella’s work was organizing all-inclusive junkets for members of Congress and their wives, congressional staffers, and conservative influencers such as pollster Kellyanne Fitzpatrick—who now goes by her married name, Kellyanne Conway, and advises President Donald Trump—with first-class airfare and lodging at the beachfront Hyatt Regency on Saipan. “Pat’s very effective,” a former consultant to the CNMI told The New Republic in 2001. “Visitors to the island seemed to get all the right information.”
Pizzella’s first trip, in 1996, included meetings with the governor and the Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association and a tour of a garment factory; some later trips included meetings with human rights activists. Later that year, Abramoff wrote in an email to Herman Guerrero, a CNMI official, that “the recent Congressional staff trips have done more good for the CNMI than almost anything we have done in the past.”
The leisurely aspect of the trips seemed to help. “[S]ome of the group plans to play golf at LaoLao on monday afternoon and Kingfisher on Tuesday afternoon,” Pizzella emailed Guerrero, “please arrange for that authorization letter to the managers at each course indicating we will be renting clubs etc…that worked very, very well last visit.” Another trip included a weekend layover in Hawaii on the way back, according to an email from Pizzella. The New York Times summed up the trips with the headline “They Came. They Saw. They Golfed.”
After they got back, they wrote. Clint Bolick, a co-founder of the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm, reported shortly after returning that the CNMI boasted “perhaps the most vibrant economy in the United States. The secret: largely unregulated markets that in two decades have created out of almost nothing head-spinning economic growth, productivity, and prosperity.”
Bolick, who is now a state Supreme Court justice in Arizona, and others were particularly impressed that Gov. Tenorio supported conservative priorities like school vouchers. That wasn’t an accident. The year before, Pizzella had discussed vouchers and a flat tax with the conservative Heritage Foundation and the libertarian Cato Institute on behalf of the CNMI’s government. “Our travelers ate this up,” Abramoff wrote in his memoir. “The conservative groups in Washington had found a new hero in this Democratic governor of our least populated territory.”
In other words, the perfect Republican! Once again, I posit that the real threat this nation faces is not Donald Trump. It’s the Republican Party, for which someone like Abramoff and Pizella are not only just good soldiers, but leaders, creating the glorious future of free markets.