Tuesday, January 7, 2014
FALEOMAVAEGA A NO SHOW AGAIN
Because he is the senior member of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fish, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs as well as the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, both panels which have jurisdiction over legislation involving the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, one would think a congressional hearing on those two countries would be a top priority for Congressional Delegate Eni Faleomavaega (D-AS).
Indeed, Delegates Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU) and Gregorio Sablan (I-MP) as well as Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI), were at the two-hour hearing on federal compact impact assistance today, but Faleomavaega was nowhere to be seen. We monitored the hearing over the Internet and from what we could see Chairman John Fleming (R-LA) made no note of his absence but at least no one tried to perpetuate the fiction that all is well with Faleomavaega by submitting “his” statement for the record.
However, at last local radio station 93KHJ-FM has published a breakthrough article today on its talanei.com website asking about the delegate’s health—while inexplicably running a photo of him at the pique of health (obviously a file photo--although not labeled as such). The only formally new information in it is that he is confirmed to be in Utah, which has been unofficially known for several weeks. Whether talanei.com will go further tomorrow by noting his absence at today’s hearing remains to be seen. There still has been nothing but silence from the delegate’s office since mid-November.
Meanwhile, it appears that it is business as usual for Samoa News, which apparently still stands by waiting to be told what to say by the Delegate’s office. The paper as recently as New Year’s Day published a story about a National Guard feasibility study, which said “Provisions for the feasibility study were submitted by Congressman Faleomavaega Eni, who said earlier this month — in a statement — that the ‘presence of a National Guard unit in American Samoa will be a first responder to the Governor of American Samoa for disasters and local emergencies.’”
Produced by staff writer Fili Sagapolutele, who is also the on-island AP correspondent, perhaps he believed he was covering himself by using the phrase “—in a statement—“ to suggest that he did not personally hear the delegate say those words, but it is a subtlety that will escape most readers and flies in the face of the Samoa News webmaster’s comment after a letter to the editor that the whenever they run a story quoting Faleomavaega, they always make readers aware they cannot verify the veracity of the quotes.
Last year we speculated that Faleomavaega suffered a major stroke, which was reported in Samoa News, and to date his office has not refuted our assertion. We now have heard from a number of sources--including some people who have talked to individuals close to the situation--that Faleomavaega indeed has suffered a stroke so debilitating that he may never be able to return to office. Is his condition so dire that he is unable to give direction to his staff or are they freelancing under the direction of Lisa Williams, his chief of staff, who is said to be feared by the rest of the staff and widely disliked by staff on both sides of the aisle and in both Houses in the Capitol?
Congressional rules give individual Members wide latitude on how they conduct their official duties and, if they can get away with it, they could maintain the fiction all through this next year that Faleomavaega is still conducting regular business. It is possible he could even win re-election without showing up to campaign, as then-Congresswoman Gladys Spellman (D-MD) once did after suffering a massive heart attack that produced a coma. She even won re-election but it all came to an end the following January when she was unable to take the oath to be sworn into another term, forcing the House several months later to declare her seat vacant and so advise the Maryland governor, who called a special election even while Spellman remained in a coma.
Signs are that his staff intends to keep up the charade as best they can and there are no signs Samoa News intends to inform the public of what is going on. There was not a peep out of the media--not a single word--about Faleomavaega’s December 19 filing with the Federal Maritime Commission objecting to a shipping alliance proposed by three major freight lines. His intervention in the case is most curious because neither any of these lines nor the proposed alliance operates or plans to operate anywhere near American Samoa. At worst, his intervention may be fraudulent if not submitted under his direction if not actually signed by him.
The local media have no excuse for ignoring these signs of Faleomavaega “surfacing.” All they need to do is set up a “Faleomavaega” Google media alert and the material just drops into their laps. Again, we beseech Samoa News to follow Monica Miller’s example and start putting pressure on Faleomavaega’s office to answer the public. Congressional Democrats have said they are making a minimum wage raise their top priority this year. We already have had our food stamp allocations reduced. There is an Omnibus Territories bill with provisions for American Samoa going over to the House from the Senate, there are problems with Obamacare provisions for the territories that need to be fixed and there are major decisions on the federal budget that will be negotiated over the next month. All of these issues require that we have representation in Congress.
The media has a responsibility to the public in seeing that we do. Start by asking the Fono leadership if Eni has been invited to address the opening of this regular session. Tell us what they say whether he has not answered or declined. Then lay out all the problems his lengthy absence is causing. You owe us that.