Friday, October 24, 2014
Some months ago, local Democratic Party Chairman Ali’imau J.R. Scanlan accused this blog of calling for Faleomavaega to resign, which we did not. What we did call for him to do was not to run for re-election and retire at the end of this term. If not, we expressed hope that one of the other eight candidates challenging him would defeat him in the November 4 election.
We made a mistake.
We should have called on him to resign so the Governor could have had the opportunity to call a special election at the same time as the general election to fill the vacancy. It would have been hoped that the same candidate would have won both elections, been seated immediately, participate in the lame duck session of Congress and begin to build seniority ahead of the freshman class to be seated on January 3. Because the turnover in the House will be small this year, a freshman would be unlikely to be in a position to chair a subcommittee but a member with a little advanced seniority might very well be in such a position at the start of a second term.
However, that is all wishful thinking because Faleomavaega neither resigned nor retired and finally has returned home just a few days short of a year after his medical evacuation last October. Samoa News was at the airport to capture his arrival on film and ran two of the photos Monday morning. Editorially, Samoa News has had very little to say about the delegate’s health but if a picture were worth a thousand words, Samoa News did him no favor by publishing those photographs, which were shocking.
In one photo walking beside the Governor, who was arriving on the same flight from Honolulu, he is hunched over, thin, frail and sickly looking. He also appears to have some sort of medical device hanging from his hip. In the other photo, he gamely tries to do the siva but if the intended effect were to show his health and vigor it was offset by showing a cast on his left foot that could have been the result of gout or the effects of his diabetes. Samoa News easily could have cropped the second photo as they did the one of him walking with the Governor, but they chose not to do so. We suspect that was a deliberate decision. At the same time, the extensive markings on his arms, which very much look like bruising from medical needle marks, could not have been cropped out.
Two weeks ago his office announced he would be returning to Pago Pago in time to participate in the college candidate forum that has been held before almost every election over the years. That forum was held yesterday and eight of the nine candidates participated. Faleomavaega did not. Either his office misinformed the press or his absence was health related. He has admitted he is on dialysis for kidney disease and there is talk that he must spend several hours at the hospital every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday to be dialyzed.
Given his condition, we would not be surprised to see him avoid as many public appearances as possible. We have seen him and he looks awful. Expect instead that he will rely on newspaper ads, which feature a photo that is at least 10 years old, and radio ads, in which he will speak in a soft voice plaintively asking for public sympathy and one more term to complete his agenda. It is a familiar routine and there is no doubt he will generate a lot of sympathy votes from people who feel sorry for him. However, at the same time, there is a growing number of people who feel he is simply is not up to the job any more.
We have been surprised to find that there are longtime supporters who now resent being put into the position of having to decide his future for him when he should have bowed out on his own and graciously allowed himself to be lauded for his years of service. People are puzzled why he continues to press on when it is clear he not only is not up to the job physically, but that there is a real question whether he would be able to finish another term in office. Do the voters really want to take a chance in electing him again only to have him suffer a relapse and be out of commission for another extensive period when there is so much at stake for the territory in Washington?
When he first took ill last year, his office put out statements saying he was expected to make a full recovery but when he recently revealed his conditions he admitted that he had been expected to die. His office said he was here for the college forum but he did not attend. He has said he has now recovered from his illness but has he? Can we afford to have a representative in Washington who will need to spend a substantial part of every work week hooked up to a kidney dialysis machine?
He has always acknowledged that his principal interest and specialty is foreign affairs and in that case his work has involved a substantial amount of foreign travel. His health now precludes any foreign travel for the foreseeable future if ever. He has risen as far as he is going to go. His caucus has pretty much told him he will not become the Ranking Democrat on Foreign Affairs. Indeed, were he re-elected, he very well might be challenged for his position as Ranking Democrat on the Asia Pacific subcommittee. If travel were important for that role, he would be unable to fulfill it.
He has a full federal pension that will reflect almost a half century of public service, including his military years. If his illness were proven to be related to Agent Orange exposure, he would get 100% disability compensation on top of that. Plus, he will have an ASG pension from his six years service as deputy attorney general and lieutenant governor. He also will take his generous congressional health care coverage into retirement. No doubt there is low cost long term illness congressional insurance available to him along with his veterans's benefits.
Our culture may make voters be sympathetic but we are not fools. Our culture also equates weight with health. Someone who has been heavy who now is thin is thought to be ill. No matter what he says, clearly he is not a well man. Many people will turn to other candidates because they believe he is too ill to carry on. Still others will vote against him because they genuinely believe he should spend his final years with family.
Still, with nine candidates in the race and Faleomavaega being the best known, he must be considered the odds on favorite in a contest that is winner take all with no runoff. Even though there is no time to call a special election, we believe he would best serve the people by ending his candidacy now, formally withdrawing from the race, returning to Washington to represent us in the lame duck session and winding up his career.
It’s time to call it quits.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Radio Station KHJ-FM Washington correspondent Matt Kaye reports that Faleomavaega intends to return to the territory before the November 4 election to campaign for re-election. Although the story that appeared on KHJ’s talanei.com website quoted that he will be “going home soon-in the next couple of weeks,” there is no indication if these were words that Faleomavaega spoke to Kaye or Kaye was quoting someone on staff. The story did not include embedded soundbites.
Although Kaye said this announcement ends “speculation that his illness might keep him in Washington,” it remains a mystery what is keeping Faleomavaega in Washington more than three weeks after Congress has recessed for the campaign. Yes, one day after the recess he attended a White House barbecue but his press release to that effect announcing President Obama had invited him was virtually meaningless since it is an annual affair to which all Members always are invited regardless of party. Since it was the evening before the recess, he had plenty of time to catch a plane to Honolulu on Thursday, remain overnight, and come down to Pago Pago on Friday. But no Eni.
There was speculation that because he attended the first San Diego Pacific Islanders Festival in 1994, perhaps he would attend the 20th anniversary of that event on the weekend after recess on the way home. Since it draws a crowd of 150,000 people, many of them Samoans, he could do a little fundraising then head out to the Pacific to catch the Monday flight down to Pago Pago. But, again, no Eni.
Since he is Ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, which also included legislative and oversight jurisdiction over the global environment during the four years of his chairmanship (2007-11), it also seemed plausible that he would remain in Washington to take the short hop up to New York to participate in the UN summit on global climate change, particularly since he skipped the Small Island Developing States conference in Apia in August. But, again, no Eni.
It was thought that surely he would have been in New York because there would have been many opportunities to meet with Asian and Pacific leaders there for U.N. General Assembly debate while awaiting the meeting India Prime Minister Narendra Modi was scheduled to hold with nearly 40 Members of Congress the day of his major Madison Square Garden speech on September 28. This one seemed a given not only because of Faleomavaega’s position on the House Foreign Affairs Committee but also because he has been so public and visible on U.S.-India relations, and a champion of Modi, who was just elected last Spring. But no Eni in New York.
In fact, he was eclipsed by the only other Samoan in Congress, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a freshman Member who already has risen to third in seniority on the A-P subcommittee and has an even more special relationship with Modi since she is the first Hindu ever elected to Congress. When Modi was elected, Faleomavaega put out a press release congratulating him. Gabbard, on the other hand, telephoned to congratulate him and got him right on the line. She also received much publicity for making a special presentation following his speech while Faleomavaega was relegated to writing an op-ed piece for an Indian on-line publication called Business Today.
If for some reason he were not in New York but still not traveling home, perhaps he was waiting for Modi’s subsequent visit to Washington, where the Prime Minister had additional meetings, a White House dinner and a State Department lunch. According to Kaye’s report, Faleomavaega was not included on the elite guest list for the Obama dinner. Perhaps the White House figured since he attended the barbecue, where he got a fresh photo with the president, that should be enough. Whatever the reason, no Eni.
But, aha, Kaye reports that Faleomavaega was to participate in the State Department lunch co-hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden. These lunches are considered the consolation prizes for people who cannot not get on the “A List” for a White House dinner. Quite a come down for someone so senior and so vocal on India. Perhaps he paid a price for outspokenly criticizing Obama and Kerry for U.S. policy towards India . We will take Kaye at his word that Faleomavaega was at that lunch but it is over a week after the lunch and there is no press release out of the delegate’s office. Since Modi’s visit, all he has had is a release commemorating the fifth anniversary of the tsunami in Samoa and announcing the availability of some college scholarships. Curious, considering how much he has publicized U.S.-India relations and his support for Modi.
So here we are: no more congressional sessions, no more U.N. gatherings, no more Asian head of government visits, no more barbecues. The only reason he might have been here is to stand outside the Washington Redskins stadium to shake his fist at the owner as part of his effort to get the team nickname changed to something less offensive to some Native American groups. However, if he were there last night for the Monday night game for that purpose, there has been no publicity.
Several years ago after an election, he made a point of expressing his pleasure that another delegate had taken the chairmanship of the House insular subcommittee, leaving him free to concentrate on Asian issues. Now it might be said that much of the rationale for his continuance in office is lost due to his chronic illness. It seems clear that his foreign travel days are over and a popular young congresswoman of Samoan descent has made his presence on the Foreign Affairs Committee unnecessary as well.
It is particularly ironic that he has been grounded at a time when the National Journal has produced a report of congressional travel that crowned him “the most-frequent free flyer” of all, [who] was treated to a dozen international excursions in the past three years [2011-2013]. And that of course was without benefit of additional trips he might have taken in the fourth quarters of 2013, most of which he spent in a hospital bed. The period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, when Congress is out of session, is one of the most popular times for congressional travel.
It continues to be mystifying why Faleomavaega presses on. His pension is fully funded, his health insurance is terrific, he can keep his plan in retirement, he cannot get his agenda—if he has one—enacted because he is in the minority and all analysts say that his party will continue to be in the minority after this election and, because of the way the district lines are drawn, may remain in the minority until at least 2022 when Faleomavaega would be 79 years old. Moreover, his health is such that he will need to be near kidney dialysis machines for the rest of his life, so that will limit the time he can be away and where he can go.
For now, every day he is away, every important event and funeral he skips and every campaign opportunity he misses, including TV appearances and candidate debates, people are getting more and more irritated. Whether he actually will return “in the next couple of weeks” remains to be seen.