“O FEA LE ALOFA”
I was very excited when Governor Lemanu called for a constitutional convention last year because of one issue and one issue only – reapportionment. This was to be the measure of our leaders’ oft-declared commitment to our culture; one supposedly based on love and respect for one another.
In an article by the New York Times back in 2010, they write “that some of the United States Constitution’s most sacred concepts like the notion of one person, one vote do not apply in American Samoa”. That is the root of the problem of the mal-apportionment in our House of Representatives, and it is the spirit behind the time-honored mantra of days past, “no taxation without representation”.
How can any tax or spending legislation in the territory really be considered just by the people without equal representation in the lower chamber?
While the Constitutional Committee recommended that no county lose a seat during the House or Senate reapportionment process, Convention delegates still had the power to address the imbalance in House and Senate representation through reapportionment rather than by simply adding more seats as the committee had recommended.
Delegates, in turn, declared that the committee should have come up with a formula for reapportionment prior to the convention. Perhaps that may have facilitated the discussion but I have my doubts. For one, some delegates seemed prepared right out of the gate to set the negotiating bar at zero when it came to the question of adding more seats for now more populous Itu’au and Tuala-uta districts.
It was a negotiating tactic anyone with two eyes and a brain saw coming a mile away.
Their argument was that a lot of representatives and senators from other counties reside in those two districts so the constituents of Itu’au and Tuala-uta are represented in the legislature by them as well. That actually makes for the worst of both worlds.
In American Samoa, we have legislators who reside in districts they don’t owe their loyalties to, while supposedly representing the interests and concerns of the very districts they were elected from but don’t even reside in. There is a reason why there’s a residency requirement for both the voter and legislator everywhere else in the democratic world.
Let me put our reapportionment dilemma in another way: If we take all of the district/ county names out of the equation for just a minute, marrying up the number of representatives with the demographics of our current population would be nothing more than a routine paper drill. That’s just a matter of fact.
Feudalism, protecting one’s turf, even expanding it... that’s what’s getting in the way of fixing the imbalance of representation in the Fono. What I saw in full display from the beginning to the end of this whole conventional affair was fear, not love or respect. Fear of losing power, fear of losing prestige, fear of offending those with both.
But where I have found true love and respect of, by and for our people was from the average voter.
During the referendum, they once again demonstrated that they neither trust our leaders with more power or independence from federal oversight... nor are they willing to arbitrarily add more seats to the legislature for reasons too expensive to count.