The Rise of the Phoenix
From ABCDEFG Blog March 14, 2015
The March 10 blog essay in The Hill, a Washington-based newspaper focusing on Congress, written by former nonvoting delegate Eni Faleomavaega (D-AS) requesting Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologize for his country’s use of “comfort women” in World War II is reminiscent of the famous bathtub scene in the movie Fatal Attraction, in which Glenn Close’s character simply will not stay dead after Michael Douglas’s character presumably has drowned her.
Faleomavaega was soundly beaten in last November’s election, he has health problems (diabetes, heart and kidney disease) from which he simply will not recover, he reportedly has moved from his Washington area residence to Utah, where his wife has lived apart from him for many years and he has not returned to American Samoa—at least not that we have seen—since his departure shortly after the election. So one might have been forgiven to have been surprised to have seen him reinsert himself into the national scene on one of his pet issues. While the essay might have been buried domestically in the avalanche of news emanating from Washington, it did not go unnoticed by the Communist Chinese, who quickly picked it up and ran it in the Global Times, the English-language version of Xinhua.
Giving further credence to speculation that he plans also to reinsert himself into the American Samoa political scene, also this week there was a full-page ad in Samoa News quoting passages from his 1995 memoir, Navigating the Future. There was no tag line indicating who paid for the ad but who else could it have been but Eni or his campaign committee? Checking Federal Election Commission records, there are three active campaign committees for 2016, including one for Faleomavaega. If his committee paid for it, the expenditure will not be reflected until the filing of the next required quarterly report next month.
His defeat was so decisive, the ABCDEF Group was prepared to close down this blog the day after the election and disband. But we held off when we saw photos and news stories about how he joined the winning candidate in the traditional, day-after-election, roadside thank-you wave. Public comments on the gesture were uniformly positive with people expressing pleasure at how these two long time rivals had so quickly healed any lingering wounds.
However, we were not so positive. Knowing Faleomavaega and his need for the spotlight, he surmised that he realized the spotlight now was no longer on him so he moved across the street to join her so he could be under it again. It worked because it was published widely in the media and in on-line social networks. Frankly, we thought it was magnanimous of the winner to let him share her stage since she had run against him repeatedly over the past 20 years while he had repeatedly denigrated her. However, once the post-election spotlight was turned off, with Faleomavaega wishing the victor well and promising to help her as much as possible in the transition, the ABCDEF Group was ready to fold our tent.
Not so fast. Before boarding his plane Friday after the election he already was qualifying his support for his successor, saying it would depend on where she stood on the issues since there were major philosophical differences between the parties to which they belong. Without specifying how we would get involved in the future, he also told the media that he was not finished with Samoan politics. But that was the last noise he made until his op-ed blog essay this week in The Hill and his full page ad in both English and Samoan which concluded “to be continued.” For our part, we decided to let it go and assume a "wait and watch" posture.
However, if his reentry onto the public stage so far were any indication, he does not seem to have learned any lessons by his defeat other than his belief that questions about his health played a major role in his demise. Despite all the problems American Samoa faces that need federal attention, his energies still are focused on foreign affairs. His final substantive appearance on the House Floor dealt with a resolution not on American Samoa but on the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea. His essay in The Hill dealt with Japan. His full page ad had to do with Micronesia. All worthy issues, no doubt, but not very high on the list of priorities of the voters in this territory.
Saddest of all for him and for American Samoa, with all his frenetic energy he really did not make a difference. Lots of great photos on his ego walls in his office that can be seen from pictures of his farewell party posted on his Facebook page but that is about it. No signal achievements for American Samoa or anywhere else in his 26 years of trying. Even in his latest pet project: the election of the new prime minister of India, he has been eclipsed by the other Samoan in the House, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) whose Hindu faith already has made her a favorite in New Delhi. Pitiful, just pitiful.
Moreover, his final House Floor appearance was punctuated with the traditional Hawaiian farewell “aloha” rather than the Samoan “tofa,” reflecting the fact that he spent his formative years growing up in Hawaii, not American Samoa, and underscoring yet another of his pet issues: social justice for Native Hawaiians. He has not made a difference there, either.
So, unlike Michael Douglas, who turned his back when he was certain Glenn Close was dead, the ABCDEFG blog will remain online albeit dormant just in case, like Douglas's movie wife, we need to put a final bullet in the political corpse by reminding voters of all the reasons why this man needs to remain out of public office.
That having been said, we are under no illusions that the many blog entries we have posted here over the years turned a single voter against him (although it should have) or in any way cost him the election. Our disagreement with him always has been about his priorities. Although we have expressed no opinion, he may well be right about Japanese comfort women, Cambodian debt relief, the name of the Washington Redskins, nuclear clean up in Central Asia, French nuclear testing, land disputes in Rapanui, Hawaiian and West Papuan sovereignty and all the other issues to which he has devoted his time over the years—excessively we believe.
He never hid from the voters his passion for foreign affairs and he should be commended for that. They renewed his mandate every two years for a quarter century. We do agree with him that his health cost him the election or he would have won again. In our final pre-election blog, we stated that he would have to be considered the odds on favorite to be reelected, so his defeat came as much of a surprise to us as it did to him. He also lost because he took the voters for granted by not telling them what his health situation was for nearly a year, not returning home to campaign until three weeks before the election (with no valid reason for staying away) then skipping the big candidate debate. Health and arrogance cost him his seat and there is no indication in his reemergence that he has learned anything from it.
He won repeatedly not because of his positions on foreign affairs issues. He won because he had a large family base in the Leone area, where the original Englishman Matthew Hunkin settled, married a Samoan girl 177 years ago and over the ensuing 43 years raised four sons (John, Alfred, George and William) and three daughters (Ann, Mary and Jane). Faleomavaega, whose birth name was Eni F. Hunkin, Jr. is one of Matthew’s countless descendants still in the area who for years provided him with a rock solid family voter base. Coupled with the unwavering support of the large population of his fellow Mormon co-religionists, he was unbeatable at the polls.
He also won through fear: fear that his defeat would reduce sharply the federal funds that flow to the territory. He played heavily on the belief that his party was the party that was better able to ensure federal grants and that his friendship with the powerful Hawaii senators, Daniel Akaka (D) and especially Daniel Inouye (D) as well as being, along with the powerful California Reps. Nancy Pelosi (D) and George Miller (D), the protégés of the late Rep. Phillip Burton (D) (who features prominently in the Samoa News ad), were essential to keeping the grants coming.
He actually might have won because of all these factors if he had not been too clever a decade ago in getting the federal law changed to do away with the majority vote for his office. Since 2004, he has needed only a plurality to win re-election, eliminating the need for runoffs between the two candidates receiving the most votes. The change was made without any local input from local political leaders and thereafter was derisively labeled the “Eni Hunkin Perpetual Reelection Act.” The change served him well until last November.
Had the runoff rule remained in effect, he very well might have beaten his main opponent once the former governor and seven minor candidates were swept away in a first round of voting. But in the final analysis he was hoist with his own petard and it served him right. Revenge is a dish best served cold.
End note: If this man were to try to make a comeback, we would be reminding voters all the reasons he should not be permitted but if he does not, this blog will remain dormant. So, just in case we do not come back, we would be remiss by not commenting on coverage of Faleomavaega by Samoa News and Radio 93KHJ-FM, the major news outlets for the territory. We felt that they showed bias toward Faleomavaega over the years by not adequately exposing his excessive travel, inattention to local issues, long absences from the territory, lack of information from his office and in the final year, inadequate coverage of his deteriorating health, especially with the use of misleading photos showing him in excellent health.
In the final analysis we now believe more than anything else it was a question of lack of resources to get at the truth that hampered local news coverage. When Eni did return, Samoa News had a photographer at the airport and published a photo the next day showing the gaunt delegate hobbling through the terminal with a cast on his foot and a portable dialysis bag hanging from his shoulder. That picture was worth a thousand words and KHJ-FM also used contemporary, unflattering photos on its companion talanei.com website. The photos more than made up for the previous poor coverage. KHJ also took the extra step of engaging a Washington correspondent to keep better tabs on Eni.
We do not know much about the abilities of the woman who is replacing him in the House but through the local media she does appear at least to be keeping the public better informed than he did of her activities in Washington. If Eni does attempt a comeback, he probably will be forced to change his approach to public information. If he does not, we will be here to fill in the gaps.