Early talk about top spot on House Foreign Affairs Committee is not appropriate

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As reported by the LA Daily News on April 5, “Sherman noted that if he wins the election, he will replace Berman as the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee.” Sherman said one way he differs from Berman: "I would say I'm a bit more humble."

On April 11, The Hill reported, “Sherman is poised to move up the ranks, and he told The Hill he would seek the top spot if he defeated Berman.”

On April 17, 2012, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reported, “Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) has declared that he wants his fellow Jewish Democrat’s committee leadership post if he prevails.  But if Sherman prevails in his House race, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), a Berman ally, says he would vie to become the committee’s top Democrat.”

“If Berman loses to Sherman,” JTA continued, “the next most senior among Democrats would be Eni Faleomavaega, the delegate from American Samoa who cannot vote in the full House but votes in committee. The source close to the party's leaders said that Faleomavaega's chances for the job, should he bid for it, were virtually nil.”

Dismissive, presumptuous and far from humble comments like this as reported by major news outlets are an affront to Asian-Pacific Americans.  Regardless of my status as a Delegate, I am the only Asian-Pacific American to serve on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and I am the first Asian-Pacific American in the history of the U.S. Congress to chair the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.

As a matter of record, I was mentored by the late Congressman Phil Burton of California, who mentored Rep. Howard Berman. The first woman in American history to serve as Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, now holds the Burton seat.  Phil Burton was dedicated to the disenfranchised. He had a commitment to equality. He raged at inequality. Because of Phil Burton, the Territories, including American Samoa, are able to elect Delegates to the U.S. House of Representatives, and nowhere in the rules are Delegates barred from seeking or chairing full committees.

So should the people of American Samoa vote me back in office and should I be the most senior Democrat in line, I will seek the top position on the Foreign Affairs Committee because, like Rosa Parks, I do not believe the disenfranchised should be asked to move to the back of the bus to make way for those who are more privileged or well-funded.

While it is regrettable that minorities in Congress must form organizations like the Congressional Black Caucus, the Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus just to be heard, I am hopeful that when the time comes to determine the top spot on the Foreign Affairs Committee that the Democratic Caucus will uphold the values it espouses. This will be the test of the character of the Democratic Party and the Caucus.

However, until the voters decide who, if any of us, will be returning to Washington, I am standing by Rep. Howard Berman. Rep. Berman stands with Asian-Pacific Americans, and is the leader in the House on many important issues, including support for Israel and preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability.  He is, as The Almanac of American Politics states, “one of the most aggressive and creative members of the House and one of the most clear-sighted operators in American politics.”  If he is re-elected to Congress, Rep. Berman is a lock to keep the top spot on the Foreign Affairs Committee.  No one else is locked in.

Therefore, it is my hope that further discussion about the top spot will be put aside because the dismissive rhetoric being used lacks the respect that should be afforded Ranking Member Berman and is an affront to some 18 million Asian-Pacific Americans, including American Samoans, who have made an outsized sacrifice in defending our nation with the Iraq war death rate per 1 million population almost as high for American Samoa as for the 10 highest states combined.

Del. Faleomavaega is the first Asian-Pacific American in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives to chair the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific and now serves as ranking member. He is also the longest serving and only Samoan in the U.S. Congress.