Amata's Journal: My Crazy Days of Summer
Washington, D.C. — July may start the lazy days of summer for some people but for me this year it has been the crazy days of summer.
One of my top priorities is the education of our youth, who will be our future government, business, and political leaders one day. That is why during the 114th Congress I was so delighted they agreed to my request to change the formula for our secondary student program funding, which resulted in a whopping 67% increase in ASG's eligibility for those grant funds. In short, from FY2017 on, the ASDOE was eligible to apply for an additional nine million dollars every fiscal year and, because it is formula funding, it recurs every year without need for new legislation.
So, this legislative victory gave me extra pride to participate in high school graduation exercises this year and I was grateful I could arrange my schedule to attend most of them even though they were spread out as a result of Cyclone Gita damage. Up to that point, it seemed like a normal month of June.
However, as I was preparing to attend Tafuna HS's commencement June 18, I got a call from the Speaker’s office in Washington advising me that the President had requested a private meeting with members of the Majority caucus the following Tuesday. With the number of items, I have on the President’s plate, I knew I had to be at that meeting but HAL plane schedules being what they are, there were no flights out of PPG that could get me back to Washington by the next Tuesday. Complicating matters, House rules do not permit use of personal office funds to fly foreign carriers or fly between foreign ports unless in transit.
But I decided to gamble and found a Sunday flight from PPG to Fagali’i in Apia from which I could travel by car to Faleolo in time to catch an Air Fiji flight to Los Angeles.
Even though I technically was not “in transit” going from one airport to the other, I felt it was worth the risk and if the House wouldn’t cover it I would take it out of my pocket. So, I grabbed my toothbrush and off I went. I ended up arriving back in Washington just a few hours before the meeting with the President. I was able to speak with him and advance a couple of issues which I will talk about at a later date when I have something more concrete to report.
While I regret missing July 4th in the islands, I took advantage of my unanticipated extra time in Washington to accept an invitation from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to join him to watch fireworks from his office balcony. Zinke, whose friendship I date from our service together in the same class in Congress, is second in importance only to the President when it comes to our issues.
Perhaps the third most important government leader is Rob Bishop, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, which has legislative jurisdiction over all the territories. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to be part of the committee delegation to the Caribbean right after the 4th to review recovery efforts from hurricanes in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
The high-level delegation was to be bipartisan so when Minority Whip Steny Hoyer developed pneumonia at the last minute, Bishop canceled the trip and I got right back home in time to be present for the formal opening of the Senate’s summer session and the final event of Faga'itua High School’s Golden Jubilee celebration. I also hosted a farewell lunch for our National Park Service volunteer firefighters heading off to California to fight wildfires and flew out with a large contingent of reservists heading to Hawaii.
Luck was with me because I was able to be in Hawai’i to attend the change of command ceremony for COL Vasaga Tilo, Jr. A special treat was that his dad, Senator Tilo of Aua, also was able to be there. From Hawai’i, the next day I headed to Los Angeles for a major Samoan community funeral and then back to D.C. to get some fresh clothes to begin a remarkable 10-day automobile journey that took me through 14 states to four military bases, a Marshallese Islanders community and two Indian reservations as well as attend two political conferences.
More about that trip in part two of my crazy July.