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COMMENTARY: HELLO VOTERS!

Hello voters!

You have to make up your mind about November 20.

Will you stay home, or go to the voting booth and fill in the circle for Lolo or Faoa?

If you stay home, you are letting someone else make the decision for you. Yuck. So I urge you to go to the voting booth and make a choice.

Most of the 8,687 voters who chose Faoa or Lolo on November 6 will do so again on November 20. Good for you.

But there are 4,367 people who need to make a new decision. Many of these people are wondering which candidate to vote for.

Here are some issues to think about.

FONO RELATIONS

Governor Togiola’s relations with the Senate are so bad that it has become impossible to do most of the people’s business. The House seems unwilling to do much, whether it helps or hurts or is irrelevant to the Governor’s wishes.

American Samoa needs a legislature that is actively grappling with legislative and territorial priorities, and we need a more productive relationship between the governor (whomever that may be) and the Fono.

FEDERAL RELATIONS

American Samoa’s economy and government lives and dies by decisions made in Washington, D.C. The disunity between our local leaders costs us dearly. Our leaders have to privately agree to disagree on things that they can’t reach agreement on, and very publicly agree on everything else so that Congress and the Obama Administration will know that when we speak, we speak with one voice on behalf of the good of the territory.

CORRUPTION

There is too much corruption around here and not enough law enforcement. We need an administration with a zero tolerance attitude that includes a competent and committed police department and Attorney General to put effective muscle behind the clean-up campaign.

ROADS

Duh. We need a major step up in minor and major maintenance and new construction.

EDUCATION

The realization is taking increasing hold in the territory that if our students are not better educated (LOTS better educated), it is very unlikely that we will enjoy a brighter future for our families and our territory.

MONEY MANAGEMENT

It is very likely that we will have to do more with less in American Samoa. The federal dollars are not going to flow into the territory in 2013-2017 like they did in 2009-2012. No more ARRA, no more FEMA (presuming we don’t experience a natural disaster), no more NEG. Those three federal programs have provided $360 million in the last three years, and those programs are over.

Not only are those “special” programs over, but the grants and other routine federal programs upon which we rely are likely to shrink as Obama and Congress grapple with the US deficit in the short term and the long term.

(One exception to this dismal outlook might be in the health area, due to Obamacare, which might turn out to be a big financial boost for our health care system.)

HEALTH CARE

Although we all agree on the need for improvements in Health Care, the solutions are going to be complicated, expensive, and take a long time.

Let’s start with “health”: until and unless American Samoa’s population gets healthier, we will find it very difficult or impossible to provide great health care to the ill. The current hoopla over NCD (lifestyle diseases) is not hoopla. Too many American Samoans are dying too early, because of obesity, hypertension (high blood pressure)  high cholesterol, renal/kidney disease, heart disease, smoking, etc.

No health care system, and certainly not ours, can do a good job when the population is as unhealthy as ours is.

We have so many health care issues: cost, affordability, facilities, expertise, recruiting, etc. It is going to take a lot to sort through them all.

JOBS/ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

If American Samoa does not develop its economy, the rest of the items on this list are going to be swamped by the realization that the island is not a place where American Samoans can be born, live their lives and die.

Without jobs, people will leave. And the people left behind will work for a government that governs a backwater.

Building up the local economy will not be easy, but there are enough things that we know need to be done that we can start the process and hope that it will be enough to cause jobs to bloom in tourism, in fish processing, in fishing fleet support, in eCommerce, in agriculture, in fishing, and in other areas.

POPULATION TRENDS

We all enjoy uncrowded roads, but it is a sign of an unhealthy community when it loses population. Manu’a has been losing population for decades, and now Tutuila has begun to lose population.

In 1993, LBJ recorded almost 2,000 births. Last year and the year before, LBJ recorded less than 1,300 births. It looks like the total for this year will be less than 1,200 births.

In 1993, when LBJ recorded almost 2,000 births, only 223 people in American Samoa died. Last year, when LBJ recorded almost 1,309 births, there were 285 deaths.

More of us are dying (and dying younger!) and fewer are giving birth.

IMMIGRATION and NATIONALITY

Last year, 52% of the mothers giving birth at LBJ were foreign nationals (mainly Samoans, but also Tongans, Asians, and Fijians). For decades, the majority of the mothers giving birth at LBJ have been foreign nationals. The children are American Samoans, even though their mothers are foreign nationals.

American Samoa, after decades of this trend: this is your future. Today’s young voters are people whose mother (and probably their father) were born elsewhere. Every year this will be increasingly so.

And American Samoans, what’s up with you? If you are an American Samoan in your 20s or 30s, you are gone. You are living in the USA most likely, going to school, serving in the military, or making a living.

Check out this statistic from the 2010 Census: there were 12,600 residents in American Samoa who were 10-19 years of age. In the next age group (20-29 years of age) the number dropped to 7,200. The number who are 25-29 years old drops even further, to 3,324.

That tells me that about 43% of the youth in the territory leave after they finish high school or college. This observation is validated by personal conversations with dozens of American Samoans, who all observe the same thing in their own families.

That is not a good harbinger for the territory’s future.

CULTURE

The Samoan culture is going to take a hit if American Samoa becomes a weaker, more dysfunctional, more corrupt, more foreign place. The culture will only have a chance of thriving if the territory thrives.

[Email the author at lewis.wolman@gmail.com]



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