As we previously reported, his district director, Fai’ivae Alex Godinet (who, with the governor, was at the airport to greet the delegation), recently announced Faleomavaega would seek re-election, on his behalf asked for and received from the local Democratic Party endorsement (unanimous) for that purpose. He apologized for Faleomavaega not being at the meeting, with a Talanei.com story characterizing him as saying “due to the work load and the work schedule with the congressional office in Washington DC, Faleomavaega is unable to make the party's meeting.” More recently, Radio Australia confirmed with Faleomavaega’s sister Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau, ASG’s Director of Education, that Faleomavaega would be a candidate, saying “He is doing fine and he has decided to run,” and adding, "He is busy in Washington doing his work there.”
Congress is in summer recess and there are no committee hearings or other business going on in Washington. Virtually every member of the House and Senate is back in their districts or states working and campaigning if not traveling abroad in congressional delegations such as the one that stopped here Sunday. So the question remains: given the importance of this delegation, given his membership and seniority on this committee and given his proven penchant for travel, where was he? What possibly could be of more importance than being at close quarters with these important Members of Congress on his home soil and elsewhere for a couple of weeks, particularly when most of them are ruling Republicans, to whom he has little regular access in Washington?
To its credit, Radio KHJ did air a short story about one congressional candidate being at the airport to greet the delegation that gave a little insight on the discussions and the Samoa Post published a longer story on Thursday, but it is an on-line newspaper with limited circulation. Samoa News published nothing. It is likely the candidate who did show up got word of the visit through an extensive network of contacts in Washington, while the other five announced aspirants to Faleomavaega’s seat were in the dark.
Why all the secrecy and lack of access? It seems reasonable to assume that Faleomavaega still has health problems that preclude his travel. Otherwise, anyone who travels as much as he does would have been on this delegation. Perhaps in hopes his absence would go unnoticed, it is reasonable to speculate that he asked the delegation to keep their visit low key. It appears he has succeeded. It has been four days now and there has been no commentary by Samoa News even though the editor recently published a signed editorial that expressed great frustration at Faleomavaega’s absence from the territory for over nine months without explanation.
In fact, this trip might have been a welcome test for him as to whether his absence would continue to be unnoticed. The press coverage suggests it has. His strategy well may be to stay away from American Samoa altogether and campaign from his arm chair (or wheel chair?) in Washington through newspaper ads and softly voiced radio commercials begging voters to forgive him for his absence and pleading for one final term to complete his vital work on behalf of the people.
Why not? It could work. Anyone who has seen his recent photographs knows how bad he looks. We would welcome the opportunity for him to come home so we could see for ourselves. However, without strong media or public criticism over his extended absence, he very well may calculate he will lose fewer votes by being away than by letting people see how old, ill, infirm and immobile he is. He surely has our media bamboozled. And he has the system just as he wants it because of how he fine-tuned it.
His reelection prospects are vastly aided by the one and only American Samoa-related bill he has had enacted into law during his time in Congress: the delegate election plurality bill. This law, passed a decade ago, which detractors derisively have labeled the “Faleomavaega Perpetual Reelection Act,” amended the federal law establishing our congressional seat to eliminate the requirement that a candidate win a majority of the vote in order to be elected. Now only a plurality is needed. In a multi-candidate race, the incumbent could win reelection with substantially less than a majority of the vote. In the past, the top two vote-getters would face each other in a runoff. That would have been dangerous for Faleomavaega in his current condition.
Faleomavaega has a very loyal support base in vote-rich Leone and the surrounding villages in Tutuila’s Western District. The more opponents he has, the fewer votes he needs to win as long as he holds those Leone votes. It is no accident that the well paid director of his district office is a senior high chief in Leone. Petitions are circulating now and it is speculated he may have as many as nine opponents this year. We will know on September 2 when petitions are due in the election office.
One other reason he has gotten away with only minimal criticism about being absent for so long both here and in Washington is that public attention has been diverted by the coincidental absence of the governor, who also has been ill and away for much of this same period. However, Governor Lolo, who took ill in Washington in February and then recuperated in Hawaii—also without much explanation, returned to duty last week after five months away, so it will be interesting to see if public attention and the media spotlight now will turn on the delegate, especially as we move into high campaign season after Labor Day.
Lolo’s illness has fueled speculation that he may retire after a single term, thus prompting his predecessor, former governor Togiola, to get into the race for Congress. There are those who believe that Togiola would like to use the congressional seat to regain public visibility and as a springboard back into another run at governor in 2016. None of this conjecture has found its way into media coverage, of course, just the coconut wireless.
Even though it has been four days since the “Faleomavaegaless” delegation was here, maybe we will hear yet from the Samoa News editor again but the way the paper and the radio station finessed his absence from this visit—which could have been far more consequential than it appears to have been, he seems to believe the local media is stupid, even if they do not. Who can blame him? He got away with it and the media deserves Gong Show treatment for it. Drink up that champagne, Eni’s staff, drink up.