Thursday, June 12, 2014

Governor Puts Faleomavaega in His Place; Delegate Backs Down

Over the years, Faleomavaega seems to have reveled in his independence from the governor of the day and enjoyed sparring with them publicly on issues on which they disagree. But time and illness must be taking their toll on the elderly delegate, because the current governor, Lolo Moliga, slapped him down recently without a peep from Eni in response.

Last year Congress passed a bill requiring the Pentagon to study the feasibility of establishing a National Guard unit in American Samoa. In an April 4 press release, Faleomavaega made public a letter he sent to the Secretary of Defense the previous day recommending that American Samoa's guard unit be attached to the Hawaii National Guard and that retired CSM Iuniasolua T. Savusa be included as a member of the study team. The subject likely was discussed with Savusa when he paid a visit on Faleomavaega in March, one of the first official visitors the delegate received since he suffered a sudden illness—thought to be a stroke—last October in American Samoa.

The only problem is that Faleomavaega did not discuss these recommendations in advance with the Governor, who was not happy with either recommendation. In a sharp and equally public reaction, Moliga put Faleomavaega is his place, writing to the delegate to inform him he wanted American Samoa's guard unit to stand alone and reminding him that Savusa had a full-time job as a member of Moliga's cabinet and would not have time to serve on a Guard study team.

We were among those waiting for a quick Faleomavaega retort in his usual overkill with dates, times and places of consultation and were surprised by the silence. In the old days before illness slowed him physically and possibly mentally, the delegate would be johnny on the spot. Instead the response came only this week in a press release about his meeting with Brigadier General Timothy Wojtecki, Vice-Director of Force Structure, Resources and Assessment for the National Guard Bureau (NGB) to discuss the feasibility study, which is now underway.

Buried in the release, Faleomavaega completely reversed his position, saying “One issue that BG Wojtecki and I agreed on, which Governor Lolo also supports, is that due to legal issues American Samoa may not be able to have a guard unit function under the Hawaii National Guard because, unlike the Reserve, different rules govern the National Guard.”  Interesting he mentioned Lolo supporting Faleomavaega's position without admitting it actually was Lolo's position that the delegate was now adopting. He also went on to say “BG Wojtecki and I firmly believe the NGB and DOD must receive input from Command Sergeant Major Iuniasolua Savusa, who was once a candidate for CSM of the Army,” as if it ever were an issue. More likely, the general gave him a face-saving way of backing out of his “nomination” of Savusa to sit on the study team. Rather, the delegate acknowledged, “the study requires [Savusa's] input since he is the Director of Homeland Security in American Samoa.”

Making his capitulation to the governor total, Faleomavaega further went on to say “To alleviate any concern about his time commitment, I was assured in today’s meeting that the time commitment on CSM Savusa’s part would be minimal, making it possible for him to devote all of his time and attention to his job as Director of Homeland Security while also contributing his unparalleled expertise to this historic study.”

Although it proves he is alive and breathing, if anyone still had doubts, Faleomavaega does himself no favors by releasing photos like the one that accompanied the press release. Standing between the two Guard officers, Faleomavaega shows the devastating ravages of time and illness that have take a heavy toll on his appearance. He has not returned to the island since last October, has not told the public the nature of his illness and has made no mention of his future political plans. If and when he does return, people will be shocked by his appearance if he looks anything like this photo.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

INDIA: Faleomavaega Rips Obama, Clinton, Kerry Policies; Gabbard Upstages Him; Hindu PAC Ignores Him

Following the victory of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the recent Indian national elections, American Samoa Delegate Eni Faleomavaega lashed out at President Obama's policies in a news release containing remarks his office had inserted into the Congressional Record on May 19 congratulating the sub-continent's new prime minister.

Suggesting that Modi had scored a "resounding victory despite the U.S. using every recourse it could to disrupt his destiny," without naming them Faleomavaega made it clear he felt Obama, Clinton and her successor John Kerry had made a mistake in not restoring a visa that first had been revoked in 2005 for his alleged role in riots in Gujarat in 2002, when he was chief minister at the time.

Nonetheless, despite the United States getting it wrong with India,” continued the delegate,who had pleaded with Obama, Clinton and Kerry without success (and once again underscoring his lack of influence) to build a friendship with Modi, “Narendra Modi is looking ahead . . . (a)nd he is the key player for improved relations between the U.S. and India.” No kidding! 

Almost as if to stick his thumbs in the eyes of the White House and State Department, he made certain it was noted for the Record that “As a token of friendship and in commemoration of the fulfillment of his destiny . . . a flag was flown over the United States Capitol at my request in honor of him on April 7, 2014, to mark victory’s dawn.” Preliminary results indicating a BHJ victory were not announced until May 16.

Faleomavaega also made it known that “I have personally met with Shri (the Sanskrit equivalent of “Mr.”) Modi as far back as 2010 and I know him to be a sincere man who stands against corruption and for inclusive growth and development.” Yet, even as the ailing, 13-term delegate was having his statement inserted into the Congressional Record, freshman U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) was upstaging him in her own reaction to her fellow Hindu's victory.

Three days before Faleomavaega's statement, as Modi's victory was becoming evident, Gabbard, who is younger than Faleomavaega's children and has a long, bright future in politics, released her own statement, which said: “I recently spoke with Narendra Modi by phone and congratulated him and the Bharatiya Janata Party for winning a majority vote in India’s Lok Sabha [Congress]. This election was an extraordinary achievement for the 550 million Indians who voted over the course of six weeks in some 930,000 polling locations. I look forward to working with Mr. Modi and other members of the Indian government toward our mutual goals of peace, stability, and economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region. A partnership between the world's two largest and greatest democracies is necessary for us to successfully address the many global challenges we face, including economic growth, bilateral trade, the environment, terrorism, and security." 
No smirking, no reference to success or failures of U.S. policy, just looking to the future. In the ailing Faleomavaega's absence, Gabbard has on occasion served as Ranking Member of the House Asia-Pacific Subcommittee, a position it took Faleomavaega years to achieve. Whether or not Faleomavaega also tried to telephone Modi but without success is not known. Perhaps the fragility of his health would not permit such an attempt. Although he publicly welcomed the election of the first Samoan as a voting Member of Congress, it has to be grating on him how fast Gabbard has risen in stardom within their shared Democratic Party.  She has already appeared on more national televison news programs in a year and a half than he has in 25 years.

Whatever Faleomavaega'a relationship with Modi, it is clear that on May 31 the Hindu American Political Action Committee (HAPAC)  announced its endorsements for 2014 congressional primary elections. In its statement releasing the names of candidates it is backing, HAPAC said it is supporting them “because of their strong track record of work for the Hindu American community. HAPAC looks forward to supporting others candidates for political office.”

It should come as no surprise that Gabbard topped the list followed by U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), the chairman of the full House Foreign Affairs Committee. Two California Democrats, Reps. Brad Sherman and Ami Bera, the latter the only Asian Indian currently in Congress, were next, followed by House India and Indian American Caucus Co-Chairman Joe Crowley (D-NY) and caucus member Eric Swallwell (D-CA). Rounding out the list, the PAC also announced it was financially assisting state Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett (D-CA), who is running against Swallwell, and two other Hindus running for Congress: Dr. Manan Trivedi (D-PA), and Swati Dandekar (D-IA).

Because Congressional Asia Pacific Caucus Chairman-emeritus Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) has been very helpful to Hindu Americans, the PAC is not contributing to either of his Hindu opponents, Ro Khanna (D) and Dr. Vanilla Singh (R), urging voters to vote their conscience. This despite the fact that Honda In 2012 signed onto a letter to the U.S Department of State asking it to continue denying a visa to Modi.

Although incumbents such as Gabbard and Royce face little or no competition for renomination or reelection, HAPAC stressed that this was funding for primaries,. It is quite possible, however, that they are stressing that this is primary funding so they can come back and make additional contributions to the same candidates for the general election. In one case where they have two favored candidates contesting a seat, they are giving money to both, in another case to neither.

Curiously missing from this initial list, of course, is Faleomavaega, even though the aging Samoan is already facing four announced challengers with several more thought to be standing in the wings. Maybe HAPAC is waiting to see if due to his lingering illness Faleomavaega decides to retire.  For now, not even a nod to his existence.

It will be interesting to see if another Indian PAC, USINPAC, makes a contribution to Faleomavaega, as it has in the past.  Included in his statement for the Congressional Record congratulating and praising Modi, Faleomavaega made it a point to insert this sentence: “I also commend Mr. Sanjay Puri, Founder and President of USINPAC, for championing the cause and work of Shri Narendra Modi early on in the U.S. Congress when India’s next Prime Minister was Chief Minister of Gujarat. 

Whether that was a payoff for past support or a down payment on future contributions remains to be seen. His statement was silent about HAPAC. USINPAC has donated at least $22,000 to the delegate's reelection campaigns in chunks from $2,000 to $5,000 going back as far as 2002 and there is no reason to expect they will abandon him this year, regardless of what HAPAC does.

Faleomavaega's statement got major play in the Indian media but not in American Samoa. It could be the local media did not consider it newsworthy. On the other hand, perhaps Samoa News, where Faleomavaega's sister-in-law, the territory's Democratic National Committeewoman, is on the editorial staff, spiked the story to save the delegate embarrassment for not gaining HAPAC funding or even an endorsement for re-election after all the fuss he has made about Modi, a Hindu. As much attention as his statement garnered in India and in the Indian American community, the snub hardly seems an oversight. 
Of course, all this is public information available on the Internet and one need not be in Washington to put two and two together. But our local media seems to be incapable of gathering and analyzing facts. Meanwhile, as expected, former governor Togiola Tulafono has tossed hat into the ring, becoming the fourth announced candidate for Congress. Other than emphasizing he wanted to work to restore a good working relationship between the delegate and local leaders, saying “my feeling is, we need to refocus cooperation” between the Office of the Delegate and territorial leaders and that the Delegate “must serve the supporting role” of the leaders, in serving the territory and her people” he kept his announcement on a positive note. “refocusing cooperation is a thinly veiled code phrase for pointing out that Faleomavaega has a fierce independent streak that has put him at odds with a succession of governors, including or perhaps especially Togiola. The two men do not like each other but Togiola did not take the bait offered by Samoa News to question Faleomavaega's health.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Will Faleomavaega Join the Old Bulls Leaving Congress?

Everyone knows that Faleomavaega is a sick man. He has said so himself. Just before the 2012 election Radio New Zealand International reported that he freely admitted that he “has had a double by-pass heart surgery, had his appendix taken out, underwent a knee operation, both his eyes are lasered with artificial lenses and he had high blood pressure, gout and Type 2 Diabetes. He adds it's likely he has been exposed to the deadly chemical dioxin found in Agent Orange while he served in Vietnam."

But, while admitting that he has new health problems from which he is still recovering, he has not yet been as forthcoming about them as he was about his earlier ailments nor has he announced whether he will seek re-election this fall.

Nonetheless, we have clues to the answers to both questions. His office in the few statements made has referred to his “rehabilitation,” a word normally used in connection with a stroke. Indeed, there is widespread belief he suffered two strokes last October. Although he has resumed “limited” office hours, he has skipped countless hearings and caucus meetings since he return. While he has made three appearances on the Floor of the U.S. House of Representatives where he has spoken without sign of impairment, there is anecdotal evidence that he may be suffering residual brain damage even if his motor skills have fully recovered.

On the question of re-election, the Federal Election Committee reports that his campaign committee is functioning and he has raised $40,000 towards re-election just since taking ill. There is no law, just tradition, that requires him to make any formal announcement. However, he has simply filed the required paperwork before without any formal announcement or campaign kickoff event without any impact on his votes and could do so again. So we will have to keep a close eye on our election office to see if and when he or someone on his behalf picks up a packet containing the petitions that must be circulated and filed before he formally becomes a candidate. The filing period opens July 14 and closes September 2

Not only has he missed many normal functions of participating in Congress, there is no evidence Faleomavaega has traveled since becoming ill, other than evacuation from Tutuila to Honolulu, where he was hospitalized at Tripler Hospital, then quietly moved to the Mainland for additional treatment in the west (some say at his residence in Utah; others say at a VA rehab facility in California; perhaps both). Then he returned to Washington in late winter and has remained there ever since. It is also said that his wife, who for many years has lived apart from him first in Nevada and now Utah, has returned to Washington to care for him.

If, indeed, he suffered one or more strokes, it would account for why there is no evidence he has traveled at all by air since returning to Washington. He may be under doctor's orders. We do know that he did not return for Flag Day or Memorial Day, two occasions that no politician ordinarily would dare miss in an Election year. So everyone is waiting to see when he will make his re-appearance. Will he pick up and/or file his own papers? Will he have a campaign kickoff event? Will he participate in candidate debates? Will he run a Curley/Spellman/Johnson type of campaign (James Michael Curley won election in Boston while in prison; Gladys Spellman won in Maryland while in a coma; Tim Johnson won a SD senate seat while hehabing from a stroke)?  Or will he wait as long as possible to assess his health then quietly retire if he, his family, friends, allies and/or doctors decide he no longer is up to the job?

Frankly, one has to wonder why he would want to continue. He is in the Minority and no one believes the Democrats have any chance of resuming control of the House this fall. The earliest date most analysts believe the Democrats can come back is in 2022 after redistricting when Faleomavaega would be pushing 80.  In fact, if anything all indications are that Republicans will gain additional House seats and perhaps enough Senate seats to gain control of the Senate in November. Even in the Majority he, as a non-voting delegate, would have very little opportunity to accomplish very much. Moreover, continuing health problems may force him to curtail if not curtail if not eliminate his extensive foreign travel. Over the past quarter century, it would come as no surprise to find that he has traveled more miles than any other Member of Congress even without counting the miles traveling back and forth from American Samoa.

Unlike the other delegates, he has no legislative record of which to speak and little prospect of building one. His signature bill, the so-called ASPIRE Act, introduced when his party controlled the House, never got reported out of subcommittee and even members of his own party spoke against it in a hearing. Despite his seniority, he was denied the Ranking Member position on the full Foreign Affairs Committee, authority over global environment was stripped from the subcommittee, he has been stripped of his vote in the House Committee of the Whole and the Clerk no longer reports his seniority or that of the other delegates—all Democrats—in the House seniority list. It is shown separately at the end of the list. He also was passed over in favor of a freshmen legislator for the chairmanship of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus despite having served loyally for a number of years as vice chairman to Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA). Adding insult to injury, his place as vice chairman went to another delegate, Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo of Guam.

Despite being on Tutuila at a time then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was in Samoa meeting with the region's foreign ministers, he did not travel over there, even though he was chairman of the Asia Pacific subcommittee at the time, because Rice declined to give him an opportunity to address the gathering. And when then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came through Pago Pago a couple of years ago, she ignored his plea on Cambodian debt relief while granting the then-Governor (who will seek to replace him this fall) was granted his request to allow American Samoa to have official observer status at the Pacific Islands Forum in a major reversal of U.S. policy.

His extensive travels over the years frequently have taken him to Bangkok, home of the parent company of Chicken of the Sea brand tuna and Seoul, home of StarKist's parent company. Although he touted those visits as opportunities to meet with American Samoa;s major private sector employers, Chicken of the Sea closed its plant and StarKist's long-term future remains in as much doubt as Faleomavaega's ability to get legislation to protect the company's tax advantages and wage structure. One trip he missed was a U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen even though the global environment was under his subcommittee's jurisdiction at the time. Even though he was chairman, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)--whose political action committee once gave him $10,000 towards re-election (she wanted his caucus vote for Leader)—did not include him in her 21-Member delegation. 

He once got Pelosi to show up at a summit of Pacific Leaders in Washington only to have that triumph go sour when the then-Speaker showed up over a half hour late, annoying the heads of government and others alike, all trapped in an auditorium for the occasion,  They all were there for an evening of food and entertainment--to which Pelosi's appearance was a hastily arranged add-on.

More recently, his continued lack of influence was underscored by President Obama's decision to pick Esther Kia'aina over his choice, Nikolao Pula, as assistant secretary of Interior for insular affairs and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned less than two days after Faleomavaega took to the House Floor to urge him to stay. Indeed, although Faleomavaeva was one of Obama's earliest supporters in his first run for president, there is no evidence Obama ever has returned the favor. Oh yes, Faleomavaega has lots of pictures with the president, but so does every Member of Congress—Republican and Democrat alike. It comes with the job.  One has to wonder if he realizes he is telegraphing his irrelevance by frequently punctuating his remarks with "I've been saying for years . . . " (even if he does not conclude with "but no one listens to me").

He has gone as far as his seniority will take him. Acquiring more now will not advance him further, get him a better office or increase his pension, which topped out at 20 years of service 2009. So why does he go on? We can only surmise that the limelight must continue to outweigh the humiliations, particularly since neither the local media nor his political opponents make any concerted effort to address his record or prospects for future success in Congress. Seemingly, as long as he can continue to flash his pe'a, strum his ukulele, carry a tune and dance, and have enough money to buy a boatload of radio and newspaper advertisements that cleverly list all the federal money that comes to the territory while only implying but being careful specifically not to claim it is due to him, as well feed the voters, there will be enough voters to get him re-elected.

One of the values of seniority is building friendships and alliances to help a Member reach his legislative goals. Much of Faleomavaega's investment in that relationship building process has been lost in the past three years with the retirement of Sen. Dan Akaka (D-HI), the death of Sen. Dan Inouye (D-HI) and the defeat of then-Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA), whose re-nomination Faleomavaega unsuccessfully backed in 2012. The wave of Old Bulls going out has continued unabated this year with the announced retirements of Reps. John Dingell (D-MI), George Miller (D-CA) and Henry Waxman (D-CA), all Faleomavaega allies with whom he serves for many years a fellow member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The signs are present that other senior Members also may be on their way out. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) has a tough primary challenge this month and Rep. Nick Joe Rahall (D-WV), a Faleomavaega ally who was Ranking Democrat on House Natural Resources, is thought to be in danger of losing his seat in November. All of the aforementioned Members are ex-Members who have or had seniority substantially exceeding Faleomavaega's 13 terms.

Dingell, the longest serving person in the history of the House, will be joined in retirement by Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), at 91 the oldest person ever to have served in the House. Hall, also the last World War II veteran in Congress, was defeated for renomination last week and the man who beat him said a long career of distinguished service does not entitle a person to a lifetime seat in the House. Watch this video interview for his comments.

Once again, do not expect our local media to present this kind of analysis to the voters for their consideration. However, even if others are hesitant to address the ailing delegate's shortcomings, former governor Togiola is not likely to be so shy. Faleomavaega realizes this so perhaps it will given him impetus he needs to pull the plug and go the way of the Old Bulls before the voters finally show him the door.