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Eni proposes questions of political status be included on November ballot

reporters@samoanews.com

Congressman Faleomavaega Eni is proposing that two questions pertaining to American Samoa’s political status be included on this year’s general election ballot and suggests that the general public debate the two issues prior to the November elections.

The questions on the ballot would be answered “yes” or “no”. They are:

•         Do you believe that all persons born in American Samoa should automatically receive U.S. citizenship status?

•         Do you want American Samoa to maintain its current status as an unincorporated and unorganized U.S. territory?

“These two questions have been a topic of debate for over forty years now, and I believe this November election presents an opportunity for our people to decide what our future should be in the years to come,” Faleomavaega said in a news release yesterday.

According to the Congressman, he will be preparing appropriate communication to propose that Governor Togiola Tulafono’s Administration and the Fono develop legislation that would authorize the “two important issues” to be presented before the voters of American Samoa on this year’s general election ballot in November.

While the process of formulating such legislation should be with the local government, the other option is for the Congressman to introduce a federal bill that would direct the Secretary of the Interior to add the two questions for a vote on this November’s election, according to the news release.

Faleomavaega reiterated that he “respects the right of individuals to challenge federal laws concerning American Samoa – one of the unique features of American democracy is the right for one person or group of people to sue the entire federal government – but I continue to maintain my position that these particular questions are so fundamental that there should be public involvement in the process.”

Two weeks ago, five American Samoans and a Samoan organization based in Carson, Calif., filed a lawsuit at the federal court in Washington D.C. challenging the constitutionality of federal laws that deny automatic U.S. citizenship to persons born in American Samoa.

Both Faleomavaega and Gov. Togiola strongly oppose this lawsuit, saying the issue should be first decided by the people of American Samoa.

In his news release, Faleomavaega said, “For years, I have wanted these issues to be presented squarely to the people to make the final decision and not by politicians or special interest groups.”

“These two questions should be a matter of public debate and discussion for the next four months among our people. I believe 112 years is long enough, and our people now should decide what direction we should be headed in the years to come,” he said.

It’s unclear at this point if the two questions the Congressman plans to propose to the Fono and the governor seek to amend the local Constitution, but Samoa News understands that Fono staffers are now researching the matter to see if the governor and/or the Fono have general authority to call for a referendum question to be placed on the ballot.

According to the local Constitution, the Fono can make amendments to the Constitution by proposing in either the House or Senate appropriate legislation, which needs to be approved by three-fifths of all members of each House, voting separately.

Once approved by the Fono such proposed amendment shall be entered into the journals, with the yeas and nays taken. The governor shall then be requested to submit such proposed amendment to the voters eligible to vote at the next general election.

The second avenue to amend the constitution is through a Constitutional Convention.

BACKGROUND

The 2007 report of the American Samoa Future Political Status Study Commission covered in detail what people of the territory want for the future when it comes to its political relationship with the United States.

According to the report, the “Samoan public, from leaders to the rank and file, both on and off-island, overwhelming emphasized two major points” which are:

•         American Samoa must remain part of the American family of states and territories; and

•         be certain that a chosen status will not adversely affect customs and culture, and the perpetuation of the Samoan language.

The Commission recommends that “American Samoa shall continue as an unorganized and unincorporated territory and that a process of negotiation with the U.S. Congress for a permanent political status be initiated.”

During the 2010 Constitutional Convention, delegates endorsed this main recommendation of the report, but the governor had stated at the opening ceremony of the convention that this issue of political status was not part of the constitutional convention.



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