Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he has responded to Senator Te’o and the Samoan Republican Party regarding their concerns about H.R. 2010, a bill he introduced to protect the voting rights of active duty service members whose home of record is American Samoa.
“On September 6, 2003, Senator Te’o wrote to me and asked me to hold off on my bill until the Fono had a chance to decide whether to establish primary elections or plurality voting for the Office of the Delegate. On October 16, 2003, I responded to Senator Te’o and thanked him for his desire to be of help,” Congressman Faleomavaega said.
“I also submitted more than 68 pages of supporting documentation to clear up any further misunderstandings about this issue. First and foremost, I informed Senator Te’o that I have neither excluded our local leaders from this process nor violated any agreements between us. In fact, I provided Senator Te’o with copies of letters I had written to ASG on April 5, 2000, November 20, 2001, December 20, 2001, February 27, 2002, March 5, 2002, and May 23, 2002 regarding P.L. 95-556 which requires American Samoa to hold a runoff election for the office of the Delegate two weeks after the general election if a candidate does not receive a majority of the votes cast.”
“I informed Senator Te’o that I had copied and distributed each of these letters to every member of the Fono and on each and every occasion had explained that it was my intent to introduce legislation which would amend federal law to allow our active duty service members to fully participate in the federal election process. In response to my efforts,” Congressman Faleomavaega said, “I received one letter from Governor Sunia dated January 1, 2002 in which he acknowledged receipt of my letters and raised no concerns.”
“On January 28, 2002, I received a letter dated December 5, 2001 from Speaker McMoore. In his letter, the Speaker stated that he intended to address this issue in the House of Representatives. From January to July 2002, I heard nothing more from our local leaders regarding this matter.”
“In July 2002, Chairman Hansen of the U.S. House Resources Committee decided to hold a hearing on my bill and the Fono and the late Governor immediately requested a postponement. Chairman Hansen said that he would leave the decision up to me about whether to postpone or hold the hearing. Out of deference to the Governor and our local leaders, I requested a postponement of the hearing that was scheduled for Wednesday July 17, 2002.”
“On September 12, 2002, I testified before the Fono and almost a year passed and the Fono took no action. On February 4, 2003, I informed the Governor and the Fono of my intent to introduce a revised bill (H.R. 2010) inclusive of both plurality and majority voting and which would also resolve the problem of holding a run-off election two weeks after the general election. On May 7, 2003, I forwarded a copy of H.R. 2010 and once again requested an opportunity to testify before our local legislature regarding this bill.”
“Again,” the Congressman said, “I did not receive a reply from ASG or the Fono. However, on September 5, 2003, after years of good-faith effort on my part, I received a letter from Senator Te’o asking me to hold off on my bill until the Fono can decide this matter. In response to the Senator’s request, I have informed him that only the U.S. Congress can change federal law and this is one reason I have introduced H.R. 2010 and included a provision which will give the Fono the authority it needs to establish primary elections, if it so chooses.”
“Without the passage of a federal bill, the U.S. Congress will not recognize any changes the Fono may make to how federal elections are conducted in American Samoa. On the other hand, if H.R. 2010 is signed into law, the Fono will finally have the federal authority it needs to decide whether to establish plurality or majority voting for the office of the Delegate.”
“American Samoa’s Constitution also makes this clear. American Samoa’s Constitution states that the Legislature shall have authority to pass legislation with respect to subjects of local application, except than no such legislation may be inconsistent with the laws of the United States applicable in American Samoa. In no uncertain terms, this means that the Fono may not make changes to U.S. federal law, including the federal law which defines how we elect our Delegate.”
“While the Fono may express an opinion or offer a non-binding resolution,” Congressman Faleomavaega said, “the Fono may not enact a law to establish primary elections for the office of the Delegate without Congressional approval and authorization. Again, this is why I have introduced H.R. 2010. If passed, H.R. 2010 will give the Fono the authorization it needs to establish primary elections if it so chooses. The establishment of primary elections will also provide for a majority result in the general election thereby making the plurality issue irrelevant and inapplicable.”
“In connection with H.R. 2010, I believe it is important to point out that in 1970 when American Samoa first elected a delegate at large to serve as the government’s special representative to Washington, the law that governed his election and the operations of his office were as a result of a bill that was passed by the Fono. Appointed Governor Owen Aspinall signed the bill into law despite the U.S. Department of the Interior’s (DOI) opposition to American Samoa having an elected delegate. In fact, Governor Aspinall signed the bill as a way to get back at the DOI for not extending his term as Governor.”
“While this bill allowed for a local representative to Washington, it did not provide for a representative to the U.S. Congress because Governor Aspinall and the Fono had no authority to enact federal legislation. This is why PC Fuimaono and HC Lutali never actually became official delegates to the U.S. Congress. American Samoa’s first Congressional Delegate was HTC Fofo Sunia who was elected in 1980 after Congress enacted legislation to provide that the Territory be represented by a nonvoting Delegate to the United States House of Representatives.”
“To be clear about this, I have provided the Fono and Senator Te’o with a legal history of how election law was determined for American Samoa. In 1951, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 10264 which transferred administrative responsibility for the islands of American Samoa from the Secretary of the Navy to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. The Secretary of the Interior, in turn, appointed our Governors.”
“In 1960, the people of American Samoa adopted a Constitution. The Constitution was revised in 1966 and was approved by the Secretary of the Interior on June 2, 1967. In 1967, the Revised Constitution of American Samoa provided for an elected Legislature, or Fono, consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives. However, it did not provide our people with the right to elect our own Governor and Lieutenant Governor and, at the time, American Samoa was the only remaining off-shore area of the United States which did not have a popularly elected Governor and Lieutenant Governor.”
“On June 10, 1976, Congressman Phil Burton took notice of American Samoa’s situation and introduced a bill to make it possible for our Governor and Lieutenant Governor to be popularly elected rather than appointed by the Secretary of the Interior. As staff counsel the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, Congressman Burton instructed me to draft this legislation which the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed by a landslide vote of 377 to 1,” Congressman Faleomavaega said.
“Instead of then sending his bill to the Senate, Congressman Burton decided to consult further with the Secretary of the Interior, Rogers C.B. Morton, about American Samoa’s unique political status as an unincorporated and unorganized territory which was and is unlike the organized territories of Guam and the Virgin Islands. As a result of their consultations, the two agreed that Secretary Morton would issue a Secretarial Order (No. 3009) authorizing the American Samoa Government to pass enabling legislation to provide for an elected Governor and the Lieutenant Governor.”
“Secretary’s Order No. 3009 amended American Samoa’s Constitution to specifically provide for an elected rather than an appointed Governor and Lieutenant Governor. Secretary’s Order 3009 was also in keeping with the will of the majority of voters in American Samoa who voted in favor of electing their own Governor and Lieutenant Governor in a plebiscite that was held on August 31, 1976.”
“On August 2, 1978, Congressman Phil Burton introduced legislation to provide that the Territory of American Samoa be represented by a nonvoting Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. This became Public Law 95-556 and was made effective October 31, 1978. Again, in the case of the office of the Delegate, American Samoa’s federal election laws were patterned after those of the Virgin Islands and Guam. At the time, consideration was not given to whether or not majority or plurality voting should be established for American Samoa. Congress simply enacted legislation to provide American Samoa with representation in the U.S. Congress and we could not foresee some 25 years ago that American Samoa’s men and women would serve in record numbers in the U.S. Armed Forces which consequently made it impossible for them to participate in runoff elections held two weeks after general elections.”
“Twenty five years later, I believe we can now agree that federal law needs to be amended for the sake of our men and women in the military as well as our college students. I am pleased that Governor Togiola agrees with me on this point and I am hopeful that after careful review Senator Te’o will also support our efforts to do right by American Samoa for generations to come.”
“Despite whatever misinformation has been printed about H.R. 2010 and despite whatever misunderstandings may exist, H.R. 2010 is the right thing to do and I am pleased that the U.S. House Committee on Resources has decided to hold a hearing on this bill on October 29, 2003. After more than five years of delays, it is time for this matter to be decided once and for all.”
“Again, I thank our military members and college students for their support of this historic bill and I also thank Governor Togiola and the people of American Samoa for standing united on this issue. More than 85% of those surveyed agree that our service members should be afforded the same rights and privileges as every other American serving in the U.S. Armed Forces and given the importance of this bill I will not rest until we have protected American Samoa’s future,” the Congressman concluded.