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.




Disfunctional spending


It seems that the only way government officials know how to solve a problem is to throw money at it.  A recent press release from the office of Governor David Ige epitomizes everything that is wrong with government.  While I applaud the intent of improving relations with fishermen, but that is the limit of any praise I have to offer.  It should not take money, another government program, or more bureaucracy just to improve relations with fishermen.

Here in Hawaii – that’s what a box of manapua is for.

The governor seems proud that he is throwing money at a problem.  That in and of itself is not newsworthy, government officials are very good at throwing money around.  History demonstrates that spending money rarely translates into results. What would be newsworthy is if relations finally did improve with fishermen as a result of judicious spending.

In other news, the Hawaii House of Representatives is proud that they allocated $15-million to alleviate overcrowding at Campbell High School.  They spent nearly half an hour during their daily floor session grandstanding (in the words of Matt LoPresti) in congratulatory speeches, self-aggrandizement and pats-on-the-back.  The money allocated is half of the amount required for a new building on the overcrowded campus.

Half-a-building is still no building.  No building does nothing to solve overcrowding.  And Matt LoPresti is proud of it!

That’s like going to Leonard’s and asking for half a malasada because you are counting calories.  It does not exist.  When it comes to purchasing, malasadas and buildings have one thing in common — its all or nothing.

Liberal Democrats are proud that they throw money at problems.  They hope that the public will look past all of the spending failures of the Legislature in recent memory.  The Hawaii Health Connector was a black hole on the order of $100-million.  Aloha Stadium is a sink for millions of dollars annually while legislators do nothing toward a more permanent solution.  Even the Department of Transportation is still sitting on a $600-million backlog of federal funds.

Proof positive that money is not the problem – its the people.

Conservatives are always quick to paint Democrats with a broad brush.  But now many of them are taking notice that there is a huge difference between the moderate (“blue dog”) Democrats that took the time to scrutinize every dollar, and the liberal Democrats who dig out of work at the same time as the rest of the civil servants.

Liberal Democrats do not know the meaning of a conservative budget.  Any head-of-household knows the minimum threshold is spending less money than you are taking in.  Sylvia Luke’s budget spends more money than they are taking in, but it is still branded as conservative.  Spending less money than another liberal Democrat does not make for a conservative budget.

While leaders in the legislative and executive branches point at problematic civil servants low on the totem pole, leadership always starts at the top.  The incompetence is at the top.  It starts with the governor, and it starts with the tax-and-spend attitude of liberal Democrats at the helm of the House and Senate money committees.  When you are supposed to lead by example, it is no wonder that there are so many problems at the bottom.

How to make a good bill bad

VotingBoothFocused on passing term limits for legislators, conservatives are missing the boat as liberal Democrats pass laws to entrench themselves as lifetime lawmakers.  Language inserted into HB2156 (Links: Bill status | Hearing notice) would allow campaign-to-campaign donations up to the allowable limit.  As previously written, powerful liberal Democrats use large campaign donations to buy the loyalty of vulnerable one- and two-term representatives that have small campaign war chests to fund their upcoming reelection.

In addition to buying power and weakening our voices in government (similar to Citizens United decision), this has another chilly effect on democracy – it makes it that much harder for a first-time candidate to unseat an incumbent.

The largest barrier to any person trying to unseat an incumbent is raising enough money for the costs associated with printed materials, signs and mailings.  Campaign insiders from both parties will tell you that any successful legislative campaign requires a minimum of $10,000.  Starting a campaign with anything less is like trying to win the Tour de France with a tricycle.

It’s possible…but…

Many vulnerable Democrats (as of the start of the year) had less than $10,000 in their campaign bank accounts.  The practice of campaign-to-campaign contributions would allow vulnerable representatives to collect $2000 from other election campaigns to finance their own reelection.  So someone like Kaniela Ing could collect $2000 checks from Scott Saiki, Sylvia Luke and Joe Souki and practically double the amount of campaign cash he has for the next election.

By the way, he has done this before and is positioned to do so again this year.

The increase from $6,000 to $12,000 makes Ing that much more difficult to unseat.  The extra $6000 is enough to finance printing and postage of two separate campaign flyers.  Ing should be elected by residents of Kihei to represent them.  The 1st Amendment allows representatives from Makiki, Nuuanu and Kahului to stack the deck against democracy.

In a lesson of “How to make a good bill bad”, House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke inserted  language codifying campaign-to-campaign donations into a “good government bill” – HB2156.  The irony hurts.  While there are many good parts to HB2156 attempts to do many good things, there is something bad and nasty tucked inside this Trojan Horse.  This bill is being heard by the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor on Friday (link to hearing notice).

The real joke that has liberal Democrats laughing is that no one – not even elected Republicans, has noticed this language.  All seven House Republicans voted for the measure.  The four votes cast in opposition all came from Democrats.

To curb lifetime appointments, conservatives rally around issues like “term limits” and fail to look at all the other knobs, buttons and levers that elected officials have to ensure their lifetime appointment.  Massive campaign accounts are one of those knobs, and keeping their cronies or minions in office is another.  HB2156 is the perfect example of how conservative voices appear to have fallen asleep at the wheel.  When this language was heard before the House Finance Committee, only three pieces of testimony were submitted.

Just three.

The ramifications that campaign-to-campaign contributions have on local politics are just as bad as the effects of Citizens United.  Elected officials seeking lifetime appointments are robbing us of our democracy – are we just going to sit idly and watch this happen?