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Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau officially announced last Saturday morning to a group of family and friends, who were joined by a handful of journalists, that she is a candidate for governor in the 2012 gubernatorial race.

A former president of the American Samoa Community College also announced that her running mate for lieutenant governor is the newly retired U.S. Army Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Iuniasolua Savusa. The gubernatorial team is campaigning under the theme “Ua o’o i le Taimi”, or “Now is the Time” to vote “Salu and Savusa” as governor and lieutenant governor in 2012.

Hunkin-Finau, who earned her doctorate of education in curriculum and instruction in 1986 from the University of Hawai’i-Manoa, told reporters that the gathering was a small event geared mainly for the local media so the official announcement could be made in the presence of a small group of friends and family members.

In her remarks to the gathering, Hunkin-Finau said one of the main questions asked of her is “Why am I running for the Office of Governor?” — especially since she is a female.

“This election is not about gender, it’s not about matai-ship or about high ranking position. Rather this election ‘is the time’ to provide our people a far better choice,” said Hunkin-Finau, who served as director of the Youth and Women’s Affairs Office between 1995 and 1997, prior to the office being established as a department. “This election is about leadership based on values and principles necessary to guide a government which must be responsive to the needs and wishes of its people.”

She also said that she has served the government for over 30 years and observed that for some of those in the crowd, as well as their children, she was their teacher. Her first teaching job was at Leone High School from 1968 to 1971.

“I speak on behalf of a thousand plus educators and would like to say this to you — any society and any government is only as good as the education of their citizenry. Educated citizens begin their education journey from the home, to the school, to the workforce... both government and private sector,” she said.

Hunkin-Finau, who served as DOE acting director in 1993,  revealed that she has been encouraged for years by friends and relatives to run for office, utilizing her experience and knowledge, which are both gifts from God. “My answer to them then, was — it’s not my time yet. I also told  them, I’m an educator, not a politician.”

“Today I’ve decided to answer the call. Now is the time to answer the call to provide our people a different perspective about the kind of leadership that will lead us to a peaceful, prosperous and principle centered government,” she said.

In the weeks to come, the gubernatorial team will share their platform and issues with the public, she said. “But I pray the people in our community will consider our proposal.” She noted that as of last Friday there are now five candidates for governor, which is “historical — it’s a reflection that something must be done for our community.”

She also thanked her male counterparts seeking the same office of the governor because she believes that “we are all seeking the same thing - a better government for our people.”

“It’s history, that a woman, a teacher, is running for this position,” she said to applause from the group. “And it’s history, that a professional Command Sergeant Major has agreed to serve his people at this time in his life.”

(The last time a woman candidate ran for the governor’s post was in 2000)

Hunkin-Finau said the gubernatorial team has reached out to the young generation via the social media network Facebook, to connect with them. They have also created the team’s website.

“I trust that the young people, the professional people will look at the qualifications and the record of the leaders who want to serve them and vote for us come Nov. 6,” she said.

She thanked Savusa and his wife Mareta “for agreeing to join our team”. She explained that Savusa’s first name “Iuniasolua” (or June 2nd)  is in fact the birthday of her running mate. “Trust a beautiful mom to do this to a son,” she said, adding that Savusa will never forget his birthday.

Savusa has over 30 years of experience in management, planning and assessment, training, and mobilizing personnel to reach a goal, she said, adding that Savusa’s “professional record is unmatched by Pacific islanders who have been in the military.”

In his remarks, Savusa, said he “gives God the glory for this opportunity to serve our people” and revealed that he has served in the military for the last 36 years, six months and 14 days, adding that the military has been his life.

“I left this island to serve our country. I didn’t leave this island to go to school, to gain an education so I could become a lawyer, and serve a company somewhere else. But I left to serve a nation that is something bigger than myself,” said Savusa, who has served in military posts around the world including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He said he is thankful that after 36 years in the military he is “still in one piece”.

Among his high profile military posts overseas, he was the CSM for the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF - NATO) in Kabul, Afghanistan from July 2008 to Aug. 2009 and CSM for the United States Forces in Kabul during the same time.

Prior to his official retirement, he was the Command Senior Enlisted Leader of the U.S Pacific Command at Camp Smith Hawaii from 2009 to last year.

During his military career, Savusa said he was given “the opportunity to lead soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines” and was fortunate to be given the authority and the responsibility as a leader to care, train and prepare them for combat and to bring these young men and women back - all in one piece.

“And the awesome responsibility that comes with that is unmatched — at least in my book — anywhere in the world,” he said. “And I don’t say that with over confidence because of who I am. No. I believe everybody is in this race because they want to do well. and want to provide for our people.”

He also revealed that he answered the call to be a lieutenant governor candidate “four days after my official retirement, when Salu came over to talk with me about this.”

He spoke of the question in people’s mind: “Why did you come directly from retirement and run for lieutenant governor?”

 “It’s a good question. I believe that the quality of the experience that was given to me — to provide the type of leadership that can take people to harms way and bring them back — I believe that I can take that same type of leadership and be able to mold that into what I can bring this territory, to help Salu lead this territory out of... the current state. I believe I can do that.”

He also responded to another question, that has circulated in the community since word spread that he was the running mate.

“Why am I running with a woman? I will answer that question today. I don’t see a woman in this lady,” he said looking at Hunkin-Finau sitting next to him. “I see a leader. A leader that can take this country, [and] put it back in place, in its state, where people can live freely and with prosperity... to care for their families.”

“And why a woman [as governor]? I want our people to think — if you have daughters, think about their future. If not today, your daughters are going to grow up someday — why not them? Why can’t they lead? Why can’t they be leaders?” he said, adding that Hunkin-Finau is a “true leader”.

“A leader that our people can count on to lead this territory,” he said. “And for me, I have been a counselor, an advisor and I have been everything that I can be. I can be the counselor, the advisor to help Salu lead our... territory back to the type of state where our people can live free and be able to educate your sons and daughters and have the money they can use for scholarship off-island.”

The “Salu and Savusa” gubernatorial team is working on future campaign events including one set for this Saturday, an “open-house” at the team’s headquarters at Hunkin-Finau’s residence in Vailoa.