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Amata’s Notes: Poly politicians at Nevada’s Hoolaule'a fest

Henderson, NV. — Aumua Amata (R-AS), who is the most senior member of the Republican National Committee, and former Governor John D. Waihee (D-HI), the first and to date only Polynesian ever elected governor of one of the 50 states, teamed up last weekend at the 23rd annual Hoolaule'a festival in Henderson to deliver a bipartisan message to fest goers, encouraging them to organize the area's large Polynesian community politically to achieve their objectives. 


Henderson is home to a substantial number of Samoans and Nevada often has been called "Hawaii's Ninth Island" in recognition of the large number of former Aloha state residents who have relocated there. Ho'olaule'a, which honors Prince Kuhio, the first Polynesian ever to be elected to the U.S. Congress, is a large festival organized every year by the Las Vegas Hawaiian Civic Club (LVHCC). The immediate past president of the Club is Tammy Sala Hoapili, the daughter of American Samoan Pita Sala and his wife Luana.


Governor Waihee attended the event in his capacity as chairman of Kana'iolowalu, which is creating a roll of Native Hawaiians to be used to organize a Native Hawaiian governing entity that is recognized by the State of Hawaii. Amata was there at the request of RNC Chairman Reince Priebus to help the Nevada Republican Party better understand the concerns of the Asian Pacific community. The two organizations had booths just a few yards from each other where people, if they were eligible, could sign up for the roll, register to vote or both.


Amata, whose own father is in the history books as the first indigenous Samoan ever both to be appointed and elected chief executive of American Samoa, led off the joint appearance with a pop quiz, asking the audience if they knew who was the first Polynesian ever to be elected governor of one of the 50 states. Almost in unison the enthusiastic, largely Polynesian audience roared back "John Waihee," the very man standing next to Amata.


In turn, the governor recalled how it was that Amata's father and his own father served together in the same outfit during World War II; years later, he continued, he and Governor Coleman served together as governors and were the Polynesian half of the Pacific Basin Development Council, a caucus of Island governors in the American Pacific. "Regardless of party," said Waihee, "when it came to our specific issues, we were of one mind and helped each other whenever we were in a position to do so."


Noting that Amata was the most senior member of the Republican National Committee while he was a former Democratic governor, Waihee went on to say that notwithstanding the partisan differences, these longstanding relationships in the Pacific created a spirit of "ohana" (family).


"That's right," said Amata. "Whenever possible, we try to do things the 'Pacific Way' by building consensus." Our parties may take different paths to get there," she continued," but our goals are the same: to serve the people and do what we can to improve their lives."


The two veteran Pacific politicians urged the audience to join forces to become active politically, whichever party they chose. They both agreed that political activism is the path to empowerment. Individuals may believe there is little the can do to influence public policy but by joining forces with like minded allies, at some point a critical mass is formed and the voices of the people can be heard.


Amata, who is on a multi-stop western tour, often makes the point that if then-Vice President Al Gore had reached out to identify, register and bring to the polls just 538 more Samoans in the 2000 election--not Asians and Pacific Islanders or Polynesians, but just Samoans in Florida, he would have become president of the United States, a stark reminder of how every vote really does count.


Earlier in the festival, Samoan activist Tusi Savea Papali'i Alston, co-founder of the Heart of Polynesia entertainment group, introduced Amata to the audience as a special visitor who had traveled all the way from American Samoa. At the conclusion of the festival, Amata presented a certificate of appreciation to LVHCC President Vincent Souza in recognition of the club's long service to the community. Governor Waihee returned to Hawaii Monday morning while Amata is traveling in California before returning to American Samoa next week.