“One man, one vote” caused reduction of Manu’a senate seats
Reaching a Senate decision to return to Manu’a two senatorial seats that the island group had more than four decades ago, is not going to be an easy one, as the Senate Rules Committee plans more hearings later this year, while it seeks official documents on why the change was made during the 1967 Constitution Convention (or ConCon, as it has been referred to over the years.)
Manu’a’s current three senators, through a Senate Joint Resolution, have sought to restore or return the island group’s two senatorial seats, which were taken away during the 1967 ConCon, where the Manu’a delegation at the time, walked off in opposition to the move.
Among the ASG witnesses at a Senate Rules Committee hearing last week, chaired by Sen. Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga Nua, testifying on the measure, was Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale who explained the process of amending the Constitution and that voters will have the final say on amendments. He noted that this particular issue has been discussed and debated in past years and believes that it should be presented to voters for a final decision.
Also called by the committee to the hearing was Tapa’au Dr. Daniel Mageo Aga, executive director of the Office of Political Status, Constitution and Federal Relations so that senators could learn more about why the 1967 Constitution was changed, reducing Manu’a’s senatorial seats.
Tapa’au explained that records at his office are based on the 1967 American Samoa annual report to the US Interior Department and the Fono Jubilee book, which outlines the history of the American Samoa Legislature. (Fofo I.F. Sunia authored the book, referred to by Tapa’au.)
Tapa’au first explained that at the time of the ConCon, which began in 1966, and then Chief Justice Arthur Morrow was the convention’s chief counsel, who also documented all proceedings.
He said Morrow had argued for the change based on a federal court decision citing, “one man, one vote” and pushed for the change saying that if it’s not done it would be “unconstitutional” under the US Constitution.
However, the Manu’a delegates argued as to why it’s “unconstitutional” when there are other provisions of American Samoa constitution, which are nearly “unconstitutional” as well, he said, adding that the Manu’a delegation walked out in protest, while the Convention continued with approval of this amendment. He also said that voters later approved the change.
Nuanuaolefeagaiga inquired if there are any written official records to show what transpired in 1967 and the reason the change that was made regarding Manu’a senators.
Tapa’au said there was a court case at the time, which reaffirmed “one man one vote”. He then requested they give him a chance to thoroughly review the “contents” of what happened at the time, and the reason why Morrow encouraged the change.
Additionally, documentation at his office are a “secondary source”, but what is needed is the “original source” of what happened at the time, Tapa’au said, adding that many historical records are in San Bruno, California — which was visited a few years back by the Political Status Commission.
According to the Cornell University online and other websites which provide legal background information, the “one person, one vote (or one man, one vote)” doctrine, is from a U.S Supreme Court decision in 1964 based on the principle that all citizens, regardless of where they reside in a state, are entitled to equal legislative representation.
As for the city of San Bruno, the San Bruno branch of the National Archives and Records Administration contains records from more than 80 federal agencies concerning, among other regions, American Samoa and the Pacific Trust territories.
During the committee hearing, Manu’a Sen. Galea’i M. Tu’ufuli recalled the Manu’a delegation walking off from the 1967 convention, because of the proposed change. While he was not a delegate, Galeai said he was on island at the time and remembered a statement by a ranking traditional leader saying that a palagi should not tell American Samoa what needs to be done, but it’s the people of American Samoa that decide what should be in the Constitution.
However, traditional leaders at the time each had their own views but in the end the change “prevailed” to reduce the number of Manu’a senators, as argued by Morrow, said Galeai, who also believes that it was also Morrow’s view that it’s up to the people of American Samoa as to the changes to the Constitution.
Galeai went on to say that a thorough public explanation of this issue should be made to ensure that the community fully understands before it’s presented to voters via a referendum.
He suggested not rushing on this issue, because it’s not a matter of life or death, saying that there is still enough time for senators for further review and discussions.
Another Manu’a senator, Misaalefua J. Hudson voiced concerns with the wording of the Senate measure, which calls for “adding two more” Senatorial seats, because that’s not the intent of the bill. He said the measure should clearly state that it calls to reinstate or return the two Manu’a senatorial seats it had before the 1967 Constitution change.
As to the issue of “one man, one vote”, Misaalefua said that is addressed through the election of members of the local House of Representatives and his comments were echoed by Talauega, who pointed out that senators are not elected but selected in accordance with Samoan customs through county councils.
He also echoed Misaalefua’s comment for changing the language of the Senate measure — referring “to return or reinstate” the two Manu’a senatorial seats. Talauega, however, made clear that he was called to testify and provide recommendations on the issue. Therefore, his comments or review is neither in support or opposition to the measure.
At the end of the hearing, Nuanuaolefeagaiga said the bill would be taken up again when the Fono returns in July for the second regular session. He said the committee requested that Tapa’au provide official written documentation as to why Manu’a senatorial seats were changed in the 1967 ConCon.
TUALAUTA HOUSE SEATS
Meanwhile, a House Joint Resolution seeking to increase the number of faipule for Tualauta District in the House was introduced in the Senate early last week after the House unanimously endorsed it two weeks ago.
Original language of the measure calls for two more seats for Tualauta. However, the measure was amended down to “one” more seat for Tualauta, the most populous county in American Samoa.
Proposed amendments to the Constitution are presented to voters in the next general election to decide on. If approved by voters, such amendments are then presented to the US Interior Department, which then presents such changes to the US Congress for final approval.