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.

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