Tuesday, September 9, 2014
IT’S OFFICIAL: FALEOMAVAEGA IS IN THE RACE
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.]