Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Faleomavaega still missing; American Samoa in Legislative Danger

We watched the internet-streamed hearing with bated breath today as House Foreign Affairs Asia Pacific Subcommittee Chairman Steve Chabot (R-OH) announced that a Samoan member of the panel would be Ranking Minority Member.  Only that Member was not 13-term veteran American Samoa Del. Eni Faleomavaega but Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who has only been in office for 13 months.  We found no small irony in Gabbard quickly taking the seat Faleomavaega waited years to earn.

This was the important overview hearing on U.S. policy towards the Asia-Pacific region that will set the tone for the subcommittee’s deliberations over the balance of this session of Congress.  At the outset, Chabot announced that Faleomavaega was unable to be there so Gabbard would serve as Ranking Member.  Oh, the irony.  It is clear that, given his passion for Asia-Pacific issues and given his status as Ranking Member, few things would have kept him from participating in that hearing.  One of those things would be illness.  Gabbard did a very creditable job and viewers also were spared having to put up with Eni’s typical harangues and whining.

While nothing was directly at stake for American Samoa in today’s hearing, there are other matters afoot in Congress that need the personal attention of the delegate. On January 8 we posted a blog headlined “Faleomavaega Absence Could Destroy American Samoa Private Economy.”    Sadly, it appears our worst fears may be coming true.  Just as he was caught napping when the House included American Samoa in its 2007 bill raising the U.S. minimum wage, Faleomavaega was caught off guard by language which was put into the Consolidated Appropriations Act report that mandates the Secretary of Agriculture to come back to Congress in 60 days with options to end the requirement that tuna sold to the U.S. for school lunches be 100% American caught, processed and canned.

In 2007, Faleomavaega was away from Washington (as he so often is) while his House Democrat colleagues--fresh back in the majority after 12 years in the wilderness--were putting the finishing touches on the bills they planned to offer at the opening bell of the session.  A minimum wage raise, which they promised in the campaign, was at the top of the list.

Eni raced back to Washington to speak against it before final passage but he was too late.  The die already had been cast and he was not around to explain to his colleagues why adding American Samoa would hurt our economy.  Over subsequent years, he has tried to cover himself by blaming Republicans but anyone who knows how Congress works knows that the House Majority can strip out of any bill any language it does not want in there.

This time, the Republicans are in charge and one of them added language to the appropriations bill that would weaken the “Buy American” requirement for tuna in school lunches.  It is impossible to know if Eni could have stopped it but, lying in a bed in Utah attempting to recover from what is thought to be a severe stroke he suffered in October, once again he was not in place to do anything about it. 

When we wrote about this issue, it was part of the Farm Bill that was working its way through the system.  But, given the uncertainty of that bill’s fate at the time, one of the senior members of the Appropriations Committee had the language added to the report of the Appropriations bill, which was on the verge of and ultimately did pass and was signed into law by President Obama.

Now once again American Samoa is behind the eight ball.  Op-ed pieces for Capitol Hill publications have been written in his name and a slew of press releases in his name have been sent out on the issue.  But no one is fooled except maybe the people. and particularly Samoa News may think they are covering themselves by saying that “according to a statement issued by Faleomavaega’s office,” but then the go on to use quotes that undoubtedly are written by staff to mask the fact that Eni simply is still not in Washington after nearly four months.  Most readers and listeners believe he is hard at work on these issues when he is not. His absence at today’s hearing is proof.

Meanwhile, the Farm Bill now has been passed by both houses and is on its way to the President for signature.  What kind of language is in it on “Buy America?”  Also yesterday it was announced that the full D.C. Circuit Court has agreed to hear the American Samoa citizenship case.  Faleomavaega filed a friend of the court brief before he took ill arguing against imposition of citizenship.   What will happen with him out of commission?  And House Democrats are moving ahead with plans to raise the minimum wage yet again, this time to $10.10/hour.   Senate Democrats have the votes to pass it.  What if House Republicans go along?

Lots of questions but unfortunately, if our local media is seeking answers to them, they are not informing us what they are asking and what responses they are getting.  It is now at the point that Faleomavaega reminds us of the title character in the Terminator movie.  If you remember the end of the movie, the Terminator is taking so much punishment, his outer skin has been all blown away.  Finally, the hero sticks dynamite in his rib cage and blows the Terminator all to bits.  But the hand and the upper torso keep on crawling.

Eni is like that.  Against all odds, he keeps on coming.  Only in his case, it is madness.  What has he got left to prove??

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Faleomavaega on Hillary’s Hit List?

It recently has been revealed that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been keeping a score card or “hit list” of those who did or did not endorse her in her first run for the presidency in 2008 against Barack Obama.  Please read this PoliticoMagazine story for greater details about the list.

It is no secret that Faleomavaega was one of Obama’s earliest backers while then Gov. Togiola Tulafono endorsed then-Sen. Clinton.  When she came through here as Secretary a few years ago, we all watched carefully as Faleomavaega used his precious time with her on the ground to plead for debt relief for Cambodia while Togiola asked that American Samoa be allowed to seek official observer status at the Pacific Islands Forum—a dream that had eluded several governors before him but was always denied by State.

It also did not go unnoticed on the island that when Mrs. Clinton returned to Washington, nothing further was done on Cambodian debt relief but she did announce that State would change its long-standing policy and allow its Pacific territories to participate at the Forum as observers.

With the odds high that Mrs. Clinton will be the Democratic Party’s nominee in 30 months time, the local Democratic party would do well to hustle Faleomavaega into retirement as quickly as possible so that American Samoa is not disadvantaged under a Clinton presidency.  It could be a lose/lose situation for us: Hillary wins and we get punished because Eni is on her hit list; Hillary loses and we get punished because Republicans control the White House as well as the House.

Here is why the time right for Faleomavaega to put in his retirement papers:

  •  he supported Obama over Hillary in 2008 (and as far as we can tell, has gotten nothing for it) and is probably on her hit list described in the Politico article;  

  •  he is suffering severe health problems and is no longer up to the job;  even if he were not ill, he now is over 70 years old and while age and wisdom are valued in our culture, not so in Washington; there are few members of the House over 70;  

  •  he no longer has Senator Inouye on whom to rely in a tight legislative spot; had the Senator still been alive and been in charge of appropriations on the Senate side, the reduction of Buy America for tuna never would have been in the final appropriations bill and Eni was not around to try to stop it himself;
  • the retirements of allies Reps. George Miller and Henry Waxman take away two people on whom he could rely for help in the House (although it was Miller who sandbagged him and continues to sandbag him on minimum wage);
  • even if he were healthy, he served on a committee, Foreign Affairs, of little value to us and we have seen no evidence that his service as the senior Democrat on the Asia-Pacific subcommittee has brought us any benefits; he is in and out of places like Seoul and Bangkok all the time but there is no evidence that StarKist or Chicken of the Sea are influenced by him at all;
  • he never will serve in the Majority again--ever;  Democrats already pretty much are conceding control of the House this fall, with even the DNC chairman saying so; the earliest that Democrats might return to power in the House is 2022 after the next redistricting; were he still alive and in office, Eni would be approaching 80;  we need someone new to start building seniority now; if you aren't in the Majority, you are nothing; if you are a non-voting delegate in the Minority, you are less than nothing, particularly if you have a worthless committee assignment;
Over the years, Faleomavaega has been one of those who has taken the time to stake out his ground on the House floor so as to be seen on television.  We watched very carefully this year and while we saw the Guam and Virgin Islands delegates well positioned to greet the President as he strode past them on the way to the dais, Faleomavaega was nowhere to be seen.  Even though his office continues to furiously pump out news releases (including one commenting on Obama’s speech), and our local media continue to use them (especially Samoa News, where his sister-in-law is on the editorial staff) as if he were back in his office, we have no evidence to suggest he is in Washington at all.

We have not yet called for his early retirement but if this Buy America problem does not get resolved, then maybe he needs to reconsider.  It is clear that representing American Samoa by press release and letters issued from bed is not doing the job.  It may be time to go.