Saturday, April 14, 2012


It is no secret that Faleomavaega loves to travel. Going back to his days as lt. governor of American Samoa, he always has been on the road (or at sea or in the air) for a significant portion of each year. He once spent six weeks aboard a sailing canoe while in office (but the governor was said to be glad to be rid of him).. He is one non-voting delegate who probably was not unhappy about being stripped of his privilege of voting in the Committee of the Whole on the Floor of the House because his record of absenteeism is otherwise not recorded. One year, he was the most absent member of the entire House.

It would have been worse when he took over the chairmanship of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific in 2007, to which was added jurisdiction over the “global environment” to give him license to wander all over the world for the ensuing four years, but he got the gavel about the same time post-Abramoff reforms were put in place, so having access to the committee’s purse strings was insufficient to sate his wanderlust (over the course of his tenure he even has visited Thursday Island twice; not once but twice. It is an obscure island in the Torres Straits and is a domestic part of Australia--thus not part of Faleomavaega’s responsibilities at all).

When he returned to the minority after the 2010 election, we expected he would be more Washington-bound but were amazed that not having access to the committee travel budget did not seem to slow him down at all. Besides having no travel budget he also lost his floor vote again but that also freed him of any responsibility to stay in Washington and he could step up his travel if he could find a way. With reforms in place, we did not think he could but we were wrong.

Thanks to another investigation by ProPublica, we have learned that Faleomavaega can travel abroad under a little known 1961 law called the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act (MECEA). That act must bring tears of joy to his eyes because, under its provisions, he does not need to disclose his travel expenses at all. His little trips to Bahrain were covered under MECEA, which is how ProPublica discovered it. They stumbled over it in search of Faleomavaega’s relationship with a Bahrain lobbyist.

Once again do not hold your breath waiting for Samoa News, American Samoa’s daily newspaper, where his sister-in-law, who is the territory’s Democratic National Committeewoman, is an editor, or KHJ-FM, the one radio station that has local news programming, to cover this story. They both are in the tank for the delegate. The station’s news director seems enamoured with his seniority. The previous ProPublica story was buried in the online edition of the paper as an “opinion” piece (which it is not) and the radio never mentioned it all. This second story did not get even so much as a link.

It is curious that Faleomavaega has not hit back at either story but maybe he is still traveling, since the House is in recess and he has not been forced to react to any local treatment of the stories. Maybe he has decided instead to try quietly to explain his actions to his caucus leadership in order to preserve his leadership position on the committee and the possibility of rising further.

This being a national election year with the House up for grabs, you can bet there are campaigns all over the country (but probably not in American Samoa) that are furiously trying to piece together congressional travel under MECEA. ProPublica says it will be a time consuming process. If you want to read about this bubbling scandal, you can read ProPublica here.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Faleomavaega and the Myth of Seniority

Earlier this week, in a Radio New Zealand International story about candidates starting to surface to take on Faleomavaega in this year’s election, RNZI correspondent Monica Miller said he would be tough to beat because “He’s very senior now and I think that a lot of people would say that if you were to elect somebody new, they would be faced with a tough time trying to establish themselves in Congress, which seniority counts. And that’s what I think works in his favor, his seniority.”

Whether Miller, a long time Pago Pago-based print and radio journalist who is Western Samoan with some Fijian heritage, is stating her own opinion or reflecting voter sentiment, she is repeating the myth of the value of seniority in Congress that, in Faleomavaega’s case, flies in the face of reality.

In an earlier post, we reported that House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi would face a real dilemma if Faleomavaega were to find himself the most senior Democrat on Foreign Affairs after the election because she would have to decide whether to let such a loose cannon be the party’s chief spokesman in the House on international issues—a prospect that has Democrats and Republicans alike shuddering with trepidation. Even if Democrats remain in the minority, it would be much tougher to dislodge him from his perch once Democrats do regain control of the House in some future election, as they invariably will.

Despite being in poor health in recent years, with difficulty walking after painful foot surgery and slowed by heart surgery, the 69-year-old Faleomavaega shows no sign of retiring or cutting back his travel. Indeed, following his second stop this year in Bahrain, he pushed on to Asia, where he praised Malaysia’s growing democracy in remarks while visiting Kuala Lumpur. According to a Malaysian National News Agency report in yet another round-the-world whirlwind tour that took him nowhere near American Samoa.

None of this travel is likely to score him any points if he finds himself in a position to bid for the top Democrat position on the Foreign Affairs Committee next year, however. Moreover, while seniority is important in choosing committee and subcommittee leadership, it is not the ironclad determining factor it was before the Watergate reforms spearheaded a generation ago in the House, ironically by Faleomavaega’s and Pelosi’s mentor, the late Rep. Phil Burton (D-CA).

In a February 13 New York Times article about the likelihood that redistricting would force out a number of senior members of the California delegation this year, Pelosi had this to say: “There’s a lot to be said about mixing it up generationally, to have a constant invigoration of Congress with new fresh eyes and fresh voices.”

Characterized by the Times as describing seniority as “overrated,” Pelosi went on to say about the California situation: “Yes, we have new people coming in. We have people who won’t be coming back. But in terms of the influence of this state, we have plenty of people here who have standing on issues. She argued, “There are many members who have more seniority than I do, and I was the speaker of the House.”

The top five Democrats on Foreign Affairs could figure in a game of musical chairs if the first man to lose his seat is Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA). Redistricting has forced Berman, the top ranking Democrat on the committee, into an election match up with Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), number five on the totem pole. The second ranking member is Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) who has chosen to retire rather than seek re-election in a district significantly altered by redistricting in his state. Faleomavaega ranks third and a fellow member of his class of 1988, Rep. Elliott Engel (D-NY) ranks forth.

Ignoring the fact that Faleomavaega outranks him, yesterday Sherman told a respected congressional newspaper, The Hill, that he would seek the top spot on Foreign Affairs if he defeated Berman in November. Polls currently have Sherman holding a comfortable lead in their race. At the same time, the Hill reported “If Sherman defeats Berman, he is likely to face a challenge from at least one senior Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Rep. Eliott Engel (D-N.Y.), who ranks directly below Sherman in seniority,” saying that he would ‘probably make the run’ if Berman was voted out of Congress.”

Significantly, while noting Faleomavaega’s seniority earlier in the story, The Hill made no mention of that fact when reporting a potential Engel run. Engel actually outranks Sherman both on the committee and in the House while Faleomavaega outranks them both on the committee but is lower ranked than classmate Elliott in the caucus by reason of the alphabet. However, it is clear from these stories that no one sees Faleomavaega’s seniority as being of any consequence: not Pelosi, not Sherman and not Engel.

Just as Asia-Pacific Caucus Chairman Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) passed over his long time Vice Chairman Faleomaveaga to back freshman Rep, Judy Chu (D-CA) as his Caucus leadership successor (with Faleomavaega moving to the back bench to be replaced ironically by his much more junior fellow Del. Madeleine Bordallo [D-GU]), Faleomavaega seems destined to be passed over once again, this time by either Sherman or Elliott. The Hill also noted that “(t)he powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) [has] declined to weigh in on the race.” Both Elliott and Sherman are Jewish, as is Berman and the retiring Ackerman. AIPAC no doubt would prefer a Jewish chairman with strong ties to Israel, lengthening the odds against Faleomavaega even more.

Of course, none of this ever gets reported by Monica Miller or the territory’s only daily newspaper, Samoa News, where Faleomavaega’s sister-in-law is an editor at the same time she is a member of the U.S. Democratic Party’s National Committee. It is unclear if Miller or anyone at the paper follows this blog but readers are encouraged to send them the link to this story with our pleas for them to stop touting Faleomavaega’s seniority. And please pass this message to his campaign opponents as well: Faleomavaega has gone as far as his seniority is going to take him in Congress. He is not going to be the full committee ranking member or chairman and ought not even to try. If you want proof, challenge him to produce a letter from Pelosi committing her support to him because of his seniority. That letter will not come.

He has as high a pension as he is going to get, he is not going to have any influence on policy because his party is going to remain in the minority at least until he is into his 70s, he already has lost his bid to be chairman of the Asia-Pacific Caucus and the ProPublica story about his connections to a Bahrain and Kazahkstan lobbyist threaten to damage what little standing he does have (with a second instalment published just yesterday).

Rick Santorum got out of the Republican presidential race because he saw the handwriting on the wall. There is still time for Faleomavaega to retire gracefully rather than face the humiliation of being passed over for the full committee chairmanship he has coveted for 20 years. He can't influence policy and he can't make any more money. Why is he hanging on? There surely is a nice cushy, well paying job waiting for him at the Kazakhstan-Bahrain lobbyist’s office while he also collects his nice full pension.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Faleomavaega Hypocrisy on Full Display

Writing in Salon for the vacationing Glenn Greenwald, Murtaza Hussain citicizes U.S. policy towards Bahrain, saying "the U.S. government continues to support the Al-Khalifa regime in the face of its democratic uprising and refuses to publicly call for the release of . . . pro-democracy activists." Murtaza is a Toronto-based writer and commentator on issues related to politics and foreign policy whose work has previously been featured in Salon, Al Jazeera English, Bikya Masr (Egypt) and other outlets.

Hussain singles out American Samoa Congressional Delegate Faleomavaega for special condemnation, saying "the Bahraini regime has also been expended huge resources on a lobbying campaign to manage its public image and to influence members of Congress to shield it from pressure over its rights violations. Democratic Rep. Eni Faleomavaega, one of whose major campaign donors heads a lobbying firm serving the Bahraini government, has in particular emerged as a staunch public defender of the regime’s crackdown. At the height of the violence campaign of repression towards protestors and just days after the government tore down the iconic Pearl Monument in Manama which had served as a symbol of the revolution, Faleomavaega came out in defense of the regime and asked 'why the demonstrators are protesting again, even after all their demands were agreed to.' No one except Faleomavaega knows which demands had been 'met,' as Bahrain today remains governed by an undemocratic monarchy which tortures and imprisons its citizens with impunity."

Read the full article here:

Being in the pocket of a Bahrain lobbyist seems like a good explanation for Faleomavaega's position on Bahrain, which is the opposite of the stance he has taken on Indonesia's handling of pro-democracy forces in West Papua. Hypocrisy is alive and well.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Barry’s Comments Parallel Past Faleomavaega Rants

Comments by former mayor--now District of Columbia City Councilman--Marion Barry have touched off a firestorm that has forced the controversial politician to walk them back. Shortly after winning the Democratic nomination this week for another term on the Council, Barry said “We’ve got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops,” with TV news cameras rolling. “They ought to go. I’ll just say that right now, you know. But we need African American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”

Although even long term allies have rebuked Barry, he likely would find an ally in American Samoa Congressional Delegate Eni Faleomavaega (D-AS), who himself has decried the proliferation of Asian-owned businesses in American Samoa.

On Dec. 27, 2007, Radio New Zealand International reported that Faleomavaega “is calling on local residents to start running their businesses themselves. The congressman says Asian business owners are operating companies that are licensed to local people.” He went on to say “the day will come when native American Samoans of Samoan ancestry will be the ones cleaning the streets, working in low paying jobs, while those of Asian ancestry are in control of both the government and private sector. If this happens in the future, no one else should be blamed but our own leaders and people who make this happen.”

Samoa News wrote he also admitted that he had raised this issue for many years with local leaders regarding the high number of Asians coming into the territory and asked for the government to review local laws and make necessary revisions.

Indeed, earlier, in May, 2003, Faleomavaega went so far as to ask for a U.S. General Accounting Office investigation of Asian business in the territory. Although in a Samoa News story he insisted it was not a “witch hunt,” it certain sounds like one. Whenever someone says a duck is not a duck, even though it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a good sign he knows you are going to think it’s a duck because it IS a duck.

Read carefully: "There appears to be a lack of cohesion in the local business community," he was quoted as saying in the 2003 article in a remark reminiscent of President Jimmy Carter’s comment about “ethnic purity.” "The Territory has seen the creation of Korean, Chinese and Filipino Chambers of Commerce which has led to questions regarding the equality of business opportunities in the Territory and whether uniform business standards apply."

He went on to say that “foreigners” operating their own Chambers of Commerce outside of the American Samoa Chamber of Commerce, "gives a clear indication that our business community is not together."

"I don't see anything positive about it except that every faction is going after what is out there for themselves without collective efforts as a business community as a whole," he concluded, without waiting even waiting for his GAO study to begin let alone end.

It is no small irony, of course, that even a cursory review of Faleomavaega’s campaign donation reports over the years reveals an unusually high percentage of contributors with Asian names, mostly clustered in California far from American Samoa news reports. In fact, his huge Asian donor base became a campaign issue one year.

Barry’s remarks were roundly condemned by Washington local civic and political leaders of all stripes, including Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), who said she “was stunned by the offensive nature of the comments” and called Barry immediately, according to The Washington Times and said she reminded him of their values and lengthy relationship, which included fighting for racial justice in the South.

There is no record of Norton similarly condemning her congressional colleague Faleomavaega after his outbursts in American Samoa but, in fairness, it is not her constituency and she undoubtedly was unaware of what he said in any event. After the initial local stories in American Samoa, there was no local outcry among leaders or local people and there was no follow up by the media, which is not unusual.

Much like ProPublica’s story this week of Faleomavaega’s relationship to a Washington lobbyist for Bahrain and Kazahkstan interests, the story had no legs and dropped like a stone into a bottomless well: no splash.

Faleomavaega this week drew his first 2012 election challenger, a retired army warrant officer working at the local junior college who got something like six or seven percent of the vote when she ran against him in 2008. She is not likely to comment and if she does, the local media likely will not report it. Nor will the local media seek her out for comment. No one ever accused American Samoans of being politically correct.

Sorry, folks. If you don’t read it here, you won’t read it anywhere. That’s just the way it is.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Faleomavaega Bahrain Story May Ease Path for Dem Decision on His Future

If Faleomavaega follows past practice, he will go after ProPublica tooth and nail over the Pulitzer-Prize-winning on-line investigative journal’s revelation that the Samoan delegate’s ties to a Washington lobbyist may be prompting his choice of causes. If he chose to ignore it, there probably would be few consequences at home, where the biggest threat to his re-election—the outgoing governor, already has taken himself out of the running.

Moreover, Faleomavaega continues to be protected by the local media, with the territory’s only daily newspaper, Samoa News, as we predicted, buried the Bahrain story in its on-line edition with a hyperlink in the opinion section, not the much more widely read news section. That the story has been little noticed so far is evident by the absence of any on-line reader comments. Compounding difficulties in gaining traction, Faleomavaega’s sister-in-law is an editor and occasional correspondent for Samoa News, which seems not to notice she also is the territory’s Democratic National Committeewoman.

Both she and Faleomavaega, of course, will be delegates to the Democratic National Convention this summer, where they can high-five each other at their success at keeping bad news from the Samoan public.

However, the reason Faleomavaega can be expected to strike out against the Bahrain story is that left unchallenged the piece could fatally damage his aspirations of becoming the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. In so doing, he would become the first non-voting territorial delegate ever to chair a full committee and his prospects for achieving that distinction (and that place in history) have risen considerably with the retirement of Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), one of the two House members ahead of him on the panel, and the electoral difficulties of the other.

A poll reported just yesterday by the Roll Call newspaper shows the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), losing his re-election bid to fellow Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) at this point. The two congressmen, who were thrown together into a new district by the California redistricting process, will face off in a June 5 primary in which the top two finishers, regardless of party, win face each other in November. Both men are well ahead of other challengers and are expected to survive the June tilt.

In the event Sherman does defeat Berman in November while Democrats are regaining control of the House, incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) would face the immediate decision of whether to elevate Faleomavaega to the chairmanship; but even if her party falls short of capturing control, as Minority Leader she still would need to decide whether to allow Faleomavaega to succeed Berman as Ranking Minority Member. To do so would make it much harder to dislodge him at a future election in which Democrats would become the ruling party again.

This Bahrain story could make it much easier for her to tap someone like Rep. Elliott Engel (D-NY) for the top slot, particularly since Engel actually is just above Faleomavaega in caucus seniority (thanks to the alphabet—they both came into office the same day); he ranks below Faleomavaega on the committee because he joined it later.

So, Faleomavaega cannot afford to let this story go unchallenged. He is with a congressional delegation in Bahrain at this moment so it may be a few days before his response is issued. That is probably a good thing for him because in the past he has shown a proclivity for having knee-jerk reactions to unfavorable stories in the press. He really needs to have a cooler head this time because ProPublica is not some right wing blog put out by some pajama-clad zealot on his laptop in his bed but a well financed, well regarded, lower Manhattan-based, Pulitzer-prize-winning organization that employs a number of Pulitzer-winning investigative journalists and partners with some the country’s most powerful publications that carry its reports, including the New York Times, The Washington Post and television’s 60 Minutes program.

Readers who want to learn more about the credibility of ProPublica can watch this speech on YouTube delivered by its top editor, Paul Steiger. Steiger, who has a 41-year journalistic track record that concluded with 15 years as managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, acknowledges that some skeptics question ProPublica’s political leanings because its founders and some of its other major funders are linked to prominent liberal organizations. However, if anything, their integrity on this heavily sourced story is reinforced because Faleomavaega himself is a Liberal Democrat who in fact was a founding member of the far left Congressional Progressive Caucus (although after initially defending his membership in response to a critical story in a regional newsmagazine, he quietly left the group a few years ago).

Faleomavaega’s challenge, then, is to effectively rebut the ProPublica story without attacking the organization in a way that would cause a backlash against him. Clearly, we think the pages of this blog provide plenty of leads to other questionable actions on his part over the years. Those who have the resources are welcome to start digging.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Faleomavaega Exposed as Bahrain’s Shill in Congress

The New York City based non-profit, Pulitzer Prize-winning corporation ProPublica, which describes itself as an independent non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest, has published a major investigation into American Samoa congressional delegate Eni Faleomavaega’s activities on behalf of the Kingdom of Bahrain.

In an exposÄ› entitled “Meet Bahrain’s Best Friend in Congress,” ProPublica investigative reporter Justin Elliott revealed that Faleomavaega has taken two, all-expenses-paid trips to the oil-rich Persian Gulf Kingdom and has received major campaign contributions from a Washington lobbyist on Bahrain issues. Indeed, the campaign donations of that lobbyist and his wife amounted to over seven percent of Faleomavaega’s receipts in the 2010 campaign cycle.

Elliott did miss his mark by suggesting that Faleomavaega spends most of his time on American Samoa and Pacific Island issues, however. Readers of this blog are well aware that Faleomavaega has a well-deserved reputation as a globetrotter who hardly ever passes up a foreign trip, especially when it is all-expenses-paid. Indeed, when he chaired the Asia-Pacific subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, his caucus widened the panel’s jurisdiction to include “global environmental issues,” which gave him license to travel all over the world and to access to the committee’s piggy bank for four years.

ProPublica is also inaccurate in stating the delegate “has no history of commenting on Middle East affairs.” To the contrary, he has made numerous trips to that region and made impassioned speeches on the House Floor opposing the Iraq War and President Bush’s surge. Neither of these oversights, however, does damage to ProPublica’s thoroughly researched report on Faleomavaega’s support of Bahrain and conclusions as to why he has done so.

Whether or not there is enough material here for someone to file a complaint with the House Ethics Committee, there is enough in Elliott’s report for others to examine whether campaign contributions and/or free trips abroad have played any role in other stances he has taken over the years, including his fulsome praise for Kazakhstan dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev.

It will be interesting to see if the ProPublica investigation gets any play in American Samoa’s only daily newspaper, Samoa News, where Faleomavaega’s sister-in-law is an editor while at the same time holding the position of the territory’s Democratic National Committeewoman. More likely, especially in an election year, this story will be swept under the rug or limited to a hyperlink in its on-line edition, which is read more overseas than it is on island. Faleomavaega can be expected to attack the story but he will not be able to fall back on the charge that it is a right wing hit job because ProPublica’s chairman has a record of support for liberal organizations and the organization’s top two editors are a former managing editor at the Wall Street Journal and a former New York Times editor.

The story can be found here:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Watch Kaptur Struggle for Clues on Faleomavaega

It does not take a rocket scientist or a Capitol Hill insider to get a feel for the internal politics of Congress. You can be thousands of miles away from Washington and all you need is a Google news alert for the right subjects and publications and contact numbers for or e-mail addresses of a few staffers in the House to get a sense of what is happening. Rep. Marci Kaptur (D-OH), fresh off her primary victory over Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), may have an even tougher battle ahead to ascend to the top Democratic slot on the House Appropriations Committee. As this story points out (,
Despite Kaptur’s seniority Nita Lowey (D-NY) will challenge her and Nancy Pelosi will have a lot to say about who gets the position. If Democrats retake the House, the winner of this caucus battle will become the chair of the very powerful Appropriations Committee.

In a previous post, we made the same point about Faleomavaega, who will be in line to take the top Democratic seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee if the current Ranking Democrat, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), loses his primary to Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) in June. Both the Berman-Sherman and Kaptur-Kucinich primaries are a result of census-mandated redistricting in their states.

There are several signs that Faleomavaega would not have an easy path to the chairmanship, starting with precedent that would be set in giving a full committee chairmanship to a non-voting delegate. This situation has not arisen in the past because the other delegates all have departed Congress before the question arose. By contrast, Faleomavaega keeps hanging on.

The question may not arise this year, either, because Berman very well could hold on to his seat and there is no guarantee Democrats will regain control of the House. Still, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi might not want to let Faleomavaega have the ranking position because it would be more awkward to dislodge him if her party regains control in two or four years’ time.

Of course, Faleomavaega has to win reelection, too, but that seems likely. If Pelosi is forced into having to make a choice, there are some signs that point to trouble for the delegate. First, when he was chairman of the House foreign affairs subcommittee on Asia, Pacific and Global Environment [emphasis added], he was not included in a 20+ member House delegation led by Pelosi to an international global warming conference in Denmark a couple of years ago. This is viewed by some as a sign of her low regard for Faleomavaega. Some believe global environment was added to his portfolio primarily as a way to keep him away from Washington by letting him justify his world-wide travels as being environmentally related and give him access to a congressional budget to fund his wanderings.

Second, after years of loyal service as Rep. Mike Honda’s (D-CA) vice chairman of the Asia Pacific Congressional Caucus, when Honda stepped down he stabbed Faleomavaega in the back by endorsing a freshman California House member to succeed him. Rather than face embarrassing defeat, Faleomavaega stepped aside in his quest for the chairmanship and his vice chair slot went to another junior territorial delegate, Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU), leaving him out in the cold altogether.

Third, there is pressure on all Democratic House members to pay dues (make contributions) to the House Democratic Campaign Committee to help elect more Democrats to the House as this story points out: Faleomavaega typically has relied on a handful of big contributions from Asia-American donors on the West Coast to win re-election and likely does not have additional resources to make any large contribution to the campaign committee.

Finally, there is another House member available who could take the Foreign Affairs position without it appearing someone junior was jumping over the delegate. Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) is behind Faleomavaega in committee seniority because he joined the panel later than the delegate did but actually is just ahead of him in overall seniority in the Democratic Caucus.

Nancy Pelosi won’t be paying much attention to all of this until after June 5 and then only if Howard Berman loses. And even then there won’t be much press attention, given the lack of importance of the committee. So, people looking to see what Pelosi might do should watch what happens with the Kaptur-Lowey battle. Because there is so much at stake in appropriations, that one will get much more press attention.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Ackerman Exit Boosts Faleomavaega

The unexpected retirement of Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-NY) moves Faleomavaega a step closer to his dream of one day chairing the full House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Last year we wrote that, in the wake of congressional redistricting, a “perfect storm” might develop that would catapult the traveling delegate into the panel’s top slot. In order for Faleomavaega to succeed, two more senior members of the committee would need to leave Congress, Democrats would need to recapture control of the House and Nancy Pelosi would need to approve the unprecedented step of elevating into a full committee chairmanship a non-voting delegate from a small territory.

Moreover, in so doing, she would be handing the gavel to someone who has been a loose cannon over the course of his House tenure. At a time of great, sensitive, international issues, it is doubted that an outspoken House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman would be welcome by a White House controlled by either party. Many of Faleomavaega’s antics are recounted elsewhere in this blog but just to give an example, after the killing of Osama Bin Laden Faleomavaega rose up on the House floor to demand that President Obama and then-CIA Director Leon Panetta apologize to native Americans for using “Geronimo” as a code word in the operation: Needless to say, he was ignored. Many think he is nuts.

When the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) was riding high with lobbyist Jack Abramoff blocking Congressional efforts to curb labor abuses and raise wages in those islands, island leaders believed they had all the protection they needed. Abramoff was a well connected lobbyist with enormous influence over powerful Republicans who had say over the issues. The chief detractor in the House from his days as Chairman and later Ranking Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee—which has jurisdiction over insular issues—was Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and Abramoff for years routinely rubbed Miller’s nose in the dirt over the Marianas.

In order for the situation to turn sour for the CNMI, another “perfect storm” would need to come together. As long as Abramoff continued to ride high, the Republicans remained in power in the House and Miller was not involved in the issues at hand, all would be well. And so it looked in early 2005 after George W. Bush was returned to office and Miller left the top ranking slot on Natural Resources for the same position on the Education and Labor Committee.

But Hurricane Katrina came along and the voters took it out on Republicans in mid-term elections, sweeping the Democrats back into control of the House and making Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) the speaker. Her closest confidant in the House was none other than fellow San Francisco Democrat Miller, who became chairman of the Education and Labor Committee.

A year before the midterm, CNMI voters elected as governor Benigno Fitial, the chief defender of the Abramoff strategy and the new CNMI House installed as speaker former governor Froilan Tenorio, the man who had hired Abramoff in the first place. While that was happening, Abramoff’s lobbying empire was beginning to unravel. So, by Christmas 2006, the Republican majority was on its way out, Bush was gravely weakened by Katrina and Iraq, and Miller, with a long memory of how he was batted about by Abramoff and those behind him on Saipan, was coming into the chairmanship of the committee that had jurisdiction over minimum wage.

All the elements of the perfect storm were in place and within days of taking control of the House, Miller offered a bill (H.R. 2) to apply federal minimum wage to the CNMI. When is sailed through Congress, a weakened Bush meekly signed it. So, as unlikely as all of those pieces coming together might have seemed in early 2005, they all indeed came together just two years later and the rest is history.

Something similar would have to happen for Faleomavaega to become Committee chairman. It seemed inconceivable a year go with Republicans having swept into power with the largest majority they had enjoyed since the 1920s and the two Democrats ahead of Faleomavaega showing no sign of getting out of the way any time soon.

However, as we pointed out in our earlier blog, this is a redistricting year and all the congressional boundaries are being redrawn to account for population shifts. Both Ackerman and Berman had been through this process in the past and had weathered redistricting well thanks to friendly legislatures drawing new lines favorable to incumbents.

But the prefect storm began to build as California adopted a new redistricting system conducted by an independent, non-partisan commission rather than the Democrat-controlled legislature. Meanwhile in New York, Republicans won control of the state senate, which meant compromise would be necessary in drawing the lines, which had to account for the loss of two seats. The compromise was that one Republican seat in upstate New York and one in the New York City metropolitan area would be eliminated.

California’s new map threw Berman into a district with his colleague Brad Sherman (D) and they are in a survival struggle that will be playing out in the state primary in June. The winner is almost assured victory in November. At the same time, while New York eliminated Ackerman’s district, it created an open safe seat nearby to which he could have moved easily. It seemed certain he would do so until his surprise announcement yesterday that he would retire rather than have to face an almost entirely new set of constituents.

So, Ackerman is gone and Berman could be defeated in June. Meanwhile, Democrats have growing optimism that they can win back the House in November. If that whole perfect storm comes together, the only obstacle remaining for Faleomavaega, assuming he wins his own re-election, would be to win Pelosi’s backing to become chairman.

People in Washington’s foreign affairs interest community should be alarmed at the prospect of a Faleomavaega chairmanship. Be afraid; be very, very afraid. What they should be doing is massing campaign contributions to try to save Berman, defeat Faleomavaega, try to influence Pelosi and try to shore up the Republican majority. The cheapest way to solve the problem is to defeat Faleomavaega but at this juncture, no viable candidate has stepped forward to oppose him.

As hard as it may be to believe, particularly given his Faleomavaega’s penchant for bomb throwing, he has never really been vetted or profiled by the mainstream press, even though he did have a four-year stint as the Asia-Pacific subcommittee chairman. It is true that Foreign Affairs is not considered a major committee in the House and the Asia-Pacific panel is one of the least important on the Committee, but it still is surprising so little is known about this man and where he would take the committee if he took charge.

While making contributions to various campaigns to minimize negative outcomes, someone ought to encourage the international affairs media to do an in-depth profile of Faleomavaega in hopes of persuading a potential incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi to think twice before handing him the gavel.

For his part Faleomavaega continues on his merry way, again last week visiting Fiji. There does not appear to be a dictator, tyrant, despot, autocrat or strongman that Faleomavaega does not like. In recent years he has shown a particular fondness for the rulers of Bahrain, Kazakhstan and Fiji. Precisely what he thought he was accomplishing on this trip to Fiji is unclear but just days after his departure strongman Bainimarama announced the abolishment of the Great Council of Chiefs. Any relationship? Hard to say but Faleomavaega in the past has proposed election of members of the American Samoa Senate, which is a body composed of traditional leaders selected by county chiefs. You can draw your own conclusions.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Faleomavaega: Name May Be Reason for to His Ineffectiveness

There is no question that Faleomavaega has been ineffective in his long stint in Congress. It has been somewhat mystifying because he is reasonably articulate and is well educated, with a law degree from the University of California as part of it. But he has been the master of lost causes and has hardly been able to move a bill through the House to save his life. Well, he did at least get one bill through to save his seat, changing the law to let him win by plurality while multiple opponents divide the anti-Faleomavaega vote.

Now comes a new study that says the ease or difficult of pronouncing one's name may determine how well they do. Faleomavaega is not the delegate's real name. He was born Eni F. Hunkin, Jr. and used that name right up to the time he was elected to Congress. He was Eni Hunkin when he worked on congressional staff, when he was on the American Samoa attorney general's staff and even as lt. governor. But for some bizarre reason, he chose to substitute his chiefly title for his family name when he returned to Washington. He only knows a handful of Republicans and not that many more Democrats either and very few can pronounce the name.

Surely, he would not have had that problem with Hunkin, which is the name is wife and children continue to use. In fact, the media in American Samoa more often refer to him as Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin than Eni Faleomavaega because it is more common for holders of chief titles to use them in front of their given names than to make them their last names. It seems more arrogance than anything else that he would want to force his congressional colleagues and others in Washington to learn to pronounce a long, tricky, Samoan name.

Here is the story that HealthDay News carried last weekend:

SATURDAY, Feb. 11 (HealthDay News) -- The easier your name is to pronounce, the more likely you are to receive promotions at work and make friends, a new study suggests.

Using mock ballots, researchers from the University of Melbourne and New York University's Stern School of Business also found politicians with simple names are more likely to get elected.

"Research findings revealed that the effect is not due merely to the length of a name or how foreign-sounding or unusual it is, but rather how easy it is to pronounce," study author Dr. Simon Laham, from the University of Melbourne, said in a news release from the university.

In conducting the study, researchers took a closer look at how names can influence first impressions and decision-making. They found evidence of a "name pronunciation effect," in which people with easily pronounced names are viewed more positively by others. They noted, however, that most people are not even aware of this bias.

For instance, in a field study of 500 U.S. attorneys those with easy to pronounce names rose up in their firm's ranks faster than their colleagues with more difficult names.

The name bias probably extends to other professions as well, according to study co-leader Adam Alter, from the Stern School of Business. "People simply aren't aware of the subtle impact that names can have on their judgments," he explained in the news release.

The findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, could have implications for how bias and discrimination are managed in America, the researchers suggested.

"It's important to appreciate the subtle biases that shape our choices and judgments about others. Such an appreciation may help us de-bias our thinking, leading to fairer, more objective treatment of others," Laham said.

Of course, having a long name has not hurt him at the ballot box. It is not particularly long by Samoan standards nor, obviously, is it unpronounceable in American Samoa. Nevertheless, his mindset is mind-boggling.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


When Faleomavaega introduced his “ASPIRE” bill in the last Congress, which essentially would have subsidized Star-Kist to keep its cannery—the territory’s major private employer—in the territory, it seemed that the frenetic delegate had reached a new level of cynicism, since there never was any chance the bill would pass.  Nevertheless, hope was held out by hundreds of not thousands of Samoans that their jobs could be saved in the wake of the departure of the other cannery, Chicken of the Sea.

Of course, even though his own party controlled both houses of Congress and the White House, Faleomavaega got get nothing more than a hearing on the measure.  It died in the subcommittee chaired by a fellow delegate, Guam’s Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D).  Virtually everyone but Star-Kist testified against the bill, including the Obama administration, which would have been a major embarrassment for Faleomavaega if the American Samoa media had reported the story.  But they didn’t, and once again he skated.

If he could not move a bill through a friendly House, he knew he was not going to move it once Republicans took over in 2011 so he didn’t even try.  But he also knew that he was likely going to face his toughest re-election fight this year when Governor Togiola (D) would be barred by law from seeking a third full term in office.  So, in order to either scare Togiola to the sidelines or bolster his own popularity, Faleomavaega made his next and even more cynical move: promise citizenship to nationals and national status to aliens.  Last year he announced he would introduce a bill that, if enacted, would allow U.S. nationals to become U.S. citizens without having to move to the states.  At the same time, he also said he wanted to push legislation that would allow long term resident aliens, mostly people from nearby independent Samoa, to apply for U.S. national status, a status now that is reserved exclusively to persons born in American Samoa.

Of course, aliens cannot vote but many have them who have been in the territory for more than 20 years have large families who can vote and would be more disposed to reward Faleomavaega for trying to make their parents nationals.  What makes this so cynical is that Faleomavaega knows such a bill would not have a prayer in Congress.  It would be considered, if considered, by the judiciary committee, not one of the committees on which he serves.  To underscore the point, Faleomavaega’s Northern Marianas colleague recently tried to sneak a bill through the House by unanimous consent that would have conferred citizenship on a tiny number of people in the Northern Marianas until immigration hawks caught the maneuver and had it killed at the 11th hour.

So, now comes Faleomavaega’s most cynical move yet.  He has teamed up with other delegates on a bill to extend the Supplemental Security Income program to American Samoa.  This was one of his promises in his early campaigns and once elected he did offer such a bill.  But, like ASPIRE, it went no where, even in the go-go era of the 90s when the U.S. treasury was flush with cash and his party controlled Congress under President Clinton.  With record trillion dollar deficits and Republicans in control of the House, Faleomavaega has no more hope of passing SSI than he did 20 years ago.

However, ASPIRE, citizenship and SSI may have been enough to do the trick, as Togiola announced on his radio program last weekend that he would not run for Congress this year.  Faleomavaega and his staff undoubtedly did a high five and breathed a sigh of relief.  However, we are not convinced of Togiola’s sincerity.  He is under attack on a number of fronts these days for decisions he has made so it makes sense for him to get out of the spotlight for now.   We would not be surprised if he has a “change of heart” this summer and decides to run after all.  Keep an eye on the election office come July to see who picks up a congressional packet.