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American Samoa’s longest-serving U.S. House delegate dies

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House Speaker John Boehner, second left, of Ohio participates in a ceremonial House swearing-in ceremony for Del. Eni H. Faleomavaega, third from right, D-American Samoa, on Capitol Hill in Washington. American Samoa’s longest serving non-voting delegate to the U.S House of Representatives Faleomavaega died Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, at age 73.

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa >> American Samoa’s longest-serving non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, Eni H. Faleomavaega, has died. He was 73.

His sister-in-law, Therese Hunkin, didn’t disclose how the former 13-term delegate died Wednesday but said he was at his home in Provo, Utah.

“He passed away peacefully at his home surrounded by family and a few close friends,” Hunkin said in a brief phone interview from Provo.

The House delegate for American Samoa, which is a U.S. territory about 2,300 miles south of Hawaii, can vote in committee but not on the House floor. Faleomavaega, a Democrat, became a congressional delegate in 1989 and held the position for 13 consecutive terms.

He “had served the people and government of American Samoa faithfully for many years,” said American Samoa’s acting Gov. Lemanu Palepoi Peleti Mauga.

Faleomavaega began his political career in 1973 as an administrative assistant to Paramount Chief A.U. Fuimaono, the territory’s first elected representative to Washington. He served as staff counsel to the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs from 1975 to 1981 before returning to American Samoa as its deputy attorney general.

In 1985, he was elected lieutenant governor before becoming a congressional delegate.

He was a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where he was a ranking member of the subcommittee on Asia, and the House Committee on Natural Resources.

In 1996, Faleomavaega participated in a boycott of an address by French President Jacques Chirac before a joint session of Congress. Just days before Chirac’s speech, France conducted a series of nuclear tests at the Moruroa and Fangatauga atolls in the South Pacific, despite worldwide protests.

“It is with pleasure that I say that life with Eni was far from dull,” his wife, Hinanui Hunkin, told The Associated Press via email from Provo on Wednesday night. “I am so grateful for the trust that the people of American Samoa, for so many years, placed in him as their servant. I love and miss you, American Samoa.”

Born in Eni Hunkin in Vailoatai village on the U.S. territory, Faleomavaega graduated from Kahuku High School in Hawaii in 1962. He then earned a bachelor of arts in political science and history from Brigham Young University in Utah in 1966.

After serving three years in the U.S. Army with a stint in Vietnam, Faleomavaega earned a law degree from the University of Houston in 1972. A year later, he earned a master of laws degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

During his time in the House, Faleomavaega was challenged over the use of his surname, which is a Matai orator title bestowed upon him by the Faiivae family of Leone when he was known as Eni Hunkin. “Faleomavaega” is the Samoan chieftain title of the family.

High Chief Faiivae Apelu Galeais, who lost an election to Faleomavaega, asked the High Court of American Samoa in 1997 to strip the delegate of his title. Galeais, leader of the family clan, said Faleomavaega did not attend family and village meetings and did not contribute to their functions.

Faleomavaega dismissed the complaint as “vindictive.”

Faleomavaega was unseated in 2014 by Republican Aumua Amata Radewagen. He is survived by his wife, five children and 10 grandchildren.

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