Two Samoan women at the center of national politics


Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, left, and Amata Radewagen of American Samoa. (Contributed Photo)

When the smoke clears on Nov. 9, two political figures of Samoan ancestry could find themselves in a position to play a central role in reshaping their respective political parties, no matter who wins or loses the presidential election. A victorious Donald Trump will not change overnight to become accommodating to the GOP. A victorious Hillary Clinton may be too consumed trying to build a broad governing base to manage ferment in her party masked by media attention on this year’s Republican drama.

While media coverage concentrates on transition from Obama to the incoming administration, leaders in both parties looking to rebuild after 2016 will likely include in their plans two pivotal woman leaders from the Pacific Islands: Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Amata Radewagen of American Samoa. 

Gabbard would be entering her third term from a safe Democratic U.S. House seat in Hawaii while Radewagen would be a sophomore in the House if she holds on in very blue American Samoa. Both have played roles in their parties’ national leadership.   

Currently her party’s highest-ranking federal officeholder of Asian Pacific heritage, Radewagen also is the Republican National Committee’s most senior member and a member of its powerful Rules Committee. Gabbard was a Democratic National Committee vice chairman until she resigned in February to endorse U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for her party’s nomination. Unless she chooses instead to concentrate on preparing a primary challenge against Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), who will turn 70 before the 2018 election, Gabbard probably could return to that or another key party position when new officers are chosen in January.

Hillary Clinton could try to block Gabbard from any party role but might prefer to have her in a position to help mend fences with Sanders and the progressive wing of the party, looking to extract liberal policy concessions from her administration. The youthful Gabbard could be a particularly useful bridge to her fellow millennials both in the party and the House, where she has built a reputation for offering bipartisan initiatives.

Radewagen, who brings diversity as a minority woman in a caucus that is 91-percent white male, was awarded as a freshman a rare three committee assignment with two leadership positions (a subcommittee chairmanship and a vice chairmanship).  In the absence of an APA GOP victory elsewhere in the country on Nov. 8, she will return as the only Asian Pacific American House member next year.

A non-voting delegate on final passage of legislation on the House floor, she nevertheless accrues seniority and has a full vote as a member on House committees. Radewagen also votes in the House Republican Conference, where Republican leaders are elected, policy positions are taken and rules are adopted. 

Gabbard might be a bridge between the House, DNC and Clinton, Radewagen between House Republicans and the RNC. Look for the two women to collaborate with each other, not just because they share a common ethnicity that is among the smallest nationality groups in America. They also are personal friends from Samoan families that have known each other for generations. 

Indeed, they likely are distantly related and are steeped in politics: Gabbard’s father is Hawaii state senator while Radewagen’s father was the first native-born and longest serving governor of American Samoa. 

Democrat Gabbard and a Republican colleague formed the Congressional Future Caucus, so Congress can “come together across partisan lines to creatively and pragmatically forge nonpartisan common ground on issues facing America’s next generation, such as enhancing American competitiveness and innovation.” Radewagen, who chairs the House Small Business Committee on Health and Technology, asked to join the caucus, which now has about 25 members.

Despite her RNC position, Radewagen serves a heavily Democratic-leaning constituency, so she makes a point of working with House Democrats. Indeed, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) asked her to represent him personally at the funeral of the late Rep. Mark Takei (D-HI).

If Republicans and Democrats will be looking for ways to work across the aisle, they could do worse than to look to these two Samoan women, whose cultural backgrounds are rooted in a system of consensus-building, to help lead the way. (Howard Hills, Special to the Saipan Tribune)

Howard Hills served in military law, international law and legislative affairs in the Peace Corps, Executive Office of the President, National Security Council and U.S. Department of State under Presidents Carter, Reagan and Bush. 

Howard Hills (Special to the Saipan Tribune

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