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Fifth candidate for Congress emerges

fili@samoanews.com
American Samoa native Fatumalala Leuluaiali’i Atulevao Al-Shehri announced during a new conference yesterday that she is running in this year’s general election as a candidate for the territory’s Delegate to the U.S. House of Representative. [photo: FS]

An American Samoa native with strong Christian beliefs who lived in the Middle East for more than two decades — where she attended underground Christian church services — has been back home for five years and is now the fifth known candidate for the Delegate seat to the U.S. House.

Mrs. Fatumalala Leuluaiali’i Atualevao Al-Shehri, who is married to a Saudi Arabian gentleman and had lived in the Saudi capital of Riyadh for 29 years, announced yesterday in a news conference that she is seeking the post in Washington D.C. and also revealed she is writing a book about her life as an American Samoan and a Christian, living in a Muslim country.

“This conviction to run [for public office] is a vision that was given to me. My faith in God is primary to me and when you look to God — we always need to have confirmation,” said Fatu, as she is called by her friends and family. She said the confirmation she received to seek public office came last year, while on an off-island trip and the vision was to do something good for American Samoa.

Her vision initially led her to run for the seat of governor of American Samoa, and she walked the villages of Aunu’u, Tula, and Alao on the Eastern district looking for a running mate as lieutenant governor, but that didn’t come through.

“I started off with the desire to run for governor. However, it was most appalling to find that all of the people I approached to be my partner as a lieutenant governor, from pastors to intellects to the common men and women of American Samoa, did not see themselves suitable or fit,” she said in a written statement given to the news media.

She confirmed, when asked during the news conference, that initially she had a great interest in seeking the governorship. “But in the course of my search for a partner (a running mate), I was somewhat appalled by the disinterest or perhaps, the fear of being a partner and so I was never able to find anyone,” she said.

“Those who I found to be very positive towards my request were some of my very dear friends — but they are from [independent] Samoa and not qualified to run,” she said. “Then I thought and prayed about it and suddenly it came over me — a Congressional seat — only requires one person.”

“So I moved over and I’m quite comfortable now,” Fatu said.

In her written statement, she outlined her brief campaign platform, saying that:

•         I am for minimum wages.

•         Transparency and accountability is a must.

•         Annual ASG budget should be publicized in the media and made available for public understanding.

•         Education is a massive project; we need a teacher training school.

•         We need to make available all resources to build a new hospital and to hire specialized doctors.

She also said that creating new jobs is possible when retirees being re-hired as contractors stay retired. Additionally, all grants that are being received must be justified by auditing, with a follow up on their services and to be held accountable for every dollar.

Moreover, the public and private businesses should have long been recognized and functioning in the building of the economy.

“Then there is a matter that has never been addressed. Swains Island does not have a vote in the Fono. Regardless of Swains’ size, it is the principle of the matter,” she said.

When asked during the news conference what she thinks are the important issues facing the territory, she replied, “one of the main issues that I see is for us to define our identity. This issue — whether we are to be nationals or U.S. citizens — is still a toss up, and why should it be? It should have been solved a long time ago.

“Until we are comfortable and set and stable on what we call ourselves, all the other issues will be up in the air.”

Asked what makes her different from the incumbent and the other congressional candidates, she said, “this is the dilemma that I found as I was going around asking for signatures” for her candidate petition.

“First of all, I am quite aware of the negative feedback from people — they have lost hope in candidates, in politicians. I tell you honestly, I suffer the consequence. Because they look at me and say ‘Oh, here is another new face but she is just like the rest of them’,” Fatu said.

“So I’m very cautious what I say, to try and win, to try and bring that hope back out again, to believe — to even hear me. Simply to win their confidence — to say here is a woman, with a fresh new face, and serious. And truly it is about a new face and a new beginning and a new identity and for a new hope for [American] Samoa,” she said.

“The main thing to me is to reach out to constituents to vote. They’ve got to exercise their right to bring changes. Because it’s not just one person or a group of people that have a voice in this... we need to come together to voice our opinion, to make a difference,” she said.

Fatu, who acknowledged that she is new to politics, said she is from the the village of Nua/Seetaga and graduated from Alataua Lua Elementary School before traveling to San Diego, Calif. to attend high school.

But in her senior year, she returned to the territory and graduated from Leone HIgh School followed by two years at the American Samoa Community College, where she received a two-year scholarship at a college in Oakland, Calif., earning a bachelor’s degree in political science.

She then returned to the territory where she was a teacher at Leone High School for three years. In 1983 she left for Saudi Arabia to be with her husband.  While living in the Middle East, she continued to visit the territory until 2008, when she decided to stay here permanently, although she would still visit her family, including her children off island.

She was a volunteer during the 10th Festival of the Pacific Arts in 2008 hosted by American Samoa and two years later, her youngest son graduated from Leone HIgh School. She worked for the Office of Vocational  Rehabilitation under a one year contract and she is a member and strong advocate of the local American Samoa Organization on Aging.

According to the candidate, since 2008, “I have been a bona fide inhabitant of American Samoa and am currently building a home on island.”



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