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.