Op-Ed: Empowering the People
Whenever I have gone to national conventions or national committee meetings over the years, I always have tried to meet up with if not involve local communities of Samoans and other Pacific Islanders in the events I am attending. Sometimes I have found communities in unexpected places, such as Minneapolis-St. Paul, which hosted the 2008 Republican National Convention and Boston, which was the venue for our summer meeting last year. Indeed, one of the key organizers of our Minnesota events, Salo Ale, since has returned home and is now our attorney general.
Of course, there are substantial islander communities in and around San Diego; they already are well organized. They are active socially and in charity work if not in politics. So, when I was invited to the city to help with the final push for the special election for mayor, which was held Tuesday, I jumped at the chance, for I saw it as an opportunity to bring together the leaders of our islander communities with the city’s political leadership. My position as the senior member of the Republican National Committee affords me vast opportunities for political access and my goal always is to transfer that access to our people to serve their purposes and advance their agendas.
Thanks to the Rev. Benson Fuaautoatasi Mauga of Nuuuli and Pago, pastor of the First Samoan Baptist Church and his wife Mouna Mauga, Mary Pritchard’s granddaughter Tania Farley, Jericho Toilolo and wife Tupou-Sekona Toilolo who is related to me, Tevesi and Tammy Fa’apouli, Poulima Su’esu’e, Kitiona Leasau, Pete Tauvela, Casey Tiumalu, Vai’ula Tiavao, Benson Jr. and his wife Maria, Sauma’a Laulu, Homer, Rainbow, Hutch, Ciara, Taimani, Tavita, Noelle and others we were able to pull together a group of Samoans, Tongans, Chamorros and other islanders to meet and interact with Kevin Faulconer, work on his phone banks, walk the precincts over the weekend before the election, then help turn out the vote on election day. When the ballots were counted on Tuesday night, City Councilman Faulconer, the Republican candidate, emerged victorious by a vote of 54.5% to 45.5%.
Faulconer now becomes the only Republican mayor of one of America’s 10 largest cities, which also is the second largest city of America’s largest state. As such, he becomes an important political figure who, at age 47, should have a big future on the national political stage. Remember that former U.S. Senator and Governor Pete Wilson launched his political career as a San Diego city councilman and mayor.
Most important for us is that our Samoan community now has a foot in the door to seeing its critical needs addressed. In his remarks to supporters at the election night party, the Mayor-elect reiterated his pledge to engage all of San Diego’s minority communities, practice inclusionary governance and make certain everyone has a seat at the table. For my part, I am talking to Kevin and his senior staff, one of whom once was my colleague on the U.S. House leadership staff, about establishing a Pacific Islanders Advisory Council. Over the weekend, Kevin already made a pledge to me to attend San Diego’s Pacific Islanders Festival in September, so we are off to a good start.
Moreover, San Diego is the home base of American Samoa’s purse seiner fishing fleet. I spoke to a number of the boat owners about the importance of electing Kevin and also will be working with the mayor’s office to make sure the fishing community has a seat on his business advisory council so that their needs can be addressed as well.
Among other things, I would hope we could count on the new mayor to use his influence with the sizable and influential California congressional delegation to express our concerns about keeping the “Buy American” program strong for tuna sales for school lunches. Southern California Congressman Buck McKeon (R), for example, as chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee, is very well familiar with the importance of “Buy American” as it applies to Defense Department purchases.
It all starts with the people, though. I know that Congressman Faleomavaega over the years has encouraged our people living stateside to get involved politically and I wholeheartedly agree. We may belong to different parties and have sharp philosophical differences in our approaches to public policy issues but I think he would agree with me that our people are best served when they are strongly and visibly active in both parties. Our community now has some solid visibility with the new mayor, so my work in San Diego is done. Now it is up to our people to empower themselves.