Am. Samoa Considers Electing Governor, Lieutenant Separately

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Senate looks at Bill to make territory consistent with most other states

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, March 2, 106) – Sen. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono is leading the push to have voters in American Samoa elect the governor and lieutenant governor separately, instead of the current law, which calls for them to be nominated and elected jointly. There is no word that this change is being sought for this year’s general election.

Asked for the reason for changing this election process, Soliai — a former chief election officer for many years — said he believes the time has come for the governor and lieutenant governor to be elected separately. He pointed out that almost all of the states in the nation have their top two leaders in the executive branch elected separately.

"And I believe it is time for American Samoa voters to do the same in moving forward to the next generation," he said, adding that several senators are supportive of this important legislation.

Co-sponsors of the bill are Sens. Afoa L.S. Lutu, Gaea Perefoti Failautusi, Fuiava Avaloa, Magalei Logovi’i and Nuanuaolefeagaiga T. Nua. Of interest is that the measure is getting support from the two Tualauta senators — Gaea and Magalei.

The bill was introduced last week Wednesday and assigned to the Senate Government Operations Committee, whose chairman Sen. Galeai Tu’ufuli then scheduled a hearing for Monday this week. The only witness scheduled was Fono legal counsel Nathaniel Savali, but he was off island — as of Monday — and the hearing was canceled.

Galeai said he will scheduled a new hearing when the Fono reconvenes on Mar. 14 after its current two-week mid session recess and he plans to hold a public hearing.

"I have received a couple of phone calls from people who want to testify on this measure, so it’s important that there is a public hearing to get public input," he told Samoa News yesterday.

Current law states that candidates for the offices of the governor and lieutenant governor shall be nominated jointly by filing a petition, but the bill seeks to have the candidates nominated "separately" and elected "separately" by a majority of votes cast by electors for "each office".

According to the bill, which further states that if no candidates receive a majority of votes cast in the general election "for either office", there will be a run off election 14-days later for each of the offices, between the highest and the second highest candidates.

The measure also provides procedures to follow in the event of a permanent vacancy in the office of the lieutenant governor. It says that no special election is called if the vacancy occurs within six months of the next general election. In this case, the governor appoints a new lieutenant governor subject to Fono confirmation. And the person elected or appointed and confirmed by the Fono shall hold office for the unexpired term.

This is the third time in the last 15 years that there has been a move in the Fono to have the governor and lieutenant governor elected separately. The two previous moves failed as the measures remained in committee without any action.

Changing the way voters elect the governor and lieutenant governor would also required amending the American Samoa Constitution. The Constitution states in part that "The Governor and the Lieutenant Governor of American Samoa shall... be popularly elected and serve in accordance with the laws of American Samoa."

BACKGROUND

When there was talk in the Fono in 2011 for the introduction of a bill to elect the governor and lieutenant governor separately, then Gov. Togiola Tulafono says the issue needed to be put to the voters first through a referendum — via a Joint Resolution approved by the Fono.

Togiola said electing together a governor and lieutenant governor as a team on the ballot was an initiative made by the Fono many years ago and this issue was given to the voters for approval, which they gave.

The talk in the Fono in 2011 about introduction of a bill never happened.

According to the constitution, a joint resolution is required to be approved by two-thirds of each chamber of the Fono when it comes to making any changes to the constitution. A Joint Concurrent Resolution is used by the Fono to recommend changes to the Constitution, which is then put to voters for the final decision.

Samoa News should point out that according to Wikipedia.org only 18 states elect their lieutenant governor on a separate ticket from the governor, 25 states elect both on the same ticket, while 7 states do not have an office of lieutenant governor. And, of those seven, two have a LT post, but it is filled by the highest officer of the state Senate.

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