Lawmakers sworn in today, some seats still in dispute
New lawmakers for the 33rd Legislature are scheduled to be sworn in late this morning in their respective Chambers by Chief Justice Michael Kruse, who is scheduled to first administer the oath of office for the new governor, Lolo Matalasi Moliga and new lieutenant governor Lemanu Peleti Sialega Mauga.
Senate members will be serving four-year terms, while for House members, the term is two years. The 33rd Legislature officially begins on Jan. 14, which is also when the new governor delivers his first State of the Territory Address.
The Senate is expected to start at 11 a.m. and the usual agenda, similar to past practice, is that the current Senate Secretary will call the session to convene. The first issue which must be dealt with is the selection of a temporary Senate President (President ProTemp) who will then carry out the rest of the agenda.
The first point on the ProTemp’s agenda is to appoint a three-member credential committee to review the selection of senators as well as their credentials, including letters of certification from the Office of Samoan Affairs. The committee will report to the full membership any disputes, followed by the swearing in of those whose credentials are in order.
The two disputed seats in the Senate at this time are for Alataua County and Manu’a District #2. For Alataua there is a case pending in the High Court, while Manu’a #2, deals with two individuals who were selected during different meetings — one held on Olosega island and the other held on Tutuila — with both claiming that they are the rightful person selected.
Meanwhile, once the those who are credentialed have taken the oath of office, the next step is to elect the Senate President, the post currently held by Sen. Gaoteote Tofau Palaie, who plans to seek it again. There are unconfirmed reports that Gaoteote is set to retake the post.
Once the Senate President is in place, the next move is to select a new Secretary of the Senate and the Senate Sergeant-At-Arms.
The House is scheduled to convene at 12noon, with the most important issue on the agenda the election of the House Speaker, a post currently held by Savali Talavou Ale, who will be going up against incumbent lawmaker Taotasi Archie Soliai.
Information received by Samoa News yesterday states that Taotasi’s side has just eight committed faipule, unless something has changed between yesterday afternoon and before 12 noon today. Samoa News understands that one supporter for Taotasi defected to Savali’s side on Monday.
The winner for the Speaker’s race must have 11 votes, or supporters.
Other elected officers of the House to be decided today are the Chief House Clerk and the House Sergeant-at-Arms.
Prior to the election of the Speaker, the sitting Chief Election Officer is usually in attendance to certify the election results for each House member. However, current Chief Election Officer Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono said that he will prepare an official letter to be sent to the House to be read as the official certification notice.
He said he will not be able to attend because he has to step down prior to 12noon today, to take up his new post as one of the two Ituau senators.
He will also send an official certification letter to those in charge of today’s inauguration ceremony for governor-elect Lolo Matalasi Moliga and lieutenant governor-elect Lemanu Peleti Sialega Mauga. The letter will certify that Lolo and Lemanu were elected during the November 2012 run off election.
The only issue that remains unclear — if it is raised today — is whether or not there will be any official challenge from Savali over the eligibility of faipule-elect Florence Saulo, who said in a statement that she was born in American Samoa and is a U.S. national. (See yesterday’s front page story for more details on this issue).
Saulo, a longtime business woman, will be the only female faipule in the 33nd Legislature.