Pass, unamended

Karl RhoadsRecent actions by Karl Rhoads and the House Judiciary Committee (JUD) demonstrate that when it comes to HB1829, there indeed is something to hide.  After hearing the bill nearly a week ago, they not only have advanced the bill without any amendments or consideration of public testimony in opposition — but they are now withholding that testimony from view by the public.  Withholding testimony from public view is a low blow – even for a corrupt government official.

Initial impressions were that this bill was attempting to hide a lot; actions by Rhoads, JUD and House leaders only confirm that suspicion.  Something sinister is afoot at the Legislature. [1]

As of Friday morning (February 19th), no public testimony has been made available online for viewing, even though the committee found the time to author and post a report on HB1829.  This is in stark contrast to assertions that the committee report makes:

The Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, Drug Policy Action Group, The Libertarian Party of Hawaii, Hawaii Dispensary Alliance, and a concerned individual supported this measure.  The Department of the Attorney General, Department of the Prosecuting Attorney of the City and County of Honolulu, Honolulu Police Department, and numerous concerned individuals opposed this measure.  A concerned individual offered comments.

Even by the committee report, only five pieces of testimony were received in support of the measure.  Even if “numerous” were only three individuals, it tips the balance of the testimony against passage of the measure.  By simply saying “numerous”, it is clear that the committee is not only trying to hide, but to understate how much testimony is in opposition.  How many is numerous?  Rhoads does not want you to know.

When evaluating the testimony, it is important to weigh the testimony accordingly. [2]  The first three testifiers mentioned favor the legalization of all drugs (including crystal meth) because drug users have feelings too! [3]  They do not care about public safety.  They do not care about the coked-up driver that might hit you, or the meth-addled dealer selling the stuff to your children.  The Hawaii Dispensary Alliance certainly supports it because the bill removes the offense (and associated penalty) for the unlawful diversion of medical marijuana. [4]  The removal of this offense expands their market far beyond medical users – these dispensaries and production centers will be growing marijuana for recreational use.

What should be a red flag is that the Attorney General (AG), the Honolulu County Prosecutor and the Honolulu Police Department (where are the neighbor island prosecutors and police departments on this measure?) all oppose this measure.

It is highly unusual (even amongst the special interests and corruption of House leaders) for a bill to pass unamended against the weight of public testimony – particularly when the Attorney General the opposition carries so much merit and expertise.  This opposition almost always stems from something that is both legally and fatally flawed about the bill. [5]  In the event of opposition by the AG, there are normally amendments that attempt to address the feedback from the AG.  None of those exist in this context.

The failure to identify the specific statues that HB1829 modifies, the failure to make testimony public, and the failure to address the merit and the weight of the public testimony demonstrate that there is indeed something to hide behind this legislation.  Maybe one of the bill’s sponsors (Joe Souki, Scott Saiki, Sylvia Luke and Karl Rhoads) has themselves (or one of their family members) sold marijuana to a minor.  Maybe someone close to them intends to distribute medical marijuana for recreational purposes. Or maybe one of the sponsor’s stands to make money hand-over-fist from the lack of any safeguards built into medical marijuana dispensaries.  From the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (February 13, 2016)

But Rep. Marcus Oshiro, who has been a supporter of medical marijuana but a critic of the new dispensaries law, said there are already questions about favoritism or undue influence in the process to decide who will get licenses, and that this doesn’t help.

“It leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths, and I wouldn’t want to touch this with a 10-foot pole,” said Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Whitmore-Poamoho). “Perception counts for a lot in politics, and from most people’s perspective it doesn’t look good to amend the laws that could benefit you or your friends.” [6]

This bill, and this hearing, fails to pass the smell test.  On the scale of “smells”, I am not talking about the smell of the black bin I roll out once a week for the City to pick up.  I am talking about the stench of the Sand Island (sewage treatment) plant when the winds shift.  This bill should be sent back to the House Judiciary Committee until the stench is gone.

[1] – Isn’t there always?

[2] – The House Judiciary Committee has used this merit argument to capriciously pass bills with a single piece of testimony in support against a mound of fifty or more pieces in opposition.

[3] – Or in the case of the Libertarian Party, “The government has no business regulating what I do to myself.  If I say that my activities are not harming anyone else, you MUST take my word at it.”

[4] – This was added to the original medical marijuana dispensary bill (HB 321, 2015) to ensure that medical marijuana stayed as medical marijuana – and was not sold on the street as recreational marijuana.

[5] – Special interests (dispensaries and marijuana users in particular) would like to think that the Attorney General hates drug users, but the AG rarely wastes time to submit testimony to that effect.  It erodes their credibility.

[6] Honolulu Star-Advertiser, February 13, 2016, “Lawmaker’s pakalolo ties might provoke suspicion


Twisted Logic

Courtesy the Hawaii House BlogLiberal House Democrats continue to fall flat on their promise to deliver accessibility and accountability to state government with HB1476, now slated for hearing on Thursday, February 10th. Via their own twisted logic, they would like the public to believe that they can offer more transparency to government by decreasing transparency.

Yes, that is as ridiculous as it sounds. I can’t make this stuff up. Here is the bill’s description per (emphasis added):

Requires the Campaign Spending Commission to process all campaign donations so as to shield the identity of donors from candidates. Creates a publicly funded voter voucher pilot program in the Office of Elections.

Upon reading the bill, it is based on the flawed premise that a candidate will not be beholden to donors if they do not know who contributed to them. If the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission were to somehow “anonymize” the donor, it does not stop a candidate from learning or even hearing about the identity of a donor or the magnitude of their donation.

In the realm of the State Capitol, many donations come with a wink and a nod. Lobbyists rely on candidates knowing how strongly they support them and can easily find back channels to convey their benevolent gift. For example, Bob Toyofuku (lobbyist for the Hawaii Association for Justice and ambulance-chasing lawyers) simply needs to shake hands with Sylvia Luke after a House Finance hearing and say “enjoy the $2000”. No amount of anonymizing by the Campaign Spending Commission, no amount of lawmaking by the Legislature can change this.

To be fair, many political contributions are made out of gratitude. This is the sort of thing that must be judged in context, and on a case-by-case basis.

With such a highly flawed piece of legislation, it begs wonder whether the actual intent is not the increased government transparency promised by Scott Saiki (co-sponsor of HB1476).

Perhaps the actual intent is to shroud the entire process of political contributions in secrecy.  Perhaps there is something to hide.  Upon closer examination, the very individuals who would benefit from this poor legislation are the bill’s introducers.

Five of the bill’s introducers (Richard Creagan, Kaniela Ing, Bert Kobayashi, Nicole Lowen and Takashi Ohno) yields some interesting conclusions. [1] Below are the total contributions they accepted for campaigns in the previous two-year election cycle:

Creagan Ing Kobayashi Lowen Ohno
Contributions Received $34,750 $12,201 $17,500 $49,627 $56,696

What are the odds that ambulance-chasing lawyers [2] would find interest in a representatives from Nu’uanu (Ohno) and from Kailua-Kona (Creagan and Ohno)?

Creagan Ing Kobayashi Lowen Ohno
Plaintiff’s Attorney Gifts $3,510 $750 $4,650 $6,375 $3,900
Contributions Received $34,750 $12,201 $17,500 $49,627 $56,696

While a simple $50 or $100 donation might be a nice gesture, these representatives have accepted many large donations from ambulance-chasing attorneys. [3] $4000 or $5000 is a lot of money to say that you are not beholden to a particular group, but this is just a small fraction of their total contributions. Let us delve further:

Creagan Ing Kobayashi Lowen Ohno
Plaintiff’s Attorney Gifts $3,510 $750 $4,650 $6,375 $3,900
Candidate Gifts $9,500 $4,000 $5,000 $8,600 $4,726
Contributions Received $34,750 $12,201 $17,500 $49,627 $56,696

These same representatives accepted substantial sums from other representatives. [4] This includes Sylvia Luke, Scott Saiki, Scott Nishimoto and former state representative K. Mark Takai.

In fairness, there are a couple of ways that this can be interpreted. First, these representatives are such poor fundraisers that they need to be buoyed up by much more powerful representatives who are also much more prolific representatives. Alternatively, these representatives are paid for their support and obedience (fealty) in campaign contributions. The latter would suggest that if any one of these representatives were to step out of line and vote against their benefactors, they would receive less money toward their reelection.

Based purely on these numbers, it is quite clear that these representatives appear beholden to (a) liberal Democrats and (b) to ambulance-chasing attorneys. While I am open to alternative interpretations, the voting records of all five representatives are clear that they march lock-step to these supporting causes. There are no exceptions in their voting records to show that these representatives are an independent voice for their constituents and community. They do not vote for their communities, they vote for special interests.

Their districts do not have a voice in state government because it has been bought.

However, the numbers so far do not quite tell the story for Takashi Ohno. [5] For Ohno specifically, one other trend was quite clear:

Creagan Ing Kobayashi Lowen Ohno
Plaintiff’s Attorney Gifts $3,510 $750 $4,650 $6,375 $3,900
Candidate Gifts $9,500 $4,000 $5,000 $8,600 $4,726
Out-of-state Gifts $19,609
Contributions Received $34,750 $12,201 $17,500 $49,627 $56,696

In addition to plaintiff’s attorneys and liberal Democrats, Ohno owes much of his success in the last election to the support of out-of-state interests. Unless he plans on claiming former mayor Michael Bloomberg and his wife (both of whom maximized their contributions to Ohno at $2000 apiece) as family, he has a hard case to make as an independent voice for his community.

The take home message is quite clear: these representatives, based on their publicly available campaigns spending reports, are clearly in the pockets of special interests. When you owe your job to wealthy special interests like liberal Democrats and ambulance-chasing attorneys who can write $500 checks on a whim, it is hard to go against the grain.

More importantly, this analysis would not be possible if HB1476 were to pass. If the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission were forced to “anonymize” contributions, it would be possible for this blog, and for other concerned citizens to follow the money trail.

[1] As introducers of this bill, these sophomore (second-term) representatives stand out against other individuals because they are also part of the caucus of liberal Democrats. This distinction excludes Beth Fukumoto-Chang from this analysis.

[2] Contributions listed may differ slightly from other calculations as the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission only reports donations in excess of $100. It is likely that these numbers are higher than this blog is reporting.

[3] For purposes of this post, any gift that could be directly or indirectly attributed to plaintiff’s attorneys, lobbyists for plaintiff’s attorneys, or other organizations that support them (Hawaii Association for Justice) were included in the totals.  Contributors to campaigns will frequently use the names of surrogates (like spouses) to avoid the image of publicly supporting a candidate.

[4] For purposes of this post, gifts that could be attributed to any organization or individual associated with a sitting representative were included. This includes the Hawaii House Democratic PAC which is a slush fund for liberal Democrats to transfer funds to candidates while covering any traces of the originator of the money. Contributions from obvious family members were excluded.

[5] Tallies for other representatives were not made. Gifts to Ohno included to contrast against other contributors noted in this analysis.

Total Recall (Part 1)

HB1624 RecallThe entire citizen-driven push to earn HB1624 a hearing culminated in the House of Representatives as the bill was recalled from the House Judiciary Committee.  The motion to recall is a privilege provided during the 1978 Constitutional Convention to prevent the tyranny of the majority.  Using the motion to recall, a minority of 17 representatives can recall a bill from a committee that refuses to hear it.  In this case, the committee’s chairperson (Rep. Karl Rhoads) refused to grant a hearing despite the unprecedented citizen push to earn the bill a hearing.  The motion to recall would have prevented the bill from dying due to an internal legislative deadline (the “First Lateral” deadline).

While only seventeen votes were necessary to rescue HB1624 from the House Judiciary Committee, eighteen votes to recall the measure were recorded.  Given voting patterns, support might have been closer to 21 (Awana, Cachola and Carroll, who also voted against SB1, were absent from floor debate late in the afternoon).  Interestingly, the Capitol website fails to list specific names that resulted from the roll call vote on the motion to recall.

HB1624 Recall 2

Additionally, television, print and internet news sources are silent on the unprecedented push for HB1624.

As a demonstration of power, the majority motioned to recommit the bill back to the House Judiciary Committee.  The motion to recommit succeeded and HB1624, despite 2500 emails of support, is now dead.  The tyranny of the majority has been perpetuated.  As the body gavelled out, House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke could be seen from the gallery gesticulating menacingly at representatives who supported HB1624 suggesting some sort of retribution.  If any of the eighteen representatives who supported HB1624 would care to share Sylvia Luke’s threatening remarks, this blog would be interested in hearing and sharing them.

It is not clear why the majority in the House of Representatives continues to privilege some minority groups (via SB1) but continues to oppress other minorities like people of faith.  What is clear is that government no longer works for the people – by oppressing minority voices, and by failing to grant hearings to good legislation while simultaneously advancing bad legislation to further personal agendas.  The only good thing to come from the untimely death of HB1624 are those who are willing to stand up for people of faith, and for religion.  It is now clear who our friends are.

It is time to hold our elected officials accountable.  Despite 2500 emails in support of granting HB1624 a hearing, leaders remained obstinate and refused to grant the minority a voice in the Legislature.  If your representative did not support the recall of HB1624, call or email them and find out for yourself why they did not represent your interests on HB1624.  If your representative supported the recall of HB1624 so that people of faith would be protected, please contact them and let them know you support them and their actions.