Monday, August 8, 2011
President Obama can console himself over having a bad week by measuring himself against Faleomavaega, whose horrible year continues. Clearly he is bracing himself for a challenge for reelection by Gov. Togiola, who is barred by law from running for re-election last year.
Not one for much legislative activity over the course of his career, Faleomavaega has introduced or co-sponsored a flurry of bills the past few weeks to bolster his credentials with his electorate and to strengthen his chances for reelection next November. He also has tossed a bone to Organized Labor in an obvious effort to pave the wave for major contributions from the unions to his campaign by publicly endorsing the idea of establishing a workers' union at the local StarKist tuna cannery.
One of his bills would convert long-time resident aliens to U.S. Nationals. Were he to succeed in getting this bill passed, of course, he would have the gratitude of a group of new voters that would be large enough to cement his reelection. However, he knows that this bill has no more chance of passing in the current climate in Washington than did his laughable ASPIRE bill in the last Congress. Readers will recall that even though his party controlled Congress and the White House, he even had fellow party members speak out against the bill, which never passed out of the subcommittee.
The clever Faleomavaega knows that even though Congress is not likely to make it easier for more immigrants to get into the country, many of these long term resident aliens have numerous children born in the territory who now are adults (and all eligible to vote). It is their gratitude he is seeking at the ballot box.
Faleomavaega long has prided himself on being the voice of the Pacific in Washington (when he's there) and an influential senior policymaker. Apparently Hawaii's two House members bought this load of baloney because when the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted to abolish the Hawaii-based East West Center, they turned to their Samoan colleague, a member of the committee, to save the day. At a mark up of the bill, the delegate argued against the closure and offered an amendment to retain the institution that was quickly voted down. Needless to say, his arguments fell on deaf ears and it will be up to the two Hawaii congresswomen to try to save the Center when the bill comes before the full House.
Eni has never been especially known for bipartisanship (his Memorial Day press release was filled with invective against Republicans) except in one area: he has roundly criticized administrations of both parties for neglecting the Pacific. Indeed, it is ironic that the U.S. Involvement in the region has decreased as steadily as Faleomavaega's seniority (and, ostensibly, “influence”) has increased over the past 23 years. He even criticized Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for not making visits to the island countries on her Australia and New Zealand trip earlier this year.
As a result of that trip, however, she did send Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell on an eight-nation mission to the islands. Curiously, there was not a peep out of Faleomavaega about Campbell's trip. No words of praise or anything else. It would be our guess that Faleomavaega wanted to go on the trip but was turned down. So he said nothing either out of pique or embarrassment, just as he said nothing when Clinton's predecessor, Condoleeza Rice, held a summit in Apia with Pacific foreign ministers but declined to let Faleomavaega have any role beyond being a member of her delegation. Even though he was just a few miles away in Pago Pago at the time, he pouted at not being allowed to speak and stayed home altogether. Campbell, a career foreign service officer long active in the Pacific, was aware of this incident and also knows Faleomavaega's reputation as a loose cannon. Most likely he wanted the delegate nowhere near his eight-nation visit.
To add insult to injury, it is his rival Togiola who has scored big on the diplomatic front. When Clinton stopped in Pago Pago on her way back to Washington from her Australia-New Zealand trip, both the governor and the congressman were there to greet her. Despite American Samoa's dire economic straits, Eni used his brief time with the secretary to urge her to give debt relief to Cambodia. In fairness, it should be conceded that Cambodia is part of Clinton's portfolio and American Samoa is not, but the governor wisely used his time to ask the Secretary (whose campaign for president he had endorsed in 2008 while Eni supported Obama) to review the U.S. policy not to permit its territories to seek official observer status at the Pacific Islands Forum.
As far as is known, Cambodian debt relief has gone nowhere but this week Clinton wrote Togiola to advise him she has changed the policy on Forum observer status and, moreover, she has invited to be a member of the U.S. delegation to the Forum next month in New Zealand, where the U.S. will formally ask that body to grant observer status to all its territories. Watch very closely in the next few days for press releases from Faleomavaega's office to see what he has to say about this policy change. Watch also whether he will be part of the U.S. delegation to the Forum.
So, it has been a very bad couple of weeks for Faleomavaega in what has been a very bad year. With the change of control of the House after the November 2010 election, of course, he lost his subcommittee chairmanship in January. To make matters worse, the following month he lost the one House chairmanship he expected to get when Freshman Congresswoman Judy Chu was named chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. Since the formation of the caucus many years ago, it always had been a practice to have a Mainland APA in one of the two top positions and someone from the islands (Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa and, more recently, the Northern Marianas) in the other post. Traditionally, the chairmanship rotated annually, with the vice chairman automatically moving up. Guam Congressman Robert Underwood served as vice chairman at one point and then became chairman the following year.
Seven years ago, Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) rotated into the chairmanship but, unlike his predecessors, he continued in the position until this year. All during his chairmanship, Faleomavaega served as vice chairman. So, when Honda announced he was stepping down, Eni was ready to take the gavel but Honda stabbed him in the back by recommending the chairmanship go to the freshman Chu, his fellow Californian and the first woman of Chinese descent to be elected to the House. The stunned Faleomavaega let it be known he would not oppose Chu but it was a huge blow to him. Guam's Madeleine Bordallo took his position as vice chairman. It will be interesting to see if and when she rotates into the chairmanship. If it is any time soon, one might surmise that Honda held on to the chairmanship as long as he did to wait for someone new to be elected to the House while he blocked the unpredictable Eni's ascent to the chair.
The announcement this week by Faleomavaega that he will receive an award from the Japanese American Citizens League for his service in Congress was most likely pushed by the Japanese American Honda as a sop to Faleomavaega for having stabbed him in the back in February. Otherwise, why now? Did the JACL only just discover Faleomavaega after 23 years in Congress?
Perhaps Faleomavaega should count himself fortunate not to have become CAPAC chairman. After all, he was one of Obama's earliest supporters but has received no substantial favors from him in return. He may blame Republicans for wanting to abolish the East West Center, for example, but it was his friend Mr. Obama who had proposed in his own budget to cut the Center's funding in half. In the nearly three years the Hawaii-born Obama has been president, he has seen fit to meet formally with the Congressional Black and Hispanic caucuses but not the APA caucus. At a meeting with staff at the White House just last week, Honda complained about this and Obama's staff finally committed to setting up a meeting. Had Faleomavaega been chair, perhaps such a meeting still would be nowhere on the horizon, giving further evidence of his lack of clout in Washington.
Of course, few people in American Samoa are aware of any of these stories because the local daily newspaper, Samoa News, where Eni's sister-in-law (who also is Democratic National Committeewoman for the territory) is one of the editors. [Can you imagine the howls of protest if any dominant paper in the states had as an editor a member of either party's national committee?] The paper gladly publishes all of his press releases, mostly verbatim, but don't look for any negative stories. Nor is there ever any analysis, tying all these threads together. No, you have to read it here if you are going to read it at all.