Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests held a hearing on H.R. 2010, a bill he introduced to protect the voting rights of active duty service members and overseas voters whose home of residence is American Samoa.
“At this time, I want to thank Chairman Larry Craig and Ranking Member Ron Wyden for holding this hearing and for entering the full text of my statement into the record,” Congressman Faleomavaega said. “I also want to thank Senator Daniel Akaka who is a senior member of both the Energy Committee and the Subcommittee on Public Lands. Senator Akaka was instrumental in getting this hearing held and I thank him for his support and kind words.”
At today’s hearing, Senator Akaka said, “H.R. 2010 was introduced by my good friend, Eni Faleomavaega, a senior member of the House who couldn’t testify himself because of the centennial celebration for the islands of Manu’a. On this occasion, I ‘d like to send the people of American Samoa our best wishes as they celebrate the 100th anniversary since the stars and stripes were first raised by their traditional chiefs.”
Senator Akaka continued by saying, “I do not have a question, Mr. Chairman, but a comment as someone who is very familiar with the challenges of transportation and communications out in the Pacific. This bill would resolve a long-standing problem in electing the Delegate from American Samoa – How to conduct a run-off election in just 14 days in a territory with a very large number of absentee voters and only two regular flights from the U.S. each week? This bill would provide for election of the Delegate by a plurality vote. Or, if the local government wants, by a majority vote following a primary election. It would resolve a long-standing problem.”
“Chairman Craig thanked Senator Akaka for his opening comments and I also thank Senator Akaka for being at today’s hearing. Although I was invited to testify before the Senate Subcommittee, I thought it was equally important to attend Flag Day celebrations being held in American Samoa to recognize Manua’s 100 year relationship with the United States,” Congressman Faleomavaega said. “This celebration is an historic event and I am pleased to be with the people on this important occasion and, again, I am pleased that Chairman Craig recognized the importance of Flag Day and included my written testimony in the Committee records.”
“I am also pleased to welcome the MV Sili to Manu’a. It is most fitting for our new vessel to arrive from Louisiana just in time to commemorate Manua’s history and to honor our traditional leaders and chiefs, past and present. The arrival of this vessel has been more than a year in the making and I am grateful to our friends in the House and Senate who supported our efforts to set aside funding for this vessel.”
“When Republicans in the Senate wanted to cut funding for the Territories from the Tax Act of 2003, Democratic Senator Benjamin Nelson from Nebraska fought hard to help us keep our funding in place. Later, Republican Chairman Bill Thomas of the House Ways and Means Committee sent me a letter saying that he was pleased he could assist me in this effort.”
“Because we were successful in including the Territories, American Samoa received more than $10 million from the Tax Act of 2003 and I am grateful that Senator John Breaux of Louisiana and Ranking Member Charles Rangel of the House Committee on Ways and Means stood with me in establishing Congressional intent on how these funds should be spent,” Congressman Faleomavaega said.
“I am also pleased that Governor Togiola stood with me and agreed that $5 million should be set aside for the purchase of a new vessel for Manu’a. I am also thankful that Senator Breaux put us in touch with one of the best shipyards in the world located in Louisiana and then personally made sure that American Samoa was receiving one of the best vessels Louisiana had to offer at a cost of $4 million. I consider Senator Breaux a good friend and I can say with certainty that he is also a friend of American Samoa.”
“This year, we have much to be thankful for including this historic legislation which is moving through Congress to protect the voting rights of our active duty service members and our college students and other overseas voters. H.R. 2010 is a bipartisan bill which is supported by Republican Chairman Richard Pombo and Ranking Democratic Member Nick Rahall of the House Committee on Resources,” Faleomavaega said.
“On May 5, 2004, the House Committee on Resources passed this bill by unanimous consent. On June 14, 2004, a Republican controlled House passed H.R. 2010 without objection. I am pleased that the Senate is now considering H.R. 2010 and I would like to note for the record that on October 29, 2003 the House Committee on Resources also held a hearing on this bill. On behalf of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Mr. David Cohen, the Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs, was invited to testify but declined citing that this was a local issue.”
“Locally, H.R. 2010 is supported by the Governor of American Samoa, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, and 85% of those surveyed in American Samoa agree that overseas voters and active duty service members should have the right to vote in federal elections held in the Territory,” Faleomavaega said.
“Given that Assistant Secretary Cohen accepted today’s invitation to testify before the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests, I am pleased that his testimony was supportive. Two weeks ago, when the Senate first informed me that H.R. 2010 would be considered today, I called Mr. Cohen to discuss the bill and determine where the Department of Interior stood on the issue. Assistant Secretary Cohen and I came to an understanding prior to the hearing and I thank him for his support.”
“While the Assistant Secretary focused his comments on the will of the people, when asked by Chairman Craig how he believed the will of the people should be determined, Mr. Cohen said he believed the Committee should rely on the statements which I included in the Record. As I have said on many occasions, this matter has been before the people and the local leaders of American Samoa for the past six years.”
“Since 1998, I have written to our Governors, past and present. I have written and testified before our local Legislature and I have also included copies of my testimony, my letters, and local responses in the House and Senate Committee records. These enclosures now on file with the Committees are more than 70 pages in length. Included in the record is Governor Togiola’s support of H.R. 2010.”
“Once more, I want to commend Governor Togiola for supporting this bill as we have always agreed that our military men and women should have the right to vote especially when they contribute almost a million dollars per year in taxes to our local government. I also thank the President of the American Samoa Senate, the Honorable Lutu Tenari S. Fuimaono, and Speaker Matagi Ray McMoore for their support,” Faleomavaega said.
“H.R. 2010 is an historic bill. It is a bill that immediately restores the voting rights of our overseas voters and active duty military members. It is also a bill that makes clear in no uncertain terms that the American Samoa Legislature is vested with the authority it needs to establish primary elections for the office of the Delegate, if it so chooses.”
“H.R. 2010 also protects American Samoa’s future in the U.S. Congress. Without H.R. 2010, future Delegates could miss out on key committee assignments as a result of delayed outcomes and run-off elections. Like Governor Togiola, I do not believe American Samoa’s future should be weakened or disadvantaged and this is one more reason I appreciate his support of H.R. 2010.”
“Given the importance and urgency of this bill, I thank the members of the House Resources Committee, both Democrats and Republicans, who unanimously voted in favor of this bill. H.R. 2010 is the right thing to do and, as a Vietnam veteran, I will not rest until we fully guarantee that our active duty service members have the right to vote in federal elections held in American Samoa.”
“To alleviate any concerns that I will personally benefit from this legislation, I offered an amendment in the nature of a substitute for purposes of changing the effective date of this bill from January 2004 to January 2006. This amendment was unanimously supported at mark-up by the House Resources Committee and, as such, any change in law will not go into effect until the 2006 election cycle,” Faleomavaega said.
“As I have repeatedly stated, H.R. 2010 in no way affects how the American Samoa Government chooses to elect its local leaders and, having made every change requested of me by our local leaders and after years of good-faith efforts on my part, I believe the time has come to do right by our overseas voters and men and women in the military. Our sons and daughters have fought and died to preserve our freedoms and I will do everything I can to protect their right to vote.”
“Again, I thank the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests for holding this historic hearing on H.R. 2010 and I am hopeful that they will support its successful passage. In a dramatic moment before the hearing came to a close, Senator Akaka said, “As a person from the Pacific, I want to make a final comment about H.R. 2010.”
Chairman Craig granted the Senator’s request and Senator Akaka said, “As you know, Mr. Cohen, H.R. 2010 will resolve a long standing problem made worse by the current conflict in the Middle East where many American Samoans are now serving. Those Americans are fighting for democracy and I speak out in support of this bill. Mr. Chairman, I believe we should act quickly to pass this bill so that those men and women will have the opportunity to vote – to help select their representative to the U.S. House of Representatives.”
“Like Senator Akaka, I also believe the Senate should act on this bill and I thank my dear friend Senator Akaka for standing with the people of American Samoa on this important issue. I also thank our men and women from American Samoa who are serving on active duty at a time when our nation is at war. I wish them the very best and I pray for their safe return,” the Congressman concluded.