Commentary: The campaign to be American Samoa’s next Governor began anew yesterday.
Faoa and Lolo finished in what amounts to a tie, separated by less than 60 votes out of 13,054 votes cast. Lolo ended up slightly ahead with 4,372 votes (33.5%) compared to Faoa with 4,315 votes (33.1%).
But there were also 4,367 voters (33.4%) who chose a different candidate on November 6.
To win on November 20, Faoa or Lolo will have to persuade a majority of those 4,367 voters to support their respective candidacies. Whichever candidate manages that feat will lead the territory for the next four years.
This is, of course, no secret insider knowledge. Both camps drove home that point to their committees Tuesday night after the vote count, and in the remaining 13 days before the Run-off Election, there will be continuous efforts to garner votes from those whose first preference was Afoa (19.3% of Tuesday’s vote), Salu (6.8%), Save (5.8%) and Tim Jones (1.4%).
When Afoa took third place to Governor Togiola Tulafono and challenger Utu Abe Malae in 2008, Afoa chose to personally support Togiola and advised his committee members and supporters to make their own decisions. Togiola won the run-off, but endorsements have not always had much sway with American Samoa voters, and this year may be different than other run-off years, due to the large number of votes up for grabs and the large number of candidates who were in this year’s race.
In the past, many rumors swirled about “deals” made by run-off candidates to gain the support of the candidates and voters who had been unsuccessful in the general election. This year will be no different.
Afoa Lutu forthrightly told Samoa News yesterday afternoon that he had met earlier in the day with Lolo and Lemanu, and had been away from his office when Taufete’e had come by. “I spoke to Lolo and Lemanu about the priorities of my candidacy and my supporters, and they responded. I am open to having a similar conversation with Faoa and Taufete’e before I meet with my committee to discuss whether we will throw our whole committee’s support behind one candidate for the November 20 election,” Afoa said.
Afoa said that he believes an overwhelming majority of the 2,522 votes he received will follow the recommendation of the committee, because the group is composed of dedicated Afoa supporters who have been together for three (unsuccessful) election cycles. If that were true, it would vastly increase the likelihood of the endorsed candidate winning on November 20.
Afoa also said he may choose to formally advise his supporters to support whichever candidate they like, just as he did in 2008. This move would leave the election much more competitive.
One option on the table for Afoa personally is entering the Senate. “I am considering asking our county chiefs to allow me to represent our subdivision of Maoputasi” he said, referring to Fagatogo, Utulei and Fagaalu, who traditionally select one of the three Maoputasi senators. The seat was long held by Lutu Tenari Fuimaono and is now occupied by Tiamalu Sia Scanlan.
On the face of it, it appeared that there were five candidates of “change”, including Lolo Moliga. But incumbent Lt. Governor Faoa has also indicated he is an advocate of making changes (“for the better”) as well.
And it is too simplistic to think that the voters who supported Afoa, Salu, Save and Tim Jones will reflexively vote for Lolo since he is the “remaining” change candidate.
While Lolo has campaigned as a change candidate, he has a long record of serving in politically-appointed leadership positions of the government and many of his key committee supporters are also long-standing members of the American Samoa political elite. The reports on the 1602 low income housing program he oversaw could be interpreted by skeptics as “same old stuff, just a different group of players.”
This is not to discredit his candidacy, but merely to point out that he doesn’t necessarily have a firm grip on the “change” mantle.
Moreover, many voters do not decide who to vote for based on issues and platforms, or even reputation. Many voters cast their vote based on personal relationships, including family and cultural ties.
For example, Lolo grew up in Manu’a and is a chief from Sili village, Olosega island, and that may account for why he got 60% of the Manu’a votes, whereas amongst non-Manu’a voters, he got only 31% of the vote.
Afoa is a chief from Utulei, where he got 45% of the vote (as opposed to 19% in the rest of American Samoa).
Salu is from the village of Vailoa, where she received 16% of the vote (as opposed to less than 7% of the vote elsewhere).
Save is from Leone and holds a title there, and he received 17% of the Leone vote, even though he had less than 6% territory-wide.
So clearly family and village play a large role in determining how people vote. Now that Utulei voters can’t vote for Afoa, Vailoa voters can’t vote for Salu, and Leone voters can’t vote for Save, who will benefit?
Faoa is a senior title from Ofu, a village located very close to Olosega (where Le’i’s title is from). What impact will that have? Afoa is the sa’o of Faoa’s wife’s family — what impact will that have? Save’s wife’s brother is Faoa’s campaign manager — what impact will that have?
The losing candidates did not burn many bridges to this point. Despite the calls for change and reform, nobody mentioned Faoa’s 2007 arrest by the US government, which led to a mistrial after a jury failed to reach an unanimous verdictin 2010 on various charges related to ASG’s purchase of school furniture from Faoa and other defendants. The US government later decided to dismiss the indictment and not pursue a retrial.
Likewise, past criminal charges against other Sunia family members are not discussed in public (though I doubt they are forgotten).
Despite all their rhetoric about change, there would be no embarrassment for any of the candidates to throw their support to Faoa instead of Lolo. But, will they? Or will they decide that change is the goal and that Lolo is the remaining candidate most likely to deliver positive change? Or will they decide that the change Lolo would bring is less desirable than the familiar comfort of a Faoa Sunia administration?
We will never know exactly why people choose the man who will be our next Governor, but we will know who that person is on November 20th, at about 8 p.m..
We do know this: that our next governor will hold a chief’s title from the Luanu’u. Around the time Faoa and Lolo were born, in 1950, the population of the Luanu’u was 1,119 and constituted 6% of American Samoa’s population, but by 2010, the combined population of Ofu and Olosega had dropped to 353 and accounted for only .6 of 1% of American Samoa’s population.
The population may have fallen, but the influence of the Luanu’u appears undiminished.
There were no surprises or twists in the Congressional race.
Faleomavaega polled 56% of the votes cast, from a field of five candidates.
Two years ago, Eni also polled 56% of the votes cast, from a field of three candidates.
In the three elections prior to 2010, Eni received 60% (2008), 47% (2006) and 53% (2004) of the votes.
In each of those races, Aumua Amata took second place. This time around, she got 34% of the vote, which is the lowest percentage she has received in five election cycles (going back in time to 2004, she received 40%, 35%, 41% and 47% of the votes).
It looks like it is going to take a weaker Eni Faleomavaega candidacy (which might include a decision to retire) or a stronger challenger to unseat our 13-term Congressman. Obviously that day will come sometime, but until then, we can continue to enjoy the efforts and accomplishments of our long-serving delegate.
The House will look different in 2013, but not radically different.
Five incumbents lost their seats, one incumbent did not stand for re-election, and one incumbent is locked in a tie.
The deposed incumbents are:
Simei Pulu, defeated by Legae’e Mauga. (Aoa, Vatia, Aloa, Tula, Onenoa)
Halafili Seui, defeated by Fagasoaia Lealatafea. (Fagasa, Matu’u, Faganeanea, Nu’uuli)
Galu Satele, defeated by Florence Saulo. (Faleniu, Mesepa, Mapusaga, Pavaiai, Iliili, Vaitogi, Tafuna)
Galumalamana Bill Satele, defeated by Timusa Lam Yuen. (Vailoatai, Malaeloa Ituau, Futiga, Taputimu)
Manaeafaiga Faoa, defeated by Atualevao Gafatasi Afalava. (Aoloau, Aasu, Malaeloa Aitulagi)
The incumbent who did not stand for re-election was long-serving faipule Agaoleatu Charlie Tautolo, and his seat was taken by Talaimatai Elisara Sua. (Aunu’u, Amouli, Auasi, Utumea, Alofau).
A losing candidate in that race was Fuata Dr. I’atala, who has been serving his county as a Senator the last few years, after the Saole County Senate seat was vacated by the resignation of Utu Abe Malae. The Saole senate seat shifts to Aunu’u, and Agaoleatu may return to the Fono as a senator.
The tie is in Fagatogo, where incumbent Vailiuama Steve Leasiolagi and Maugaoalii Sipa Anoa’i are once again vying for the seat, as they have several times in the past.
The new house will have one female: Florence Saulo, who joins returning faipule Larry Sanitoa in the huge Tualauta district.
Sanitoa polled 1452 votes, which far exceeded Saulo (1141 votes). Another faipule with a convincing win in a large district is Taotasi Archie Soliai, who received 1158 votes in Ituau. Rep. Faimealelei Anthony Allen of Aua was the only unopposed candidate.
Sanitoa and Soliai are leaders amongst the young faipule who have closely questioned many initiatives of the House leadership under Speaker Talavou Savali Ale, as well as the Togiola administration. Both men hold management jobs in the private sector: Sanitoa with McDonald’s and Soliai at GHC Reid Co. Ltd.
The faipule who will take his seat and salary with the least votes is Talaimatai Su’a, who took Agoaleatu Charlie Tautolo’s seat with only 157 votes cast, which is almost 90% fewer votes than Larry Sanitoa received.
In fact, one glaring problem exposed, once again, in this election is the huge discrepancy between voting districts. Only 285 people voted in District 10 (Atu’u, Leloaloa), whereas more than 2,400 people voted in District 15 (Tualauta, which sends two faipule to the House).
This is an issue that will have to be dealt with one day soon. The American Samoa constitution requires that the district boundaries be redrawn to provide rough equivalencies, but this sensitive political matter has been deferred and deferred.
The Veto Override referendum was defeated, which is not surprising given that there was no effort to educate or persuade the electorate about the virtues of a “yes” vote.
We take politics very seriously in American Samoa. But governance? Not so much.