Liberal Lovefest

midweek-coverThis week’s issue of Midweek waded into the political discussion by offering a flattering spread on the two money chairs (Sylvia Luke and Jill Tokuda) in the state legislature.  In it, the author goes to great lengths to ignore the spotty legislative record of these two legislators to deliver a fairy tale fitting for bedtime stories told to the next generation of Young Democrats.  While it takes very little scrutiny to shatter the façade painted by Midweek, it is disheartening that they are perpetuating the lies and deceit told by sitting legislators – especially in an election year.

To be clear, much of the time in this blog is spent scrutinizing the chairs of both money committees in the Legislature – the House Finance Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee.  Conventional wisdom would dictate that more space should be devoted to criticizing the Senate President and the Speaker of the House.  The disproportionate scrutiny is justified because (a) the incredible amount of influence and power that these committees wield, relative to other committees, and (b) specifically how Luke and Tokuda use this power to leverage their own agendas.  If there is one thing that the Midweek’s Dan Boylan got right:

Thus the power and the potential of Luke and Tokuda.  House Finance and WAM (Ways and Means) decide the fate of every bill referred to them: those by the governor and those by the Legislature’s 31 subject committees.  Legislation sans funding is meaningless.

I would have been content to give this article a pass.  Midweek is known neither for its substance nor its depth in reporting.  The cover, however, made an assertion that could never be delivered upon:

Da Sistahs: Looking Out For Your Money – Jill Tokuda (right) chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee.  Sylvia Luke chairs the House Finance Committee.  In other words, they control the purse strings at the Legislature.  And they’re very picky about what they’re willing to spend money on.

The truth is, they are not picky at all.  They are not even judicious.  Let’s look at the Dynamic Duo’s greatest hits:

Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL) : The courts found that under the watch of Luke and Tokuda, DHHL was underfunded to the tune of $28 million.  In her ruling, Circuit Court Judge Jeannette Castagnetti wrote about the net effects, “DHHL suffers from a lack of funding and staffing, which adversely affects beneficiaries of the Hawaiian Homelands Trust.

Turtle Bay: Under Luke’s watch, a check was written sight unseen to finance a conservation easement at Turtle Bay for $40 million – a proposal that never received a public hearing.  In a gotcha moment (that later backfired), then Governor Neil Abercrombie admonished Luke’s (and then Senator Ige’s) “creative math”.  In a rare admission of guilt, Luke confided to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser when Derrick DePledge wrote:

Luke said she was not surprised there was a mistake in the bond declaration bill because lawmakers scrambled at the end of the session to find $40 million in bond money to finance a $48.5 million conservation easement at Turtle Bay Resort. 

If one cannot even add the numbers correctly, perhaps they would be better off chairing the House Judiciary Committee.

Kihei High School: In what is turning out to be a highly contentious issue, Luke has funded the construction of a high school in Kihei despite declining enrollment on the island.  In an April 26, 2016 Op-Ed to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser:

To add insult to injury, the House just slashed it (money allocation for a new building at Campbell High School) by half to $15 million, while appropriating $37 million for a new high school in Kihei that is not needed; enrollment there (Maui/Baldwin) is projected to decline by 409 students while West Oahu (Campbell/Kapolei) is predicted to rise by 769 students. Even more remarkable is that the Senate allocated zero dollars for Campbell and upped the Maui appropriation to $38 million. What are we doing?

Funding only half a building at Campbell High School?  Building a high school where there is no need based on student enrollment?  Clearly, Luke and Tokuda are NOT picky about how they spend your money.  If that was not the case, they would be guilty of playing politics.

With sympathy to the Kihei students who must commute to attend Maui High School, there is no need for a Kihei High School.  With existing Kapolei and Campbell High Schools stuffed to the gills with students, a long-talked about high school in East Kapolei is the fiscally-responsible thing to do, not another band aid on a campus that cannot and should not be supporting an excess of 3,000 students.  Alternatively, Tokuda could agree to reduce the number of under-enrolled high schools in her area from three to two so other areas of the state could be better served.

Luke and Tokuda have a long track record available for scrutiny despite the hopes of liberal-loving media that you look past the comedy of errors.  Upon examination, the illusion of “picky spending” and “fiscal prudence” is seen for what it really is: petty politics and legislative factionalism.

When print is not even worth the paper that it is printed on, the only thing that this week’s issue of Midweek is good for is lining the bottom of the bird cage.

 

 

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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.

Oppose HB2533 (Karl Rhoads’ Golden Parachute)

( Links: Bill Status | Bill Text | FIN Hearing NoticeHB2533 FIN PrimerHB2533 FIN Testimony )

Synopsis

HB2533 is a vehicle to ensure unpopular incumbents for the House of Representatives will have a funding source for their re-election, despite their previous actions or betrayal of public trust.  An unpopular incumbent would have to collect 200 donations of just $5 each to have access to almost $30,000.[1]

Hearing Information

Written Testimony Submission (Late testimony accepted until hearing time)

Deadline:

Tuesday, February 18, 2014 @ 3:00PM

In-person:

Bring two copies to Room 306 at the State Capitol

Online:

http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/submittestimony.aspx

Fax:

Neighbor Island: 1-800-535-3859 (For Oahu, please use the website)
In-person Testimony (Please submit written testimony 24 hours in advance)

Date:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014 @ 3:00PM

Location:

Room 308, State Capitol

Parking:

Capitol Basement (Metered) or Ali’I Place (Diamond Head side of Alakea Street, between King and Hotel Streets, just past the Manadalay Restaurant)

Supplemental Information

While the intent of public financing is intended to “level the playing field” so that additional individuals could seek elected office, it is quite clear that the intent of the originator (Rep. Karl Rhoads) and the timing of the bill’s introduction is to ensure that unpopular incumbents still have an accessible funding source when they operate contrary to the public interest and are subsequently unable to access campaign funding.

It is the responsibility of every elected official to represent the public interest.  If an incumbent fails to represent the public interest, it is easy to see that campaign contributions would be difficult to access.  In the light of the actions of the 2013-14 Legislature, it is also easy to see why legislation for “public financing” of election campaigns would be favored by incumbents, especially since in-person testimony before the legislature opposed same-sex marriage by a margin of 8 to 1.

The electoral process was created to ensure that candidates that best represented the public interest would have the best chance to be elected to office.  Instead, the mantra of “public financing” is being used to ensure that unpopular representatives have a “golden parachute” for when they are derelict of their duties and obligations to their constituents.


[1] At $1.40 per person in the area of jurisdiction, candidates for the House of Representatives would be eligible for approximately $30,000.