Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he supports H.R. 5135, a bill to provide CNMI with a nonvoting Delegate. The bill was introduced on September 23, 2004 and was unanimously passed by the Resources Committee on the morning of September 29, 2004. The three territorial Delegates, including Congressman Faleomavaega, Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo (Guam) and Congresswoman Donna Christensen (VI) were at the mark-up and voted in favor of the bill. The hearing was open to the public and CNMI’s Resident Representative, Pete Tenorio, was in attendance.
During the mark-up, Congressman Nick Rahall, Ranking Member of the Resources Committee, thanked the two Pacific Delegates representing Guam and American Samoa who have been true leaders on this issue.
Ranking Member Rahall said, “I would like to make special note of the contributions by the gentleman from American Samoa, the most senior Member of our Delegates from our U.S. Territories. His work and support for this issue dates back more than a decade. As American Samoa was the most recent of our territories to receive representation in Congress, I have personally found his knowledge to this process invaluable.
Our colleague has worked for many years to have our fellow American in the CNMI be represented in Congress. And I credit our ability to consider this bill today to his tenacity. He is not only friend of the CNMI, but also a champion. And at this point I yield the balance of my time to the distinguished gentleman from American Samoa.”
In his remarks before the Committee, Faleomavaega thanked Mr. Rahall for yielding and expressed his appreciation to the Chairman and the Ranking Member for their understanding of this important issue. He also thanked Chairman Richard Pombo for his leadership and commitment to work as much as possible with those from the other side of the aisle.
Faleomavaega noted that although he was unable to add his name on September 23, 2004 he wanted to be sure that his name was added as a cosponsor of H.R. 5135 effective today. “As you know, I have supported this historic legislation for almost 16 years and, from this very Committee, I have also participated in drafting legislation which eventually became law and provided American Samoa with its first elected Governor and Delegate. The bill before us today to provide CNMI with a nonvoting Delegate to the House of Representatives is legislation similar in scope and this bill has come a long way.”
“Extensive hearings have been held and long hours of deliberations have taken place between the leaders of these Micronesian entities and members of Congress even during the times of the Carter and Reagan Administrations. In the 1970s and at the height of the Cold War, Micronesia became a political football between the two Super Powers, in part, because this area was and still is critically important to our strategic and national defense system. The Marshall Islands became our nuclear testing ground and even today these islands play a critical role in our nation’s ability to test our intercontinental ballistic missiles which we fire off the coast of California and into the Kwajelin and Bikini Atolls,” the Congressman said.
“As I recall, after World War II, the leaders of our country immediately declared the Micronesian islands as a ‘strategic trust’ before the United Nations. To this day, the UN still does not know what a strategic trust is other than that all these islands, previously known as the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, have come under the exclusive control of our country, and eventually developed their own special political relationships with our government.”
“After years of negotiations and also Congressional hearings held by both Chambers,” Faleomavaega said, “a Compact of Free Association Treaty was enacted between our government and the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia (which included the states of Kosrae, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Yap) and, more specifically, in 1976, a Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Political Union with the United States was approved by our government and the people of the Northern Mariana Islands.”
“I remember distinctly that certain Members of the Resources Committee who served in the 70’s and 80’s were critical players in crafting the 1976 law that created this most unique political relationship between the Northern Mariana Islands and our country. The late Congressman Phil Burton, Don Clausen, Bob Largomarsino, Mo Udall, Sam Steiger, Keith Seiberling, Don Young, George Miller, and Nick Rahall all played key roles in supporting the 1976 Covenant with NMI and the 1986 Compact of Free Association with the associated states of Micronesia.”
“I note that throughout the whole process in drafting and enacting these two landmark bills into law, the Members of this Committee worked entirely on the basis of bipartisanship and there was tremendous cooperation between both Republicans and Democratic members of this committee which in my opinion was the main reason why these pieces of legislation were enacted into law. I cannot help but express mine own personal observation that the one Member who more than anyone played the most pivotal role in making sure that there was bipartisanship participation of both Republicans and Democrats of this committee to work together to pass the 1976 legislation was none other than a former member of this committee, the late Congressman Phil Burton from California.”
“I remember that in hearings and meetings with Chairman Burton the question was raised about whether or not the 1976 Covenant should also include a provision to authorize CNMI a Congressional seat since Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam had already been authorized representation by the Congress. While Chairman Burton was supportive of NMI also having representation in Congress, he felt that adding such a provision to the Covenant might complicate the situation and he felt that this was a separate issue that in the future Congress would eventually consider and decide,” Faleomavaega said.
“Some twenty-eight years have now lapsed, and in every Congress the leaders and people of the NMI have requested our assistance and asked that we give them the same privilege of electing a Congressional Delegate the same way that the other insular territories are also represented in this great institution that stands out as the single most important symbol of democracy to the world. I also note that after 78 years of U.S. administration of American Samoa Congress finally enacted a law and authorized my Territory to have representation in Congress and it wasn’t until 1981 that our first elected Delegate took office.”
“I believe the time has now come for us to provide CNMI with a nonvoting Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives and, again, I am pleased to have supported CNMI on this issue for more than 16 years,” Faleomavaega said. “I want to thank Governor Juan Babauta of the CNMI who has been my friend for many years and I also want to thank CNMI’s resident representative Pete Tenorio. Both leaders have worked tirelessly to get the support of the members of this committee to consider seriously and favorably pass H.R. 5135.”
“I also thank my good friend and colleague, the gentle lady from Guam, Mrs. Bordallo, for tirelessly working to secure the support that was necessary to move this bill forward. I also want to thank my good friends and colleagues, Mr. Young from Alaska and Mr. Abercrombie from Hawaii. As members of our Pacific Delegation, their support has always been critical and deeply appreciated.”
“Finally, I want to thank my good friend, Congressman George Miller, former Chairman of the Resources Committee and now Ranking Member of the House Committee on Education. Congressman Miller has dedicated much of his time to labor reform and, in the case of CNMI, has worked to put an end to human rights abuses in the garment industry. His support of this bill is critical to its successful passage and is an acknowledgment of the progress CNMI has made in its labor practices.”
“Again, I thank Chairman Pombo and Mr. Rahall for supporting this bill and I thank the Members of the Resources Committee for working together in a spirit of cooperation and bipartisanship. Simply put, this bill received unanimous support because Democrats and Republicans came together for the good of CNMI.”
“In my final remarks, I commended Governor Babauta for his initiative in reforming the garment industry and for making it possible for Congress to be able to now support a bill to provide CNMI with a nonvoting Delegate. We have been at this for more than 16 years and although I have personally cosponsored more than one bill authorizing a nonvoting Delegate for CNMI, this legislation could not be enacted until CNMI reformed its labor laws. This is why I cannot overstate the importance of Governor Babauta’s leadership.”
“After the hearing, Governor Babauta called me to express his appreciation for my support and Representative Tenorio also pulled me aside to express his thanks. H.R. 5135 will now move to the Senate for consideration where I am hopeful that this legislation will pass by unanimous consent before the 108th Congress comes to a close,” the Congressman concluded.