Shady Dealings

Courtesy the Hawaii House BlogLiberal and progressive Democrats have never missed an opportunity to alienate voters.  On this occasion, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Editorial Board (party-of-one) finally called it like it is:

On a bad-government note: Legislators on the House floor Tuesday approved a blank bill with no content; its only vague reference was to geothermal power and it was advanced, over some objections, to conference committee negotiations. This short-form bill maneuver — “unusual,” conceded House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke — locks out direct public input on the proposed law to be discussed, since conference committee is where language will be inserted in the blank bill but public testimony is not allowed.

Open-government advocates warn yearly about “gut and replace” tactics at this stage of the session, but it is unconscionable for legislators to forward a blank bill on the contentious issue of geothermal power with no hint of content or prior public input. This one bears particular scrutiny.

Recall that it was this very same leadership team of liberal Democrats that promised transparency in government:

The most critical important check on government is an informed and involved citizenry. At minimum, residents should vote. We will work to facilitate, rather than hamper, public involvement in government.

— followed time and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again where they betrayed the transparency and good government that they promised.

Conference committee is a dark time at the Legislature where the House and Senate hammer our their differences on pieces of legislation that have managed to pass through both chambers.  During this part of the legislative session, no public testimony is accepted.

This move is part-and-parcel of the liberal agenda – to alienate moderate and conservative voters so that louder, more liberal and progressive voices are able to monopolize government.  This is not a “red” or “blue” issue.  It is not about Democrats and Republicans — there are moderate Democrats who have also suffered at the hands of this unholy crusade.  Likewise, there are liberal Republicans who have benefitted from the alienation of moderates and conservatives.

It is about liberals and progressives against moderates and conservatives.  When elected officials remove the public from the lawmaking process, being disengaged is the worst possible option.  Now more than ever, people of faith must stay engaged and keep government accountable.

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No Specific Reason

From the Honolulu Star-AdvertiserThe latest installment of “Working Hard or Hardly Working” (WH/HW?) comes from Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Jill Tokuda.

HB2501 came at the request of Alexander & Baldwin (A&B).  It would permit a “holdover” water rights while their filing before the Land Board is being reviewed.  This became necessary with the imminent closure of Hawaii Cane & Sugar (HC&S) (a) to preserve water service to more than 30,000 upcountry Maui residents, and (b) to transition the company’s land holdings from sugar cane to diversified agriculture.  The latter is what triggered a review of A&Bs water permits.

In the latest draft issued by the Senate Ways & Means Committee, A&B was specifically excluded from the bill while ten other applicants would still benefit.  When Tokuda was pressed by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, she offered her wisdom:

“There’s no specific reason”

A recent article offered fivethirtyeight.com (“How much should state legislators get paid?“) examined the compensation that lawmakers receive across the nation.  Compensation is not just what legislators are paid directly as salary, but includes per diem expenses.  For example, neighbor island legislators are rightly compensated a single roundtrip ticket from their districts to Oahu every week.  They are also compensated for their housing accommodations in Honolulu during the legislative session.

When all is tabulated, Hawaii legislators received the largest compensation for any part-time or hybrid legislature in the nation.  For their work from the months of January through early May, Hawaii legislators are reported by NCSL to be compensated $68,352.

Keep in mind that this is what they are paid for four months of work.  This is lumped on top of what should be their normal, full-time employment.  What is the point of a part-time legislator when their only gainful employment is being a lawmaker?

When legislators receive a full year’s salary for only four months of full-time work, “For no specific reason” is not the $68,352 response that taxpayers deserve – especially when the action jeopardizes the sustainability of our islands and water services to 30,000 constituents.

There once was a time not too long ago when lawmakers were not afraid to work hard.  The mentality of public service and judicious oversight had lawmakers holding marathon hearings from 1PM in the afternoon until 2, 3 or even 4AM the following morning.  These days it seems that they are all trying to make happy hour down at Hukilau, or the fundraiser of one of their colleagues to liquor up and enjoy being lavished with expensive food by lobbyists.

A case can be made for proper compensation of legislators.  There is a saying in the private sector that says “you get what you pay for”, and the findings by fivethirtyeight.com seem to support that.  Current legislative leaders, however, are starting to look less and less like hard-working private sector employees and more like 9-to-5 entry level employees.  If a $68,352 manager in the private sector made a decision based on “no specific reason”, they would be terminated immediately.

Is your legislator working hard?  Or hardly working?

Pigs Fly

Late last week, the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor did something unheard of in recent memory – it removed ethically and morally corrupt language inserted by another legislator.  In decision-making on HB2156, the committee chair Gil Keith-Agaran removed language that was both introduced and reinserted by Sylvia Luke (see Honor Amongst Thieves and How to Make a Good Bill Bad) that would have allowed vote-buying amongst lawmakers.

While I tip my hat to Keith-Agaran for doing the right thing, recognition goes to the several individuals who took the time to submit testimony in opposition. Of eleven pieces of testimony, ten were in opposition to the bill specifically due to offensive language inserted by Syliva Luke. Good government groups, like Common Cause Hawaii and the League of Women Voters, were also in attendance and lent considerable weight to the opposition.

The offensive language would have permitted contributions from one campaign to another.  This most frequently takes place between better funded and established campaigns and younger, cash-poor campaigns.  This would result in:

The latter is particularly important since first-time candidates have a very difficult time raising money necessary to wage competitive campaigns against incumbents.  While public financing for election campaigns is available for this specific purpose, it is expected to dry up within a year or two.

As submitted in testimony from the League of Women Voters:

Donations of surplus campaign funds to other candidate committees is easily construed as a form of vote buying. Even when no votes are needed in a current election cycle, they probably will be in future elections or in future legislative sessions if the incumbent competes for office and especially if the incumbent is successfully elected.

It is important to note that the battle is not over.  This language still exists in the House version of the bill HB2156 HD2 and could resurface during conference committee. If Sylvia Luke needs this language badly enough to consolidate her power base for the coming election, insiders expect her to leverage her power to ensure it finds its way into law.

The real message, however, is that submitting testimony does matter – and it can make a difference.

A BIG difference.