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American Samoa’s Radewagen can make a difference in committees

ALTHOUGH the delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives from American Samoa is one of six such delegates who votes in committees but not in the full House, just-elected Republican Amata Radewagen has been drawing an unusually large amount of press coverage since her sensational election last fall.

Elected over Democratic Delegate Eni Faleomavaega in a nine-candidate race, Radewagen — daughter of American Samoa’s first popularly elected Gov. Peter Tali Coleman — made it to Congress on her 11th try.

“Amata finally won!” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, exclaimed to Newsmax shortly after the November elections, insisting on referring to the nonvoting delegate-elect as “the fifth Republican woman in the [House] Class of ‘14.” “You have to pay attention to her.”

Amata RadewagenAmata Radewagen

As to why we should pay attention to a lawmaker who doesn’t vote in Congress, there are several reasons. The positions of territorial delegates for American Samoa, Guam, and the Virgin Islands were created in the 1970s in large part by the late liberal Rep. Phil Burton, D-California, to give him and fellow environmental activists a stronger hand on the House Interior Committee (renamed the Natural Resources Committee).

Since then, the holders of the office have all voted in committee as well as in the conferences of both major parties of the House.

“That’s important because, when there is a closely split House, there are a lot of matters in committee decided by one vote,” said Radewagen, who sits on the three House committees: Natural Resources, Small Business, and Veterans Affairs.

“On major issues such as the Keystone XL pipeline or what action the U.S. will take in Ukraine, I will have the same vote in committee as any House member from the 50 states.”

There is another reason for pundits and pols to keep an eye on Radewagen. Republican ranks in the House are at an 84-year high of 246; this includes two blacks (freshman Reps. Mia Love of Utah and Will Hurd of Texas); eight lawmakers of Hispanic or Latino heritage; and 22 women. These figures have been cited more than once by the national press as some kind of evidence that Republicans are not fully representative of America.

A recent furor occurred dealing with the Republican Conference. Newly elected Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, received some unwanted press attention following reports that, as a state legislator, he had addressed the meeting of a group founded by onetime Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

Scalise said that he had always opposed and publicly denounced Duke and had spoken to many groups seeking support for an anti-tax measure of his.

“Steve’s a pretty good guy, humble and down to earth,” delegate Radewagen told us. “I believe his explanation and I voted for him [for Whip].

“And I think Newt Gingrich has a good point: that if we’re going to give President Obama a pass on formerly dealing with Rev. Jeremiah Wright [whose record of statements is spiced with hostile remarks about whites], then we should give Steve Scalise a pass on speaking to a group founded by Duke.”

A graduate of the University of Guam and Loyola Marymount University, Radewagen spent years in various federal offices, including the Office of Economic Opportunity (under the late conservative firebrand Howard Phillips), and the old Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (now Health and Human Services).

She is also a mother of three and a cancer survivor, and the longtime Republican National Committeewoman from American Samoa — and the most senior member of the 168-member Republican National Committee.

Along with her work on committees and the traditional Territorial Delegate’s function as a lobbyist for the island’s interest, Radewagen is anxious to tackle the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs.

“For starters, the territories need to have access to the same resources as veterans in the states,” she said, “We’ve got to level the playing field in terms of availability of benefits and explore new options, such as private insurance.”

Since Territorial Delegates from American Samoa began being elected in the 1980s, the tradition has been that these elected officials have not been heard from much in Washington. At this early date, it appears a good bet that Amata Radewagen will be the exception to this tradition.

The author is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.