Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Faleomavaega Rips Obama, Kerry Over PRIMNM Announcement

A clearly frustrated Faleomavaega has lashed out at President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry over Obama’s decision to sign an Executive Order creating a Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM).  While expressing his appreciation that  the conservation zone expansion would only involve Wake Island, Jarvis Island and Johnston Atoll, he said “I am displeased that the White House rushed this decision just so Secretary Kerry could have a sound bite at the United Nations.”

“Given the seriousness of the issue, I believe the Administration should have been more thoughtful about this process,” argued the delegate, “[because t]his decision affects the economies of Hawaii, American Samoa, CNMI and Guam, and every stakeholder among us deserved to be heard.”  Reflecting disappointment that he was crowded out of the decision-making process, he continued: “[I]t is unfortunate that the White House and State Department really didn’t engage in a meaningful discussion with local leaders or Congress about this initiative.”

Pointing to stalled negotiations for foreign fishing rights in the Pacific, Faleomavaega again accused Kerry of rushing for a sound bite while “the Administration may have failed to consider that its expansion just might spell trouble later for the American tuna industry in light of an un-negotiated South Pacific Tuna Treaty.   An un-negotiated treaty,” he warned, ”means less fishing grounds for our tuna boats and, environmentally, may lead to overfishing if Pacific Island nations open up fishing grounds to the highest bidders and if Asian and European vessels are given the green-light to do as they please. . . . In consideration of these facts, I believe if the Administration is truly serious about conservation, then it would have made the renewal of the South Pacific Tuna Treaty a higher priority than the expansion of PRIMNM.”

He gamely tried to reclaim his relevance by saying that he had been told by White House aides on September 24 of the President’s intentions to sign the Executive Order but was asked not to say anything until Kerry announced it in New York at a follow up meeting to his June Our Ocean Conference.  Faleomavaega did not attend the Apia meeting and while it is unclear if he also were not at the follow on gathering, judging from his news release that makes no mention of it, he was not.

It had to be annoying to him that by not announcing the White House decision, his thunder was stolen because the lead story in the September 25 Samoa News was based on a press release issued late in the afternoon of the 24th by the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council, which apparently was not under the same embargo, ignored it or was faster on the draw, leaving Faleomavaega relegated to saying “me, too.”   Wednesday afternoon National Geographic also published a story on Kerry’s Wednesday morning announcement, so it seems more likely that the delegate’s crack press staff, which long has been accustomed to dictating what and when off-island news is reported locally, was caught napping.  

It is curious that Obama has given Faleomavaega such back-handed treatment considering the delegate went out of his way to take a gamble and endorse the president’s first bid for the White House in 2007 when the Illinois senator was still considered a long shot.  Both men were raised and schooled in Hawaii and Faleomavaega apparently felt a kinship with him.  In fact the relationship was considered so close that some conspiracy theorists charged that during the campaign on one of the delegate’s frequent trips to Indonesia, he was asked to negotiate with Jakarta authorities to get Obama’s childhood school records sealed.  

However, the latest attack on Obama and Kerry is another sign that he is distancing himself with the soon-to-be lame duck president and secretary of State as he tries to tries to mend fences with Kerry’s predecessor Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic Party nomination for president.  That break was underscored when he also said he would cross party lines to back legislation by a Republican in the upper house.  Referring to his objection to the PRIMNM order, he said: “This is why I stand with Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska who has introduced legislation to change the law so that no President will ever have the power to lock up millions of acres of public lands and waters without Congressional approval.”  A dramatic move for a man who just three-and-a-half years ago was chairman of the subcommittee that had jurisdiction over the global environment.

With virtually every member of the House, except those not running for re-election, having left Washington for home for the critical final weeks of the campaign, it is curious that Faleomavaega is still there.  There was a Washington dateline on September 25 press release, which Samoa News buried in a larger story recounting the reactions of a number of organizations to the conservation zone.  Having missed the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) summit in Apia, it seemed possible that Faleomavaega might have wanted to recoup by attending the U.N. Secretary General’s Climate Change summit in New York just ahead of this year’s General Assembly speeches but there is no evidence he traveled to New York for that gathering of even for Indian Prime Minister Modi’s meeting with Members of Congress.

Indeed, the only evidence of Faleomavaega activity was a press release pathetically announcing he participated in the annual White House picnic for Members of Congress.  Since this event is held every year, is open to all Members of the House and Senate and their families regardless of party and is not meant for conducting business, it is hardly newsworthy and only the Samoa Post ran a story.  Neither Samoa News nor Radio KHJ-FM found it newsworthy.  As with the annual Easter Egg roll and the White House Christmas party, this event is purely for socializing and photographs. 

In addition to the usual pictures with Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D), Faleomavaega made a point of mentioning (and providing the press a photo with) “my good friend, Chairman Frank Lucas of the House Committee on Agriculture, which has responsibility over American Samoa’s food stamp and voucher programs that I have worked on all these years to keep in place and increase our funding.” 
Why single out Lucas?  Perhaps because one of his election opponents also had a photo taken with Lucas when the chairman passed through Pago Pago in August as part of a Natural Resources Committee-led Congressional Delegation on which the second most senior Democrat, Faleomavaega, was noticeably absent.  And so it goes.

Monday, September 29, 2014


In an almost five-minute long, nearly 500 word audio message delivered in English, with no transcript provided, Faleomavaega, clearly looking for the sympathy of  voters, asked them to elect him to Congress for a 14th time in November.  Cloaked in a host of irrelevancies, the nub of his statement was an admission to having chronic heart disease and kidney disease, the latter which now is being controlled by dialysis.  He made no mention of whether he is currently on or expecting to go onto a waiting list for either a heart transplant or kidney transplant or possibly both.

Under pressure from the media and growing restlessness among the voters, Faleomavaega finally came forward after nearly a year’s silence and an extended absence from his office to clear up the mystery of what ails him.  During the past 11 months, speculation has ranged from cancer to a stroke and there were even rumors that he was in a coma at one point.  Until now, neither he nor his office has done anything to dispel them.

A big mystery that remains is why he waited until a little over one month from Election Day to make his condition public instead of issuing bulletins about the state of his health and his recovery all along the way.  As we have suggested in the past, perhaps he wanted to draw into the race more candidates who thought he would retire or be vulnerable, so that he would have an easier time defeating a large, divided field in a race that requires only a plurality to win.  He has won multicandidate races before with less than 50% of the vote.

That he suffers from heart and kidney ailments should come as no surprise.  He very publicly stated just before the 2012 election that among other medical treatments over the years, he has had heart bypass surgery, suffers from diabetes and “very likely” was exposed to Agent Orange.  In other words, everyone knows already that he is not a well man.  Why wait to disclose new issues that are similar to those he already has made public?

Another big mystery is why he is not home.  His message was recorded presumably from his residence, office or elsewhere in the Washington area because he has not yet returned to the territory nor did he give any indication in his statement when he would return.  Because his message raises more questions than it answers, it bears close examination.  Since no transcript was released by his office, an annotated script follows, which will help guide readers in seeking answers from the delegate during these final five weeks of the campaign.:

Faleomavaega’s Message to American Samoa 

Thank you American Samoa.  Last October because of complications due to Agent Orange exposure during my service in Vietnam,
What exactly were the complications that forced you to be hospitalized at LBJ? What specific symptoms did you experience on the airplane that led to your immediate transport to LBJ upon landing?
 I was airlifted to Hawaii where I was not expected to live. 
If you were not expected to live, then why very early in the process did your office issue statements that said you were expected to make a full recovery?
Thanks to your prayers you offered to God on my behalf, I am back. 
You are back where?  Certainly not back in American Samoa. When do you expect to return?  If you have recovered, as your campaign advertisement last week stated, why have you not returned to American Samoa, from which you have been absent now for nearly a year?  Since Congress is not in session, what other reason would you still be in Washington?
While words can never express the love and gratitude I feel for you, I hope in some small way my life will become my message.  My message is my prayer.  I pray that I may wear out my service to you, to God and to our great nation. 
Your invocation of God here and throughout this message is admirable but is it not meant to obscure the real seriousness of your illness and invoke the sympathy of a very religious community? Is it possible you already have worn out your service to us if not to God and the country?
To our Vietnam veterans, please visit our VA clinic.  I was not aware of the many side effects caused by Agent Orange exposure. 
How could you not be aware of the side effects since they have been experienced by so many other veterans and you, yourself, in 2012 stated that you “very likely” were exposed to Agent Orange?  Members of Congress have access to the finest health care in the country if not the world.  How is it possible that physicians and surgeons, knowing your medical and military history, would not have detected any signs of the effects of Agent Orange when they performed your double bypass surgery?  With diabetes, gout and kidney disease, as well as heart disease, all involving the cardio-vascular system, how is it possible when you previously were treated for gout and diabetes, that Agent Orange would not have been detected after 40 years?
But now that I know, I urge you to seek treatment so that you may live a long and healthy life.  Agent Orange is a silent killer of Vietnam veterans.  From 1961 to 1971 the U.S. military sprayed over 11 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam, exposing millions of civilians and soldiers to dioxin, a toxic contaminant known to be one of the deadliest chemicals made by man.  I was exposed during my service in Nha Trang.  Like hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans,
This is a very fine history and chemistry lesson, and public service appeal to veterans that has little to do with your condition.
I now suffer from the side effects of Agent Orange, including heart and kidney disease which almost cost me my life.  But with proper diagnosis and dialysis treatment, my life has been spared. [emphasis added]
This is the meat of your message.  The question is why was it not delivered at least by the time you returned to limited office hours and began accepting visitors in March if not at the time of your video Christmas message in December?
If you served on active duty in Vietnam from January 9, 1962 to May 7, 1975, you may qualify for presumptive service-connected Agent Orange disability compensation.  To all Vietnam veterans living in American Samoa and elsewhere, I encourage you to get checked out now.  Please call my office if you need assistance.  To any who suffer due to pain, disability or trials, worry not.  Your service continues to make a difference beyond measure. 
Again, a very fine public service announcement that seems designed to bury the meat of your statement: that you are a very sick man.
The late Senator Daniel Inouye was a decorated World War II veteran.  He was like a father to me and I have always looked up to his example. Although he lost his arm in battle, he served our nation with distinction and honor.  My dear friend Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth is an Iraq war veteran. I proudly supported her when she first ran for Congress and I continue to support her to this day.  She is the first Asian-American woman elected to Congress in Illinois.  She is also the first disabled woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, having lost both of her legs during the war.  She is a remarkable representative and incredible woman and soon to be a mother.  I salute her.  Congressman Jim Langevin of Rhode Island was shot at age 16 and will never walk again but with remarkable courage he now serves the good people of Rhode Island though bound to a wheel chair. 
It is unclear what the physical disabilities of these three Members of Congress have to do with your conditions. None of them is ill.  All have lost the use of limbs but have suffered no impairment in office.  Moreover, former Senator Max Cleland was missing three limbs but that did not limit him, either.  You, on the other hand, were totally missing in action for six months and have been working only part time since then.  None of them has or had a disability that was not publicly known at the time of their candidacies for office. No one defines missing or paralyzed limbs as illness.
Several other members of Congress and congressional staff undergo dialysis due to their own struggles. 
What kind of “struggles” are you talking about?  Dialysis is used to treat kidney disease, just as other machines or procedures are used to treat other kinds of diseases.  No one needs be concerned with how kidney disease was acquired.
I respect their right to privacy.  Although public servants, they, too, are protected by HIPAA laws, and it is up to them to decide how much of their life to make public. 
Congressional staff have a right to privacy but elected officials have the same right only if the voters choose to give them that right.  Have these other Members of Congress who you have not named not made public that they are being treated by dialysis? That the public here has been increasingly displeased with tha absence of information from you has forced you to make this disclosure.  Do not be surprised if you are compelled to be even more forthcoming by answering these questions and others that the media, your opponent and the public might pose.  You ignore them at your own peril.
I have chosen to come before you and say what I have said because in 2004 I lost a brother who also served in Vietnam. 
You are not coming forward because you believe the public has a right to know your physical and mental ability to perform the duties of your office before deciding whether to have you continue in office?  What does your brother’s death have to do with your condition?  Did he die of Agent Orange complications?  If so, might that not be a reason for you to retire from office?
While I do not know why God has given me a second chance, I want to do my part to ensure that other veterans also get a second chance.
How will your re-election give veterans a second chance?  Might not God’s plan for you to be freed of the burdens of office so your life can become your message through concentrating on working more directly with the veterans community to educate them on tending to their health needs?
With your continued support and prayers, I hope to continue my service for you and to our great nation.
When are you coming home so we can see you in the flesh and judge for ourselves your mental and physical state before voting?
Soifua, manuia. Faleomavaega

Since she had raised the issue of Faleomavaega’s health before, it was surprising that Samoa News Editor Rhonda Annesley in her editorial last Friday opened with “Not a lot happened this week — with two exceptions — [Medicaid and ASTCA],” but she allowed as she had been battling the “Chik virus” for two weeks, so she may not have been aware that the Faleomavaega message story was run as the lead artcile in her paper just two days earlier.  Perhaps she will be lowering the boom this Friday.  Until then, Faleomavaega’s media staff will have to hold their collective breath to see if they get away with it once again.  The champagne is on ice but no corks are popping yet.

It is doubtful that Samoa News or any other local news outlet will call for Faleomavaega to retire but if he cannot satisfy the public with answers to basic questions such as those posed above, then the voters should retire him. Due credit goes to all of them, however, for picking through the fluff and leading with the real news, not merely publishing or playing his message verbatim.  A Faleomavaega decision to contest this election in absentia would be an insult to the electorate, which then should massively vote him out of office.  Is he afraid to let the voters see and hear him in person?  What is he afraid of?  He has announced he is recovered.  Let us see.  Or is he sicker than he is admitting?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


On August 21 Faleomavaega's office issued a press release headlined “Faleomavaega and Governor Lolo Make American Samoa Top Priority in Discussions on Pacific Marine National Monument.”  His release included the text of a letter he sent to President Obama July 21 objecting to the President's proposal for a Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM) and a letter to Governor Lolo in which he saidthe White House immediately assured my office that President Obama is committed to receiving input and comments from all stakeholders before any decision is finalized, and I take the President at his word.”  He continued that “because of the importance of the possible expansion of the PRI Monument to American Samoa, I continue to make this a top priority." (emphasis added)

Yet, between his initial press release ­ on the matter on June 19 and his September 15 admission he was left out of the key meeting held to discuss the proposal, he had not one word to say about the issue, even though he promised “I will keep the people of American Samoa updated as the matter progresses.”  Perhaps he had nothing to say because he had made no progress but in his September 15 release, headlined “White House Aides Hold Meeting with West Pac Regarding PRIMNM, he tried to downplay the importance of the meeting by using the term “White House Aides.” He may have fooled our local media, which gave the story short shrift, and the average reader would not know if it were not explained that these White House “aides” included two of the most senior and powerful men in the Obama administration: Counselor to the President John Podesta, one of the top three assistants to the President, and Council on Environmental Quality Acting Chairman Michael Boots. The director of Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service also participated.

Faleomavaega made it sound as if this meeting were some sort of gathering with junior people beneath his station as a delegate to Congress when, in fact, short of the President himself, this is as high as one can go in the administration on this issue. Yes, as he pointed out, none of the Pacific members of Congress or staff was included but he, after all, is the senior member of all seven congressmen and women from Hawaii and the territories and represents the jurisdiction most directly affected by the proposal.  Moreover, Faleomavaega was one of Obama's earliest supporters in 2007.  Not to include him in this meeting, now that he has announced he has recovered from his illness, is to humiliate him.

If it were Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (WPFMC) Executive Director Kitty Simonds who was able to broker this meeting, then kudos to her. It is reasonable to assume that she or whoever arranged this meeting also bypassed Faleomavaega in so doing, otherwise there is no question that his pushy enforcer, Lisa Williams, would have insisted her office if not her boss himself be part of the discussions. However, just as every organization who submitted written comments to the White House bypassed Faleomavaega, it is likely a conscious decision was made to bypass him on this matter as well, since it has become increasingly clear that he cannot deliver. This was true even before his unexplained illness almost a year ago but is even more true now.

It is just as likely that Faleomavaega did not want to push himself into the lead if he sensed he were not going to be able to get any concessions from the White House, which also might explain why he was silent on the issue publicly between his August 17 and September 15 news releases. Since he has announced to the people he has recovered from his illness and, now that Congress has recessed until after the November 4 election, it would be expected that he would be anxious to return home to launch his reelection bid as soon as possible. Questions about his ineffectiveness on the PRIMNM controversy would not be welcomed.  If there were to be public debates this year, a moderator would be remiss not to ask the delegate why he said this issue would be his top priority but has not reported on what steps he has taken to get the White House to modify its proposal and what success has he had.

Meanwhile, his press staff must to be congratulating themselves once again because the local media have not pressed about his absence from this meeting any more than they did about his absence from a key congressional delegation visit to the island in August. The White House meeting was September 9 but even though WPFMC issued a post-meeting statement the following day that was well covered all over the region, Faleomavaega had nothing to say and likely never was asked for comments. However, on September 12 his office issued a release headlined “Congressman Faleomavaega Meets with StarKist President and CEO Sam Hwi Lee.” Although StarKist is vehemently opposed to PRIMNM, if the matter were discussed between the two men, it was not mentioned at all in the release. Not a single word.

Samoa News ran that story on September 15, the same day they also published a story about why WPFMC believes PRIMNM is a bad idea. Even though both stories were written by Samoa News chief political correspondent Fili Sagapolutele, who also is the territory's AP stringer, there was no attempt to synthesize the news.  In reviewing the stories for publication, there apparently was no effort by the editors to show any correlation between the Faleomavaega meeting with StarKist and the ongoing controversy with RPIMNM. Once again, Faleomavaega got away with it. Next time Editor-in-Chief Rhonda Annesley writes one of her Gong Show editorials, she needs to gong Sagapolutele and also the editor who did not ask him to synthesize the stories, which the dictionary says means “to combine two or more things to produce a new, more complex product.”

Readers deserve better.

Friday, September 12, 2014


Although he issued a press release nearly a month ago (and nothing since) about President Obama’s proposed Pacific conservation zone, saying he “and Governor Lolo have made American Samoa a top priority in discussions regarding the Pacific Remote Island (PRI) Marine National Monument,” the first important discussion at the White House was held this week and, while Governor Lolo was represented by a member of his cabinet, Faleomavaega was nowhere to be found.

It is not a matter of him continuing to be ill.  He has run full page color ads (using a pre-illness photo--see below) in Samoa News this week headlined “THANK YOU AMERICANS AMOA” [sic] announcing “I have recovered and am ready to serve the people of American Samoa again, God willing.”  It is not a matter of him being here; he isn’t.  Since Congress is in session, he is in Washington, as he suggested he will continue to be when he issued a statement last week through 93KHJ-FM’s Washington correspondent Matt Kaye saying “In the coming weeks, I will be working closely with [Kaye and the station] to make future announcements."

Even though he is the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and Pacific Affairs, a panel that also had jurisdiction over ‘the global environment” during the four years he chaired it until 2011 and is the senior Democrat on the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fish, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs, because it is part of a pattern it comes as no surprise Faleomavaega was excluded from this important White House meeting with the very powerful Counselor to the President John Podesta and the acting chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality. 

Ironically, the more seniority he has acquired, the less influence he seems to have.  Whether the White House called this meeting or it came at the initiative of Pacific fishing interests, he was bypassed, just has he was when a number of groups, organizations and governments filed written objections with the White House this summer over the proposed exclusion zone.  Even in American Samoa, the governor, the Fono, the Chamber of Commerce and his own Democratic party sent their statements directly to the White House rather than to Faleomavaega for transmittal, which had been the usual protocol in the past.

Since his “I’m not sick any more” announcement came only this week, maybe people felt he was still recovering, but he was healthy when his own Democratic Party colleagues declined to make him Ranking Member of the full Committee on Foreign Affairs last year despite his top seniority and when the Asia Pacific caucus passed over him for chairman in favor of a freshman from California despite the fact he was vice chairman at the time and in line to advance because the post traditionally had alternated between the Mainland and the islands over the years. 

Moreover, Faleomavaega was passed over by then-speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) when she took a 21-member House delegation to a UN environmental conference in Copenhagen at a time when he was chairman of the subcommittee on Asia, Pacific and the Global Environment!  So, it hardly could be said this latest humiliation comes as a shock.  Even though apparently no other Pacific congressional offices were represented either, if there were to have been one person there it should have been Faleomavaega, because he is the most senior Pacific Member of Congress since the passing of U.S. Senator Daniel K, Inouye (D-HI) and, because of American Samoa’s tuna canning industry, he represents the jurisdiction with the most at stake in the President’s plan.

There is one possible explanation, however.  Perhaps knowing the White House plans to move forward despite island objections, maybe he wanted to distance himself from this meeting to give himself political cover for when he faces the voters in November.  That is plausible since a post-meeting press release from the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council said that despite all the objections raised by Pacific participants in the hour long session, "[U.S.]government officials reaffirmed their support for the Monument’s expansion, however, they did not explain their rationale or expound upon any supporting facts,” and went on to say “Mr. Podesta expressed his opinion that large marine protected areas are valuable to the nation’s conservation objectives.”

If the governor’s representative, Port Director Taimalelagi Claire Poumele, even dropped by Faleomavaega’s office to brief him, just say hello or be part of one of his infamous staged “photos ops,” no mention of that was made in the September 12 Samoa News story, although the article noted that Faleomavaega sent Obama a letter of objection on July 18.  The story of the White House meeting ran on the editorial page next to Editor-in-Chief  Rhonda Annesley’s latest installment of her “Gong Show” editorials.   While she has taken on Faleomavaega’s absence in earlier Gong Show editorials, in what may be the biggest irony of all she missed the opportunity to use the side-by-side placement of the meeting story and her column to make note of his absence at the White House meeting.  We’ll give her a double gong for that.

Faleomavaega did put out a September 12 press release publicizing a meeting with the President of StarKist “to discuss federal issues affecting cannery operations in American Samoa including extension of 30A and minimum wage.”  He said “With competition from Thailand, where workers are paid about 75 cents per hour, and with the prospect of other companies like Bumble Bee opening operations in Apia, we must continue to work together to ensure that our canneries can remain competitive.”   Given the amount of money company executives have pumped into his reelection campaign, he could hardly have turned him down but despite the potential impact of the proposed conservation zone, this release incredibly said not one word about it or the White House meeting. 

The Samoa News webmaster recently assured an on-line commenter they would not be running any of Eni’s “BS” propaganda, which this press release clearly is.  So we shall be watching closely to see if Samoa News ignores this release, runs it as is or uses it as additional material for a story about how Eni missing the crucial White House meeting and has said nothing to the public about it.  No doubt Faleomavaega’s press staff is hoping to use this StarKist meeting release to divert attention away from his absence at the White House meeting, just as they successfully diverted press attention from his absence on the August Congressional Delegation that came here. 

With an election less than eight weeks away, this is information the public needs to have.  Whatever the newspaper chooses to do, they should use the photo of Faleomavaega and the StarKist president because it clearly shows the current physical appearance of the delegate, which is not flattering.  He barely resembles the smiling man in the campaign ad that appeals to voters: “And so it is with this renewed health and refreshing spirit that I humbly seek re-election as your representative in the United States Congress.” 

As Rhonda Annesley might put it: GONGGG.

Truth in Advertising?   The photo on the left is the one being used in Faleomavaega's Samoa News advertisements this week.  It is several years old.  The photo in the middle is an undated talanei.com
file photo that has been run with stories about him in the past several weeks.  The photo on the right is a cropped head shot from a photo taken with the president of StarKist in a meeting in his office that accomplanied a September 12 press release from his office.  In addition, the top photo on the right hand side of this blog is the one his office website uses as its "official website photo."  It is at least 30 years old.  The photo below it was captured from a video he released at Christmas, 2013.  

Perhaps most startling is the contrast between the Christmas photo and the April 12 photo because it appears that his physical condition has deteriorated or at least that he has lost additional weight in the past eight months.      

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Just hours before the filing deadline last Tuesday, American Samoa Congressional Delegate Eni F.H. Faleomavaega (D-AS), as he will be shown on the ballot (not Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin as he is more commonly known here), a statement purportedly from Faleomavaega himself out of Washington confirmed that he had filed with the American Samoa Election Office his candidacy for election to a 14th term in Congress.

The announcement appears to have been made exclusively to Radio 93KHJ-FM via the station’s Washington correspondent, Matt Kaye.  It comes as no particular surprise as his decision earlier had been telegraphed through his sister Vaitinasa Salu Hunkin-Finau, who confirmed to the media last month that her brother would be running again, and by his district office director, Fai’ivae Alex Godinet, who on Faleomavaega’s behalf sought and received local Democratic endorsement for his re-election bid in July. 

Yet there remained some doubts, with Samoa News Editor-in-Chief Rhonda Annesley declining to publish any story about his plans until he made an announcement himself, not through family or staff.  Perhaps since the statement carried on KHJ did not contain any sound bite from the delegate, Samoa News continues not to carry any separate news about his plans, although he was mentioned along with the others in the story publishing the names of the nine candidates released by the Election Office.  The article also noted that it was a record number of candidates running for this office.

Perhaps the KHJ scoop was to make amends to the station for Faleomavaega’s office misleading News Director Monica Miller, who last month told Radio Australia that she had been advised by his office that the delegate would return at the end of August and would stay through the election.  That comment led to speculation that he would be returning to the territory for the first time in nearly a year in order to file his election papers personally and also to attend the Small Island Developing States UN conference being held in Apia.  Or perhaps the exclusivity was meant to send a shot across Annesley’s bow that he doesn’t does not believe he needs Samoa News and will not play by Annesley's rules. 

Whatever the modality of his announcement, the mystery of Faleomavaega’s whereabouts and physical condition remains.  In its talanei.com web service, which publishes KHJ’s news broadcasts online, Faleomaveaga was quoted as saying "At this time, I also thank Matt Kaye and KHJ Radio for ensuring that our public is informed about my intentions.  In the coming weeks, I will be working closely with them to make future announcements." [emphasis added]  A most curious statement singling out the Washington correspondent that suggests he will be remaining in Washington for an indefinite period and hints that he will be relying on the radio rather than print to get his message out.  No copy of his statement has been posted on his official website and, if he has a campaign website, it has not well publicized and is not readily evident in a Google search.

At this point it appears he plans to remain in Washington while the House is in session, which could wind up as early as September 18 or spill into early October before adjournment, depending on what unfinished business remains.  That would make it almost one year since Eni has been home. 

Since he has devoted his entire career to international affairs in general and the Asia-Pacific region in specific, the SIDS conference is precisely the sort of international conference he would not miss unless there were extraordinary circumstances.  Continuing health problems would be just such circumstances and he may be using the September congressional schedule as a shield to gain additional weight and strength so that voters cannot see how really ill he has been.  If so, he may be hoping Congress continues in session as long as possible because if he is not on the first plane home after the gavel falls, there will be real questions by the public.

Whatever the case and his timing may be, Faleomavaega’s health is sure to be the central issue in this campaign.  A nine-candidate contest is unprecedented and likely has resulted from a calculation by many or most if not all of them that Eni either would not run or if he did run would not be reelected by voters because of his health.  There is precedent for voters retiring popular officeholders for such a reason.  The late governors Coleman and Lutali both were denied reelection following serious health problems that had hampered their effectiveness.  Both men experienced those issues in their early 70s, the same age Eni is now.  Voters have not forgotten.

His last minute, almost off hand announcement that he is running again could have been arrogance but it also could have been a calculation designed to draw out the maximum number of opponents in the contest in order to bolster his prospects by splitting the opposition vote.  His district office director is also a ranking high chief in Faleomavaega’s clan in the area of the island that has been his traditional stronghold.  If the director, who also is his campaign chairman, can hold his base vote in that area, then the other eight candidates can battle for votes all over the rest of the territory and it will not matter.  He could be reelected this time with 30% of the vote or less as long as his base holds.

By missing the Our Ocean Conference in June, the Natural Resources Committee congressional fact finding trip to the Pacific last month and the SIDS conference in Apia this month, Faleomavaega has sent a very strong signal that he is not up to the job any more—at least not right now.  If and when he does return, will he be able to convince voters he has recovered and can he assure voters that he will not have a relapse if he were re-elected?  That is a crucial question.  Older voters very well remember that Governor Lutali suffered a serious stroke shortly after beginning his second term and was incapacitated for the rest of his four-year term.   Although he sought reelection from a whell chair, "kalofa'e took him only so far.  He was soundly beaten by his own lt. governor.  With eight weeks to go, we soon will find out how the voters feel this time.

[Note to readers:  Now that the field is known, we have restarted our poll.  Again we omit Faleomavaega’s name on the assumption that his voters will not be spending any time reading this blog.]