Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Faleomavaega Absence Could Destroy American Samoa Private Economy
When the final chapter is written about this territory’s longest serving elected public official, Eni Faleomavaega's legacy very well could be that he single-handedly destroyed American Samoa’s private economy. Perhaps that is what he wants. After all, he was a founding member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a collection of the most liberal Democrats and socialists in the House and Senate, whose entire purpose is government control over people’s lives. He quietly dropped his membership a few years ago only because someone made public the purpose of the caucus and its social issue policies did not sit well with our very conservative voters.
It will be recalled that Faleomavaega was back here in early 2007 attending the ceremonial opening of the Fono while Congress was busy putting the final touches on a bill to increase the federal minimum wage that for the first time included American Samoa in the bill. Faleomavaega got caught napping on that one and by the time he raced back to Washington in an effort to get us extricated, it was too late. His impassioned speech on the Floor was pure window dressing and had no effect on the vote. He tried to pin it on Republicans but Democrats had just retaken control of the Chamber and anyone who understands how the House works (Eni successfully counted on his constituents mostly not understanding), knows that the minority has no rights. If the Speaker had not wanted that provision in the bill, it would not have been in the bill.
Of course, as everyone knows, the hike in the minimum wage eventually forced our Chicken of the Sea tuna processing plant to relocate elsewhere, throwing thousands of workers out of jobs. Now, the Democrats have announced that another rise in the minimum wage is a priority in this session of Congress and once again we have no delegate in place to explain why American Samoa should not be part of any wage rise bill.
We believe Faleomavaega is suffering from an incapacitating stroke that renders him unable to represent us in Congress. We have written this before, Samoa News has published it and neither he nor his office has refuted it. There are suggestions his stroke has rendered him unable to communicate. If this were not the case, we would call on his staff to deny it and for the Delegate to give a telephone interview to the media or at least call the governor to reassure the people he is able to monitor legislative developments on our behalf.
Because Democrats are not in the majority at this time, however, there is no immediate threat that a wage bill will rush through Congress and be sent to President Obama, which might precipitate the departure of Star Kist and halt plans for TriMarine to take over for Chicken of the Sea, thus throwing thousands more people out of jobs and having a ripple effect on the service economy. However, there is another threat that is just as ominous that was reported in today’s issue of a private Congressional newspaper called The Hill. Because we have a Google Alert set for news about Faleomavaega, who was mentioned in an article today, we were alerted to it.
Has anyone here heard of Jim Bonham, chairman of the government affairs practice at the Washington, D.C. office of the law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips? We haven’t but since we do not see read all the newspapers or listen to all the radio newscasts it is possible we have missed stories about what he is doing for American Samoa. However, our guess is that our local media has not run any stories about Bonham or the Farm Bill.
Last summer, StarKist, Tri Marine, the Chamber of Commerce of American Samoa and others formed the “Stronger Economy for American Samoa Coalition,” and Bonham lobbies for the coalition, according to the story in this morning’s issue of The Hill. Working together with Faleomavaega’s office on the inside, the Coalition from the outside is trying to stop a measure that would weaken the domestic contents requirements for tuna processing for use in the nation’s school lunch programs.
Foreign based Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea want to be able to compete for that huge and profitable market. This language is in the Farm Bill that is working its way towards passage right now and the absent Faleomavaega is in no position to protect our industry from the inside. If this were to pass, it could spell the difference in profitability for StarKist, which then might find itself forced to close its American Samoa operations, and TriMarine, which might not be able to open at all.
That’s the story and it’s a big one. In fact, we cannot think of one bigger. Since this story just broke this morning, it is too late for today’s paper. But we will be watching to see what 93KHJ-FM will do on the air later today and Samoa News will do tomorrow, since in order to talk about this issue they would be forced to address the question of Faleomavaega’s health and his prospects for returning to work—if he even would be returning at all. In yesterday’s talanei.com story, the governor’s office was said to be making plans to have Washington covered in Eni’s continued absence or in the case of a vacancy in his office. Since he does not have the power to fill a vacancy except by special election, perhaps he intends to expand Bonham’s role.
So, will Samoa News remain silent, take the lazy way out by providing in its on-line version a link to The Hill story (which makes to reference to Faleomavaega’s absence) or do a genuine original piece of journalism by informing the public what is at stake for American Samoa in the Farm Bill and use this issue as a basis for finally bringing into the open the question of Faleomavaega’s absence and what that means longer term for American Samoa?
If Faleomavaega’s legacy ultimately were to be to have destroyed our private sector, then our local media—especially Samoa News—would have to share in that legacy. Stay tuned.