Saturday, January 11, 2014

Washington Correspondent Breaks Faleomavaega Illness Story

Matt Kaye, the veteran Washington correspondent for radio and TV stations on Guam and Saipan, appears to be the first newsperson in Washington, D.C. to address the question of Eni Faleomavaega’s prolonged absence from the Nation’s Capital.   Kaye is a correspondent for the Berns Bureau, which covers federal news for radio stations across the country.

In a story filed Friday with Guam’s Pacific News Center concerning the future of the Omnibus Territories Bill moving through Congress, Kaye said “Reliable sources here [in Washington] say [Faleomavaega] needs ‘major rehabilitation.’ Local media [in American Samoa] speculate he may have suffered a stroke, and Faleomavaega’s office has not refuted that.”  Kaye apparently was no more successful than our local media in getting any information or comment out of the Delegate’s office.

As part of his story, Kaye interviewed Northern Mariana Islands Congressional Delegate Gregorio C. Sablan (I), who said “I continue to keep Congressman Faleomavaega, Eni and his family, in my prayers. We would, of course, let his office know that we’re having a meeting [about the Omnibus Bill] and invite someone from his office to join us in the meeting.”  If anyone were to attend, it most likely would be Lisa Williams, the widely reviled chief of staff who runs the office with an iron fist and brooks no interference.

Curiously, back here in American Samoa, the media have fallen strangely silent again about Faleomavaega, although Samoa News had said they would be covering the story in the next several issues after revealing that Faleomavaega was not personally involved in another issue moving through Congress: efforts to reduce the U.S. content requirement for tuna sold for use in the U.S. school lunch program.  A reduction from the current 100% could tip the balance against the tuna industry from remaining on island and is clearly a major story for the territory.

On Wednesday, the only announced candidate for Faleomavaega’s seat, Tua’au Kereti Mata’utia, held a press conference to discuss his reasons for running for Congress, which is subject to election in November.  He told Radio 93KHJ-FM that he believed “public officials owe it to their constituents to share what they can about their health so voters are not wondering what’s wrong with their leaders.”  KHJ noted that Faleomavaega “has been ill since October of last year but there has been little information from his office about his prognosis.”

Mata’utia, a Democrat, remains on the immediate staff of Governor Lolo Moliga, also a Democrat, is assistant senior policy adviser, so his pronouncements will be seen by many as reflecting the thinking of his boss, the Governor.  For example, he is not opposed to the attempt by Congressional Democrats again to raise the federal minimum wage although he would apply it to American Samoa carefully. Although Mata'utia is an announced candidate, the media has not reported whether he has given any indication of when he plans to step down from government as required by local law and a search of Federal Election Commission records does not list him as having registered his campaign yet.

Whether they missed it or sent a reporter and did not find a story worth reporting, for some reason Samoa News has carried no story about Mata’utia’s press conference, just as the paper has had nothing further to say about Faleomavaega’s prolonged absence from Congress.   One would have thought his pronouncement about minimum wage alone would have been enough for coverage, given his position as a policy adviser on the Governor’s staff, but apparently not.   It is not known whether the presence of Faleomavaega’s sister-in-law on the Samoa News editorial staff has any bearing on how the paper will cover his opponents during this unusual situation but in light of the mystery surrounding Faleomavaega’s health, people are asking that question, especially since she also is a voting member of the Democratic National Committee.

The Fono formally opens its first regular session of 2014 on Monday and the Governor will deliver his annual State of the Territory address.  Faleomavaega is always invited to attend the formal opening and also has formally addressed the Fono in the past.  If he is absent on Monday, it will be further evidence that he remains incapacitated.  Sources continue to say he is in Utah but it remains unclear if he is at his residence or in some hospital or other facility.  It also remains unclear if he may soon be undergoing surgery for some undisclosed medical condition. 

We will state again for the record that we believe Faleomavaega has suffered a debilitating stroke from which he may not recover enough to continue to serve in Congress.  There are no laws or rules that would prevent him from serving out his term or even being reelected, no matter what his condition.  Although no one familiar with his situation has confirmed our speculation, it is a fact that his office has made no effort to refute our contention that he has some neurological condition.  At least now that a respected Washington journalist has raised the Faleomavaega question and another Member of Congress has addressed it, perhaps others off-island will begin to demand answers to questions that should have been asked long ago.

All eyes on Monday will be on the Governor and the Fono Leadership to see what any of them have to say about Faleomavaega.  The media also will be in attendance and will have the opportunity to interview political leaders as part of the occasion.  Surely they will ask questions about Faleomavaega.  Or will they?   

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