Saturday, February 27, 2010

Faleomavaega Snubs White House

Every year the National Governors Association holds its winter meeting in Washington in late February. To take advantage of all the territorial governors being in the capital for that gathering, Congress schedules budget hearings and a number of other groups hold meetings as well, including, in recent years, the Interagency Group on Insular Affairs (IGIA). Established by President Clinton, the group is in theory co-chaired by the President and the Secretary of the Interior, as the head of the lead department on territorial issues.

As a practical matter, the IGIA is co-chaired by a White House staffer on behalf of the president and the lead insular officer at Interior, an assistant secretary in the Obama administration. The congressional delegates and their staff also are invited and usually participate because this is the one time of the year that the federal government pays major attention to insular issues. About a dozen federal agencies send senior representatives so it a forum that cannot easily be matched.

Surely it is a crucial meeting for American Samoa, given its serious economic woes and pending legislation in Congress to forestall the departure of the territory’s remaining tuna cannery. Sitting shoulder to shoulder with his governor, this is the chance for Faleomavaega to make a real push to get Obama administration backing for his bill.

No question that Faleomavaega needs the exposure for he has been out of the country for most of this year so far. He started with a trip to Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Japan (where the Pentagon may not have been too happy he said the wishes of the people must come first in the move of the U.S. Marines on Okinawa). Then he was in Washington long enough to wash his underwear before heading off to Morocco, Spain and Austria.

But in what must have been a stunning admission to all who heard him make it at the House Insular subcommittee’s hearing on Wednesday, Faleomavaega proudly if not arrogantly admitted he skipped the IGIA meeting so he could watch the final vote on the Hawaii Sovereignty Act on the House floor. Last we looked, Hawaii is not a part of his congressional constituency. And since he has no vote on the floor, there was no need for him to b e there. Even if he had a vote, the final result was already a foregone conclusion. Besides, this is only a first step. The bill still needs to be considered by the Senate where, if it passes, certainly will have been amended and will need reconsideration by the House before final passage. The bottom line is that this was not a valid reason to miss the IGIA meeting and snub the White House in the process—since he is hoping to have Obama stop in American Samoa on the way back from his Australia trip.

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