Saturday, August 30, 2014
FALEOMAVAEGA SLOW ON THE DRAW
Since it cannot be as a result of his travels, it must be a result of his lingering illness and the inattention of his chief enforcer, Lisa Williams, that resulted in over a month’s delay in his formally filing with President Obama his objections to the expansion of a Pacific conservation zone by presidential fiat. In Washington style, it is formally known as the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument or, by its unpronounceable acronym, PRIMNM (prim nim?).
Obama’s announcement was made on June 17 at Secretary of State John Kerry’s Our Ocean Conference, which Faleomavaega did not attend but was prompt enough to respond in a July 19 press release expressing his concern at having had no prior consultation or warning of Obama’s proposal. Being left out of the loop must have come as a bitter disappointment to the delegate, who was one of Obama’s earliest and strongest supporters but who does not seem to have derived any benefits from his loyalty over the past five years. He has a score of photographs with the president but every member of Congress, regardless of party, gets those by standing in line to greet the president at the annual Christmas party, barbecue or other standard White House function held annually.
To get additional face time with presidents, Faleomavaega for years—until he took ill—has been among the small group of House members who arrive at the chamber hours before the annual State of the Union address to grab a seat at the aisle that the President uses to walk to the podium. The Washington Post reported on this well known practice last year.
It is puzzling why it took nearly a month for the ailing delegate to file a formal letter with Obama pleading with him not to take any action that would harm American Samoa’s economy and culture. It is quite possible that he misjudged the strength of the negative reaction of the American Samoa business community, the tuna industry, other island governments and regional fishing organizations. In other words, even if, as a former subcommittee chairman whose jurisdiction included the “global environment,” his heart were with his fellow left-leaning environmentalists, the politics of the situation forced him in the other direction. It is an election year, after all, and sometimes your constiuency has to come first.
As the September 2 election filing deadline rapidly approaches, Faleomavaega finally has made public his letter to Obama, which he had kept secret, he said, as “a courtesy to the President and to give him an opportunity to respond.” More likely he was hoping to keep the letter secret to save him the embarrassment of having the public learn that yet again he has been ignored. Predictably, Obama indeed has ignored him and with the governor now also weighing in with a letter to the president, the pressure to answer both allies and critics alike as to why he was remaining silent must have been too much to bear.
Clearly, courtesy to the president is a lame excuse since he dispensed with such courtesy earlier this year when he blasted Obama, Kerry and Kerry’s predecessor Hillary Clinton (not the smartest move) for U.S. policy towards India, which he believes is misguided. In this instance, he most likely was under particular pressure from various elements of the tuna industry, whose executives and boat owners already have contributed heavily to his re-election campaign. They must believe he has some magic power and influence in Washington because many of their contributions were made in the first quarter of 2014 at a time it was unclear if Faleomavaega even would recover from his illness--with some believing he might even have been in a coma--let alone run for another term.
The list of his major donors, including some who have given the very maximum amount allowable, $2,600 per person, reads like a Who’s Who of the industry: executives from StarKist, TriMarine and Bumble Bee, plus owners of the vessels that deliver the fish to the canneries. All of them must believe Faleomavaega has the clout to help their industry. Well, if that were their motivation, as Obama’s PRIMNM initiative shows, they have been sadly mistaken and have wasted their money. The truth is, from all the statements and letters we have seen filed with the White House to protest creation of PRIMNM, his is the weakest.
The biggest waste of a campaign contribution may have been the $1,500 donation made by Bumble Bee executive James Hines. Since Bumble Bee has no operations in American Samoa and Faleomavaega has been critical of the company’s human rights practices, perhaps Hines was hoping he would tone it down. No such luck. Faleomavaega will do his own thing, regardless who contributes to him. In his letter to Obama he expressed “my disappointment that Bumble Bee was singled out and publicly recognized by Secretary Kerry during the Our Ocean Conference. While it may be true that Bumble Bee advocates for ocean policy, we cannot and must not turn a blind eye to Bumble Bee’s human rights abuses. Bumble Bee is well-known for using suppliers in Thailand that employ child labor to clean tuna. Bumble Bee even owns a stake in one of those companies where Asian children and other exploited workers are paid about $0.75 cents an hour to manually cut off the head, fins and tail, and scrape off the skin of a tuna.” Perhaps when the next campaign finance reports are filed, we will see that environmental interests have made contributions in order to buy his acquiescence.
Even though he was in town and working “limited office hours” in June, he skipped Kerry’s Our Ocean Conference. However, he gets another bite at the apple at the Small Island Developing States Conference that opens in Apia on September 1. It is unclear if he would have an opportunity to address the conference and it is unclear if he would be part of any delegation. He was not includes in the State Department’s announcement of the U.S. delegation although Samoa News reported that the governor had been invited to be a member of the U.S. delegation. Nor is Faleomavaega on the list of the American Samoa delegation issued by the governor’s office. Subsequently, Talanei.com reported that the governor has decided not to go since, as a member of the U.S. delegation, he would not have a speaking role. The same might be true for Faleomavaega.
The deadline now has passed for public comments on the President’s proposed PRIMNM. If he does reverse course or make modifications, it will not be because of Faleomavaega’s weak objections. Indeed, Obama has pressures from his allies in the environmental community to stay the course. In an interview with Radio KHJ-FM, Michael Gravitz of the non-profit Marine Conservation Institute dismissed the concerns of the opponents of the president’s proposal.
Curiously, there has been no press release at all on Faleomavaega’s website since his August 21 release making public his letter to Obama. So nothing formal has been said about his travel even though Radio KHJ-FM News Director Monica Miller has reported that she has been told by his office that he would be home at the end of the month and would stay until after the election. If he were coming down here to file his candidacy papers personally on Tuesday, it is difficult to imagine he would not also be attending much of the SIDS conference as well and if were coming down for SIDS, it is difficult to imagine he would not be here Tuesday to file his papers.
Soon the mystery should be over.
[Note to readers: You have until Tuesday to vote in our preliminary poll asking who should replace Faleomavaega in Congress. Once the Election Office releases the names of those who have qualified for the ballot, we will pull down this list of speculated candidates and replace it with a list of those who will be on the November 4 ballot.]