LEGITIMACY OF FALEOMAVAEGA CANDIDACY QUESTIONED;
Dem. Party, Fono and Others Working Around Him
From ABCDEFG Blog August 16, 2014
In the first commentary since the departure of the Congressional delegation last Sunday, Samoa News Editor-in-Chief Rhonda Annesley, in an August 15 signed editorial questioned whether Faleomavaega legally can run for re-election this November without setting foot in American Samoa in over a year.
“I have a simple question:” asked Annesley, “Can Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin legally run for office, without having to step on American Samoa soil?”
Since only Congress can establish the eligibility of its members, the answer would seem to be yes, he can, but the question certainly is reasonable since, until recently, even prospective voters—including those serving abroad in the military or attending school—could register to vote only in person in American Samoa and only during the period the election office has the rolls open. The cost of coming back to the island was a severe hardship for scholarship students who might have turned 18 only while away at school and virtual impossible for members of the armed forces—especially those deployed in combat zones. A change in federal rules to ease overseas voting forced American Samoa to loosen its requirement.
However, Annesley shared our lament in our earlier post that he might campaign for re-election as an absentee candidate, rhetorically asking: “Can he run a “talofae” [sympathy] campaign — ‘I have served you faithfully for 28 years, I am recovering… please… vote for me one more time?’” Sarcastically viewing it as a bad idea, she concluded: “Hey, I’ll vote for him… if he’s running… I’m all about ‘talofae’… GONGGGG!” [Gong meaning 'not']
The impact of having an ailing delegate continues to be felt. Had he been a member of the Natural Resources Committee-led visit here last weekend, there should have been no question that American Samoa would have been more than just a refueling stop. Or, perhaps, despite his very high seniority, he simply lacked the clout with the Committee to get them to stay longer, calculating that it would be better to stay off the delegation and not telegraph his inability to get a longer, substantive stop than to hope the delegation would get in and out of the territory with little public notice. So far, it appears he has succeeded since only this blog has made much ado about his absence and we do not believe we are read much at the village level. We cannot substitute for local media coverage.
In her editorial, Annesley revealed that she had been away ill herself for the past two weeks, so she gets a pass for her paper under-reporting the significance of the visit and what might have been accomplished—especially with the Obama conservation zone expansion. Perhaps she will make up for that in the week to come. Be that as it may, however, if Faleomavaega’s condition has proven one thing, it is that we need more than him in Washington to look after our interests.
Local Democrats Bypass Delegate on Conservation Zone Issue
Indeed, the delegate’s political weakness in Washington was further demonstrated by a Saturday story in Samoa News about the local Democratic Party writing a letter to President Obama to appeal for a reversal of his decision to expand the Pacific conservation zone. A letter from a political party to a President is unusual and such a letter written while one of its members is a sitting member of Congress is even more unusual if not unprecedented. Clearly, even though his party has endorsed him for reelection, they clearly have lost confidence that Faleomavaega on his own--whether because of physical weakness of political weakness--can get Obama to turn around on a major decision threatening to negatively impact the territory.
It was perhaps sensing just how un-influential Faleomavaega is in Washington that prompted the local Democrats to weigh in with a letter bypassing him and instead going directly to Obama. Protocol in the past has been to write to Faleomavaega and ask him to convey concerns to Executive Branch. But there is so much at stake and clearly Faleomavaega is not firing on all cylinders that a typical approach through his office is too much of a risk.
The story of the letter, written by party chairman Ali’imau JR Scanlan, inexplicably appears buried in the paper’s sports section rather than somewhere in the “A” (news) section, if not on page one, where all previous stories related to this issue appeared this week. Possibly the editors were embarrassed to be publishing an article written by Faleomavaega’s sister-in-law, who is not only an editor and writer for the paper but the territory’s Democratic National Committeewoman. Of course, the paper carried no disclaimer of those facts. Perhaps the editor, if not the writer, was aware that such an article would embarrass the delegate by telegraphing that the party was working around him, not following standard protocol of going through him. It looks like the writer put party over family ties on this one.
Fono, Tuna Community, Chamber Also Bypassing Faleomavaega
It is not lost on the American Samoa Democrats and other groups who are appealing directly to the White House, including the Fono, the American Tunaboat Association and the American Samoa Chamber of Commerce that compounding the problem of Faleomavaega’s continuing incapacitation, his usual allies in Congress are gone or going. Sen. Danny Akaka (D-HI) has retired, former Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) was defeated, Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the closest member to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) are retiring after November and Sen. Dan Inouye (D-HI), who years ago was bestowed with an honorary matai title for his help on our issues, has passed away.
Speaking of Inouye, the primary defeat on Saturday of Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI), an Inouye protégé, to fill Inouye’s unexpired term, has thrown the Hawaii Democratic Party into disarray, which also further weakens Faleomavaega politically because he has fewer and fewer long term allies in that state on whom he can depend to move his issues. Moreover, there is not a single impartial national political analyst who believes the Democrats have any chance of regaining control of the House this year and many believe the way current district lines are drawn, Democrats probably cannot return to power until 2022 following the redrawing of lines after the next census. If he were still alive and in office, Faleomavaega would be almost 80 years old.
Faleomavaega and Sablan
Contrast Faleomavaega, if you will, with his colleague from the Northern Marianas, Gregorio “Kilili” Sablan (I-MP). Sablan is on the trip and, as we speculated in an earlier post, the Northern Marianas are getting more than refueling stop treatment. They have not even arrived yet but already there is one newspaper story about the dinner the governor is hosting for the group on Sunday evening. Then on Monday morning, the delegation will be special guests at the opening of the permanent Garapan public market.
Had he been given the opportunity, Governor Lolo certainly would have done the same and no doubt a ribbon cutting or other special event could have been whipped up as well. The Northern Mariana Islands are almost a twin to American Samoa:
- both attained self-government through an elected governor the same year (1977);
- both territories are similar in population size;
- both have a substantial foreign-born population;
- both are still very dependent on federal assistance;
- both also have non-voting delegates in the U.S. House of Representatives who are members of the Democratic caucus;
- both delegates are members of the House Natural Resources Committee.
The differences? CNMI’s delegate is healthy and on the job full time. Moreover, he concentrates on issues of direct relevance to CNMI and as his second committee serves on Education and the Workforce, not foreign affairs. His travel has been limited largely to returning to his islands, which he does frequently according to his website; he is not distracted from his focus by adventures into such things as Asian politics, Hawaiian sovereignty or the nickname of Washington, D.C.’s National Football League team. Only in his third term, Sablan already has substantive legislative achievements (Faleomavaega has none) and is the Ranking Member of the Natural Resources Insular subcommittee, which means he would be in line to become chairman if the Democrats took back control of the House.
So, as the CODEL works its way through its visit to CNMI, gently guided by Delegate Sablan, we shall see what our leaders, our media and the candidates for Faleomavaega’s job have to say. Frankly, our politicians should be enraged and offended that our territory has gotten such short shrift by such an important and influential group of House members. There are ways to express this without blaming the delegation. It is the fault of our delegate. If he is not up to the job and his staff cannot get his job done for him, he needs to quit hanging on.
Faleomavaega and Gabbard
Finally, if you want further contrast in Washington, compare Faleomavaega to U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI):
- both have Samoan and palagi (Hunkin; Gabbard) blood;
- both were born in American Samoa;
- both were raised and spent their formative years in Hawaii;
- neither has built a personal family home here;
- neither has spent substantial time here over the years;
- both have served in the U.S. Army in combat zones (Faleomavaega-Vietnam; Gabbard-Iraq);
- both are Democrats and are members of the House Democratic caucus;
- both are on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and its subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific (AP);
- Faleomavaega is Ranking Member of the AP subcommittee and, while he was incapacitated, Gabbard (despite serving 12 fewer terms than Faleomavaega) was next in line and in his absence did fill that role at hearings;
- both have interest in issues involving India and serve on the Congressional India caucus; when the new prime minister was elected, Faleomavaega sent a congratulatory message; Gabbard got him on the telephone;
- both are members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC).
Unlike Faleomavaega, who remains largely unknown in Washington after almost 13 terms, Gabbard, who is almost 40 years younger, has taken the town by storm. Before even being sworn in, she was appointed as a vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee; Faleomavaega once ran for a seat on the DNC from American Samoa but was defeated; if Faleomavaega wanted to take some solace from Gabbard’s achievement, it came at the expense of U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA). Honda, who was dumped in favor of Gabbard for the DNC’s A-P vice chairmanship, was behind elevating then-freshman U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) to succeed him as CAPAC chairman over Faleomavaega, who had loyally served as vice chairman to Honda for seven years.
The selection of Chu also broke with past precedent of alternating the chairmanship between Mainland members and island members. When Faleomavaega left the vice chairmanship after this humiliation, CAPAC gave the number two slot to Guam Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D). Bordallo's predecessor in the House, then-Rep. Robert Underwood (D-GU), served as CAPAC chairman in only his third term; Faleomavaega never has.
Gabbard, who also serves on the Armed Services Committee (a natural choice, given the huge military presence in Hawaii) also has been in high demand by the national media, particularly on military and veterans’ issues. When the VA health scandal broke recently, Gabbard was on numerous national news shows. As Iraq comes back into the news, Gabbard—who is on of only two Members of Congress with combat service in Iraq—also can be seen frequently on numerous national talk shows. She even has been on in connection with the two hurricanes that recently passed through Hawaii. As far as we can tell from our research, Faleomavaega never has been on a national news show--not even during his four years as AP subcommittee chairman--except for the Comedy Channel's Colbert Report. [With apologies to Rhonda Annesley--GONG].
So, while Eni limps around, if he is moving much at all, Tulsi Gabbard has more than taken up the slack and lack of Samoan visibility in Washington while the American Samoa Democratic Party, the Fono, ATA and the Chamber all have gotten into the act, this time bypassing the delegate rather than shoring him up.
So, yes, he can run again even if he does not come home before the election. But why would he want to? And why would we re-elect him?