Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Togiola Upstages Faleomavaega with Hillary Clinton

Following his recent re-election, Faleomavaega decided to stick around the island for awhile, because Secretary of State was due through for a refueling stop on the final leg of her recent trip through Asia.  Faleomavaega, of course, is still chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific until January 3, 2011, when he will lose that post as his party sinks into the minority in Congress.  According to press reports, Faleomavaega used the little time he has with Clinton during her 90 minute stop to raise the matter of the Cambodian war debt while Governor Togiola stuck to issues of much more concern to American Samoa.  He was able to extract out of the secretary a promise to look into allowing American Samoa to have observer membership in the Pacific Islands Forum, a desire that every American Samoa governor has had going back to Peter Coleman.   He also asked her to devise a means to allow American Samoa to participate in U.S. policy making on APEC issues, especially fisheries.

Some observers believe this may be the opening salvo in a 2012 congressional campaign that would pit the two men against each other.  Togiola is term limited and cannot run for governor again.  Even though Faleomavaega has won 12 times, Togiola knows he remains vulnerable.  While all the other delegates to Congress long since have consolidated their constituencies, Faleomavaega consistently has had reasonably close races in good Democrat years and bad.   This was a bad year for Democrats but he had his subcommittee chairmanship and seniority to argue for another term.  Now he loses the gavel and probably his vote in the Committee of the Whole.  There also is a real possibility Republicans will abolish the Natural Resources subcommittee on insular affairs.

From his perch as governor, expect Togiola over the next two years to set up situations where he can emphasize how little Faleomavaega has actually accomplished in Congress for American Samoa and, as he did with the Clinton visit, show how he concerns himself with American Samoa issues while Eni is still focused on Asia.  I am sure it did not hurt this time that Togiola was an early Clinton supporter in the 2008 presidential primaries while Faleomavaega was an early Obama backer.  So far, Faleomavaega's Obama connection has gotten him nothing out of the Obama administration.   Stay tuned.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Faleomavaega Wins Battle, May Have Lost War

A tired and haggard-looking Faleomavaega thanked his supporters for giving him a twelfth term in Congress at a time when 60 of his Democrat colleagues--including several Members more senior than he is--were dropping like flies in the Nov. 2 federal elections.  But while he may have won that battle, the victory may be short-lived as his party's losses forced the Democrats into minority after only four years in power in the House.  Democrats have not had such a short run since 1981-1895, over 100 years ago.  Even though the loss of some of his senior colleagues, three of whom chaired powerful committees, means he moves up a few notches in seniority, his higher ranking won't count for much, as House rules put all the power in the hands of the Majority.  Perhaps he can squeeze a slightly larger office out of it, since they are assigned strictly by seniority without regard to party affiliation.

What is he losing?  Well, first, he already has been stripped of his subcommittee chairmanship, so he will have no platform to push his pet projects, such as a Japanese apology to Korean comfort women, self-determination for West Papua, and U.S. environmental cleanup in Southeast Asia.   Moreover, the Pacific regional USAID office recently announced by Hillary Clinton wasily could fall to the Republican budgetary axe next year.

The territories in general are at a disadvantage in that all six of them (including the District of Columbia) because they are all Democrats.  When the decisions are made in the House Republican Conference, there is no one to make their case.  Therefore, the earliest decision to watch in whether Republicans abolish the rule that gives delegates a vote in the Committee of the Whole on the House Floor.  Then also look to see if the House decides to count the delegates when deciding party ratios for committees.  Republicans probably will set the ratios without counting the delegates then make the delegates count against the ratios in committee.

Then early next year, the  new committee chairmen will decide how to organize their subcommittees.  Watch to see if the subcommittee that considers insular legislation is abolished.  If it is, then jurisdiction would revert to the full committee.  If the new chairman of Foreign Affairs might decides to remove global environment affairs from the jurisdiction of the Asia Pacific subcommittee, that would be another blow to Faleomavaega, who has interest in those issues and also used the jurisisdiction as a pretext for his incessant world travels.

 Of course, what has always been top priority for Faleomavaega is his ability to travel.  He may not suffer too much because congressional delegations need to be bipartisan to qualify for military aircraft.  Quite often when they were previously in the majority, Republicans were grateful to have Faleomavaega around to give them bipartisan cover for foreign travel.  Word got around Congress that he was generally available for any trip the GOP wanted to organize.  So, he won't need the global environment jurisdiction to let him continue to be a globe trotter.

He still has to watch his back at home because, unlike the other delegates, he has not secured his seat.  Only in his second term, his Northern Marianas colleague, an independent, managed to beat competitors, including a former governor and former lt. governor, from the three established parties with 43% of the vote.  Delegates from the Virgin Islands (71%) and the District of Columbia (91%) had comfortable victories while the Guam delegate was unopposed for re-election.