Slap on the Wrist

Recent events and the Special Session are rife with opportunities that highlight the uneven application of the rules that govern the Hawaii House of Representatives. In question is House Rule 60.3 which states:

Members should treat their fellow House members, staff, and the general public with respect and courtesy, regardless of political or religious beliefs, age, race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or physical disability. (Link)

This rule was invoked by House leaders (Scott Saiki and Joe Souki) in the very public investigation of Representative Faye Hanohano. Hanohano’s second outburst in as many years resulted in a letter of reprimand, noting that any future violations could result in more severe punishment such as the revocation of her committee chairmanship.
While the investigation of Hanohano was supposed to pass an image of ‘accountability’, instead it highlights how House rules apply to some individuals more than others.  Hanohano’s remarks were certainly reprehensible, but actions of other committee chairs and representatives that are equally offensive have resulted in little more than a slap on the wrist.  This is highlighted in the treatment of a well-respected Native Hawaiian leader at a recent House Finance Committee hearing in a post by Derrick Depledge on the Political Radar blog.  DePledge writes:

Tassill is the second Native Hawaiian activist to complain about their treatment at the Legislature since the controversy surrounding Rep. Faye Hanohano’s conduct. Some Capitol insiders view the complaints as an attempt to insulate Hanohano by suggesting that other committee chairmen and chairwoman occasionally treat people poorly at hearings. (Link)

Observers noted that Tassil was denied the right to testify on a measure, and then verbally berated by both Finance Vice-Chair Scott Nishimoto and Chair Sylvia Luke during questioning by Representative Gene Ward.  For those who were on-hand for the special session, the contempt of elected officials for members of the public is no secret.  During House testimony, both Sylvia Luke and Karl Rhoads had equally disrespectful exchanges with testifiers.  Representative Kaniela Ing took to Facebook to describe testifiers against SB1 as ‘pilau‘.  The secret is that elected officials are concerned with mistreatment and disrespect toward members of the public.

House leaders have yet to take action against Luke, who is a repeat offender like Hanohano. While Hanohano’s apology was not enough to satisfy House leadership, many insiders believe that Luke will receive special treatment.  Using the precedent set by the public investigation of Hanohano, House leadership should also investigate Luke with the same tenacity.  Accountability demands that House rule 60.3 is evenly applied to all representatives.

Of note is DePledge’s second sentence about recent allegations being used to insulate Hanohano. This logic might work in a vacuum, if one were to ignore the pattern of events of the past two years.  House rules govern all representatives equally, just like the laws that they were elected to make.  The pattern of disrespect instead shows that certain representatives are above the rules.

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Blog Note: Apologies for the silence over the past couple of weeks. Time that would normally be devoted to postin. On the blog was needed to track bills in the flurry of hearings prior to the Legislature’s first big deadline. There are more posts incoming, along with an update to the Legislative tracker.

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