Friday, February 29, 2008

Faleomavaega Disrespects Senate

Samoans are very tolerant of new palagis who are unfamiliar with Samoan customs. But they are less forgiving of people who are expected to know better. No palagi who understands the customs would show disrespect by walking into a fale with shoes on and standing on a fine mat, for example.

Well, Washington has its customs, too. U.S. Senate rules require male senators to wear coats and ties to be admitted to the floor of the Senate. While Senate rules do not cover attire in committee hearings, business dress is customary throughout official Washington. It need not be written because it is expected.

For many years now, Faleomavaega has discarded conventional neck ties in favor of American Indian style bolo ties although even Members of Congress with Indian heritage stay with Washington custom. But more recently, he has pushed the envelope a bit further by discarding suit coats as well as neckties in favor or shirtsleeves and bolos. He has even chaired subcommittee hearings that way. Well, if it is his subcommittee, presumably that is his prerogative, even if it does show some disrespect for witnesses who are testifying before him.

In his controversial first trip to Indonesia last year, the local media there reported that Faleomavaega caused a minor uproar by showing up to meet the President in a bolo tie and sandals. This did not go over well with the protocol conscious Indonesians.

One might have thought that such a controversy might have made an impression on the traveling delegate but if it did, he did not apply the lesson to his home base in Washington, DC.

Although he did not express it or betray any annoyance at yesterday's hearing, Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman could not have been pleased when he saw that the leadoff witness in his minimum wage hearing, Faleomavaega, appeared before his subcommittee in bolo tie and shirtsleeves.

Faleomavaega appeared as part of an all-male panel that included the governors of American Samoa and the Northern Marianas. Even though the governors arguably could have appeared in native garb as "national dress," all were clad in conventional western style business suits with neckties.

Indeed, when he took office in 2006, the governor of the Northern Marianas, Ben Fitial, decreed that high government officials henceforth would be required to wear dress shirts and neckties, a move that caused some considerable grumbling in the semi-tropical climate of Saipan.

It is difficult to understand why Faleomavaega would persist in so arrogantly flouting custom, especially when he is appealing for Senate consideration of a bill he has introduced in the House. True, it has been said that Faleomavaega has never passed up a buffet table, it is not as if he has gained so much weight that no one makes suits for his size.

It is unlikely Bingaman's decision on the bill will be predicated on Faleomavaega's attire, but it does contribute to the overall negative impression the delegate continues to make in Washington, where he has had little legislative success in his two decades in office.

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