January 10, 2009

Poinography January 2006 archive

Filed under: — Doug @ 1:38 pm



Millions, hundreds, zero.

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 7:00 pm
Both of the Honolulu dailies write about the most recently filed campaign contribution and expenditure reports. The Advertiser piece is here and the SB article is here.

Not that anyone is surpised, but the Governor has raised stacks of money. A list of her contributors for the second half of 2005 is here. If I don’t forget, maybe this weekend I’ll set my perl script loose to generate links to Google the large donors, as I did before.

Democrats have conceded they cannot compete with Lingle in fundraising this year and have instead tried to make her campaign money a political issue.

“The governor needs to raise less money and raise more ideas to help Hawai’i’s people who struggle to make a living,” said Tom Brower, communications director for the Democratic Party of Hawai’i. “Her fundraising helps no one but herself. A better leader would focus more on raising issues, not money.”

Redundancy, much? Anyway, we were told Mr. Brower would resign “soon.” Not yet, I guess. Less money, more issues. Remember that. Heh.

How poor is the Democrat (okay, announced last week) in comparison to Lingle’s treasury? Very.

Iwase, who believes Lingle should return any donations from last year that would have been prohibited under the new law, said he has raised about $700 and has set no fundraising target.

Impressive. That’s a tidy sum. But it’s infinitely more than “still not announced” Mayor Kim.

While other politicians are raising money, Big Island Mayor Harry Kim terminated his campaign account last November after reporting that he had no money in his treasury and had neither raised nor spent any money in the previous reporting period.

Campaign spending officials said Kim is permitted to close his campaign account as long as he does not raise or spend $100 or more for a political office.

Kim is starting the second half of his second term as Big Island mayor and is prohibited from running for mayor again.

Although there has been speculation that Kim would run for governor, he has refused to say whether he would run.

Barring the candidacy of a monk or nun, Kim has to get the nod for least money-obsessed.

Pop quiz: fill in the blanks. More _____, less _____.

Comments (1)
Energy bill would ruffle some feathers

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:57 pm
The Advertiser has a good piece about the Governor’s energy initiative which, as theatrically previewed, includes a funding mechanism (in section 36 of her bill) that faces opposition from HECO. (All this assumes the administration bills will be heard, of course. As of now, they are not scheduled.)

What would generate new savings is a proposal to divert the more than $19 million a year Hawaiian Electric Co. now collects from 425,000 customers statewide that is supposed to be used for conservation and renewable-energy programs, including the subsidies offered to homeowners who install solar water-heating systems.

The administration wants to put the money into a fund for the same purpose, claiming HECO isn’t spending enough on those programs.

HECO, which runs the electric utilities on O’ahu, Maui and the Big Island, has raised objections to Lingle’s energy plan. Company spokesman Chuck Freedman said if Lingle and the Legislature divert the money, HECO may have to ask the state Public Utilities Commission for a rate increase to recoup the loss.

“It seems to us that there’s a real risk of the customers having to pay twice,” he said.


When the PUC allowed HECO to begin imposing the charge more than a decade ago, it allowed the company to keep some of the money to compensate for lost electricity sales resulting from conservation programs.


Severin Borenstein, director of the University of California Energy Institute, said when demand for electricity is growing, as it is in Hawai’i, there is no reason to pay a utility for lost sales from conservation. The idea behind paying power companies for lost sales makes sense only when power-generating facilities are underused because of conservation programs, he said.

“In a growing system, it is very hard for them to claim they have some capacity built that won’t be used” because of conservation programs or a shift to alternative energy, Borenstein said.

I mentioned this “conservation” scam earlier, and Borenstein’s argument only reinforces what I had previously thought. It’s going to be very interesting to see how this plays at the Legislature, where HECO is no stranger.

The article did not mention it, but I think another subtle aspect of the bill that is crucial (and just as likely to be opposed by HECO, heh) is section 44. That would be a change from the PUC “not decreasing” utility company profit margins to a more reasonable “fair rate of return” as renewable energy sources are brought online and utility rate structures are set. Another bill with that same intent advanced from the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee today with amendments. The next referral for the bill is to the Consumer Protection and Commerce Committee.

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Idea floated to halt developments during Maui General Plan update

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:50 pm
Maui County is making a new General Plan and the chair of the advisory committee (and only he, apparently) thinks that until the Plan is complete there should be a moratorium on development. This according to a Maui News article:

As Maui County kicks off a massive, two-year update of the General Plan, many are asking what to do about major developments that are going to be applying for approvals in the meantime.

Some think big new subdivisions and projects should be put on hold until the update is complete, so new plans and guidelines can be applied ? and to avoid overwhelming the county Planning Department. Others say it?s unreasonable to expect all development to stop for two years or maybe longer.

?So far the policy here has been just to continue to process all the projects,? said Planning Director Mike Foley.

But that policy could change if the mayor or County Council members decide they want to wait to see the new policies before making decisions on developments that could add thousands of new homes and other buildings to the county map.

I actually think both sides of the argument make valid points. However, what seems unreasonable to me is that nobody questions that it takes two years(!) to write a General Plan?

The 1990 General Plan explains the charter requirement for a plan:

Maui County’s current General Plan was adopted by Ordinance No. 1052 and became effective June 24, 1980. The Maui County Charter in Section 8-8.3 Powers, Duties and Functions states that the planning director among other things shall “Recommend revisions of the general plan at least every ten years to guide development of the county.”

Section 8-8.5 of the Maui County Charter requires that the general plan shall recognize and state the major problems and opportunities concerning the needs and the development of the county and the social, economic and environmental effects of such development and shall set forth the desired sequence, patterns and characteristics of future development.

Hmmm, so what happened to the 2000 General Plan? Never completed, or simply not on the website? So far as I can tell, the General Plan Advisory Committee does not have a web presence. Thus, I can’t tell if the two-year timetable to revise the General Plan was completely arbitrary, set by the folks tasked with the job, or if that duration was somehow mandated by the County Council.

Comments (3)
Produce, crafts, and legal advice – all at the open market

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:50 pm
I loved the introduction to these articles from Hawaii County today (Hawaii Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii Today) about a non-traditional lawyer in Pahoa:

Cynthia Linet’s new law office looks like a panel from a Snoopy comic strip. It’s a booth at a farmers market with a sign that reads, “The Lawyer Is In.”

Even better, the accompanying photo proves the point! Something about that warms my heart. She went to law school in her forties, after a stint at a commune, so its understandable how she might not be a good fit a traditional law office…

The part-time painter, part-time quilt maker and part-time lawyer has friends who sell their wares at the Makuu market. “And I thought why don’t I just do that? Set up a booth and charge … Every lawyer I ran it by said, ‘That’s ingenious.’”

Her plan is to meet with the clients at the market but do the legal work at home. She couldn’t be happier with the $17-per-week overhead.

“I’ve given advice to three people and I’ve explained to many others what it would cost to do the kind of work they’re seeking,” she says.

If the clients want advice for cases involving divorce, custody, paternity or conservatorship, she’ll give them a quote for how much it will cost to take the case herself. If the cases are outside her field, she’ll sell them a 20 minute consultation.

“They can ask me anything,” she says. “And if I don’t know, I’ll tell them and send them to someone who does.”

Very clever.

Twenty minutes is hardly ever enough time, of course, so I feel I would be remiss if I did not at least mention my friends at Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, where they offer free legal services to low- and moderate-income clients.

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Iwase profiled as a deep-thinker

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:29 pm
There is a candidate profile of gubernatorial challenger Randall Iwase in the SB today. The crux of the story is that Iwase may have been too soft-spoken in the past to generate any surplus of public recognition. The unspoken flip-side, then, would be that Iwase has made few enemies, I suppose.

Former colleagues and constituents could think of few initiatives [Iwase] spearheaded while in the state Senate.

Republican state Sen. Sam Slom did say Iwase gained prominence in 1997 when he led a coalition of seven Democrats and two Republicans to topple former Gov. Ben Cayetano’s proposed increase of the general excise tax. Slom also said Iwase’s leadership style was not on display Friday, when the candidate railed against Lingle’s “record of promises unfulfilled” after announcing his intention to run.

“That’s not Randy Iwase, quite frankly,” Slom said. “Usually, he’d be very careful and very deliberative.”

Democratic senators agreed Iwase is usually more reserved. But they also said Iwase needs to be in attack mode – like he was on the City Council as a political newcomer – to square off against Lingle, who has name recognition and a formidable war chest.

“I think Miss Linda is on third base and Mr. Randy is on home plate, so he has a long way to go,” said state Sen. Norman Sakamoto, who served alongside Iwase. “His challenge,” Sakamoto added, is to show Lingle’s “misstatements as she continues to splatter mud on herself.”

Sakamoto said Iwase is known, perhaps thanks to his roots as an attorney, for thinking long and hard before he speaks. “He looks at the various sides of an issue,” Sakamoto said, “and anticipates the sequence of events before jumping in.”

When Iwase was in the Senate, former state Sen. Cal Kawamoto said, the 58-year-old could often be found in his state Capitol offices, smoking a pipe and ruminating over issues. “I think he’s a smart guy. He thinks before he talks,” Kawamoto said, adding that Iwase’s campaign strategy will be “well thought out.”

Gotta hand it to Senator Slom for finding a way to mention Iwase’s GET increase opposition effort from 1997. If I were to guess Slom’s motive for that, my first thought would be that Slom mentioned it to contrast Iwase against Governor Lingle who, much to Slom’s disappointment, allowed the GET surcharge for Oahu to become law last summer. I reckon that Slom still has not forgiven Lingle for that apostasy…

As for the comments of former-Senator Cal Kawamoto, I would add that a low-profile “well thought out” campaign may be all that Randy Iwase can afford. May as well make a virtue out of necessity.

I also remember Iwase’s pipe—from the bad old days when the Capitol was not smoke-free. [Well, it’s spotty on that subject now, but better.] Personally, I think those who smoke pipes (uh, and I’m speaking here of non-water tobacco pipes) are typically trying to cultivate some sort of sophisticated image—the effort falls flat with me. I think pipes are for parvenus and hobbits.

Comments (5)
Traffic fines may cost more

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:21 pm
There are a few bills that would try (again) to compensate the Counties for enforcing traffic violations, according to this Advertiser piece.

One proposal would impose a 50% surcharge onto the fine portion of the violation, directing the surcharge to the County police departments. Another proposal would add a 10% surcharge and direct it to the Counties (not necessarily to the police departments).

A report by the Legislative Reference Bureau suggests that using traffic fines as a source of revenue could compromise the judicial system or police departments by creating a conflict of interest.

In the case of Waters’ proposal, the surcharge would bring financial benefit to police officers, since his idea is to use the revenue to help make their pay competitive with Mainland departments.

I’m not sure why, but the article does not mention the paragraph in the report immediately before that conflict of interest admonition:

(9) Another alternative exists which does not involve the transfer of the TVB [Traffic Violations Bureau] to the counties. In other states, a percentage of the fines is given to the counties. This percentage ensures that the person receives a fair hearing while at the same time providing the counties with some portion of the collections.

(10) Traffic fines cannot be looked upon as a source of revenue. Fines imposed by the courts are court orders in which compliance must be enforced. To view fines otherwise is to compromise the entire judicial system or any other agency by creating an inherent conflict of interest.

Those who have spent time on the mainland have no doubt heard anecdotal accounts of police forces becoming quite zealous at certain times in order to meet citation/revenue “quotas.” That may or may not be true, but the impression is certainly there. Hawaii’s practice, then, of doing exactly the opposite by denying law enforcement any share of the fines collected, would arguably decrease traffic violations enforcement. The police would be unlikely to acknowledge this, but it makes a certain amount of sense.

A more meta-level question, not addressed by either proposal, is why an across-the-board surcharge (of any size) is a good idea. Previous legislatures have given careful thought to the amounts of fines to be associated with various violations. To simply use a crude “add 50% (or 10%)” standard would be to dismiss all of that careful consideration.

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Eminent domain bill moves along at Lege

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:07 pm
The Legislature heard a bill last week that would limit the power of eminent domain. The SB has a report that quotes opponents and supporters of the idea. The bill is based upon the lightning rod Kelo case from 2005.

The bill passed out of committee during a joint meeting Friday of the Committee of Water, Land & Ocean Resources, along with the Committee on Economic Development & Business Concerns. Lawmakers amended the bill to exempt projects such as mass transit and affordable housing.

Interestingly, the Chair and three other members of the EDB committee voted “Aye with reservations.” Two members of the WLO committee also voted “w/r.” Hmm. Were these votes because they did not like the original bill, or were those votes because those Representatives did not like the exemption amendments inserted by the WLO chair?

Of course, the w/r votes could be the result of some combination of those factors, too. For committees meeting jointly to pass a bill with a difference of opinion between the co-chairs is not unheard of, but it is rare and notable.

Comments (0)
Etymology of military exclamations

Filed under:
— Doug @ 5:56 pm
This is not a political post, but I was inspired by this fun AP story in the Advertiser to chime in on the use of hoo-(r/y)ah by members of the military. (Eww, how awkward was that intro? haha)

Soldier 1: How you doing?

Soldier 2: Fine. How you doing?

Soldier 1: Hooah.

For the different branches of the military, each vastly competitive with and jealous of its distinctions from one another, hooah has become something of a sore point. Marines and sailors have their own saying, more of a “hoo-RAH” or a “hoo-yah,” which they claim is entirely separate in origin. [DOUG: This usage is, of course, superior to the Army/Air Force bastardization.]

The Air Force brass once reportedly got so irked about sharing “hooah” with the Army that it tried to get airmen to shout “Air power!” instead. But “Air power!” did not have the same potency as “hooah,” and has been largely abandoned.

Sgt. Joe Carter, a 23-year-old from Kennett, Mo., recalls how, after arriving at basic training, he and other young Army recruits attended a motivational talk from their commander.

“When we first got there, the commander gave a speech, and at the end he told us, ‘I want to hear a loud and thunderous hooah!’ ” Carter said. “We were real pumped and amped up.”

Yet the use of hooah by the uninitiated is generally frowned on. Carter recounted that a drill sergeant barred him and his fellow recruits from saying hooah until they had finished the basic course and earned the right.

And civilians uttering hooah are generally looked upon with either disdain or the astonishment of a person who has just heard a koala bear recite lines from e.e. cummings.

Heh. “Air Power?” Oh, puh-leaz.

Anyway, onward to my not-so-crusty veteran tale. Marines nearly always take the motto “Semper Fidelis” (or, more commonly, Semper Fi) quite seriously. However, this article reminded me that the expression also had another ironic use where “Semper Fi” serves as a default or non-specific verb of negative connotation. Examples from my own experience:

Marine A: Did you notice that Sergeant Jones semper fi-ed me onto the 0200-0400 firewatch again?
Marine B: Hoo-rah, you must be so motivated.

Marine A: Somebody semper fi-ed my deuce gear and then put it back after taking my bayonet from the sheath.
Marine B: Semper Fi! It couldn’t have been another Marine, we don’t steal.

Marine A (laughing, warm and dry) to Marine B (dripping wet and miserable from rain): Semper Fi, bro!
Marine B: [with stink eye] If it ain’t raining, it ain’t training.
Marine A: Hoo-effin-rah! Lucky we don’t use umbrellas like those Air Force wimps, eh?
Marine B: Yeah, that would sure suck…

Sorry. If this bored you, well, it could have been worse—I could have recited some e.e. cummings poetry.

Comments (0)

Welcome, Advertiser readers

Filed under:
HI State Politics
HI Media
— Doug @ 6:23 am
My blog was mentioned in this Advertiser story today, so it will be interesting to see what effect it has on traffic to the site. I’m not sure why they didn’t actually include a live link in the online version, but whatever. That said, in the same story they bungled a live link to the Auditor, so maybe I should consider myself lucky, haha.

As it happens, today is the day for the first sailing regatta of the 2006 season, so I’m going to have a lighter-than-usual addition to the blog.

For the record, as it states on the footer of every page served by the blog, “all content on this site is the author’s opinion and does not necessarily reflect the official views of his employer.” In the course of the normal duties of my job I’m expected to stay abreast of political happenings, so the step from there to blogging was not hard for me to make (other than dedicating the off-work time it takes to put the actual posts up). My other job, when the lege is not in session, has a fair amount of built-in downtime and that allows me to blog from the office.

I hope you will enjoy the site and encourage you to use the comment function.

Comments (2)
Seniority or issues; which is it?

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:22 am
The Jerry Burris column today speaks to the issue, so far, defining the Case/Akaka race.

Here’s how Akaka framed it: If the bill is pushed over until next year (certainly a possibility) and he is not in the Senate, “I would think the bill would not go.”

In other words, without Akaka, the Akaka bill is dead.

That puts the stakes rather high, and one has to think the senator has made something of a gamble.

After all, the Akaka bill ? even though it has broad bipartisan support in the Islands ? is not universally popular. Some folks might take Akaka’s comment as reason enough not to return him to office.

Or, as I argued earlier, Akaka may regret this tactic if his bill passes (or dies) before the September primary. Remember, Akaka has said that Senate Majority Leader Frist has given him some assurance that the bill would be debated in February. In a purely strategic calculus, Frist could logically be expected to prefer Case (with his less-party-line voting record and reset-to-zero seniority) to Akaka, and thus be more than happy to resolve the Akaka bill stalemate before the primary.

Comments (0)
Hawaii public television to air interviews with U.S. Senate candidates

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:19 am
Despite its bizarre choice of artwork (I mean, look at the wake; Case’s boat is in reverse! heh UPDATE: See comment from webmaster), I direct your attention to a SB piece with program details for (and excerpts from) the television interviews of Representative Case and Senator Akaka, to be aired on Hawaii Public Television this week.

U.S. Sen. Dan Akaka and U.S. Rep. Ed Case will appear in separate half-hour interviews in a PBS Island Insights special tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.

The interviews will be rebroadcast at 3: 30 p.m. next Sunday on PBS (Oceanic Channel 10, KHET Channel 10, KMEB Channel 11).

Without delving into the (perhaps taken out of context) comments of either man, what strikes me is how much Senator Akaka is on the defensive and (in a theme I’m seeing in more and more articles) his hesitation to commit to debating Representative Case.

Comments (1)

Criticism hurt trade missions, Lingle aide says

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 10:56 am
Down is up, up is down. The Advertiser has another great article on the trade delegation “sponsorship” story.

Most of the costs of Lingle’s overseas missions were covered by business donors, but recent criticism of Lingle’s fundraising methods could make it difficult to find willing business sponsors, said Ted Liu, director for the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. Lingle or her aides still plan to make several overseas trips this year, but they might have to forgo the large entourage.

“They’re over and done because nobody is going to have an appetite for that,” Liu said yesterday. The publicity surrounding the sponsorship arrangements will make it difficult to continue the fundraising, he said.


Lingle has not released a list of donors and how much they each contributed, but Liu said he was prepared to make that information public next week.

Lingle isn’t the only governor to rely on business deals to subsidize state trade missions. She also isn’t the only governor to came under fire for it.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California faced criticism late last year for relying on a nonprofit organization to solicit business sponsorships of as much as $50,000 to defray costs of a state-led trade mission to China. Both governors kept secret a complete list of sponsors along with how much money each sponsor paid.

Minnesota officials also solicit corporate sponsors for trade missions, including one to China last year. Nevada officials go to China frequently, but do not seek sponsors.

Wha? Liu just doesn’t get it. He appears to be scolding Hao for raining on the Lingle administration’s (questionably unethical and possibly illegal) parade. Instead, Liu and the businesses who succumbed to the Lingle administration’s solicitation to contribute should consider themselves lucky if nobody is indicted for what took place.

Governors Schwarzenegger and Pawlenty (of Minnesota) are Republicans, too, FYI. The fact that Schwarzenegger made the same $50,000 solicitations and also employed a nonprofit to launder handle the money is, in my estimation, no coincidence. It suggests to me that Lingle’s actions are part of a nationwide modus operandi.

By promising in writing that big-money sponsors would get special treatment, Lingle administration officials appear to have crossed a line other states did not.

Providing special benefits for big-money sponsors may not be new, but advertising the fact is, said Steve Levin, political reform project manager for the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles.

“These things are sometimes understood with a wink and a nudge, but to actually articulate it is a lot less common,” he said. “It sounds fairly careless to spell it out. It’s just bad form and it’s very dangerous for the official and company involved.

Indeed, how gauche! Heh.

Lingle raised more than $377,000 in cash, in-kind contributions and other fees for her China trip, which was used to help defray the cost of taking Hawai’i entertainers such as the Ka’ala Boys, Amy Hanaiali’i Gilliom and hula dancers, and for other show and activity costs.

Putting on such large, publi-city-generating events would be impossible without outside support, said DBEDT’s Liu.

Hmmm. Is the Lingle administration more concerned with “large, publicity generating events” or with actually furthering trade with the foreign governments? i.e. Would the benefits to Hawaii not accrue but for these flashy song-and-dance escapades? Surely Mr. Klompus would not abide with any involvement in such a spin-focused undertaking…

Comments (0)
Iwase first Democrat to challenge Lingle

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 10:19 am
After his extensive hinting, Randall Iwase has officially announced his canidacy for Governor. Stories abound, from the Advertiser, Star-Bulletin, KHNL, and KHON.

The Advertisr piece is the most wide-ranging of the lot, but they all have mostly the same components: Iwase’s biography, Mayor Kim is still not a candidate, the Party has yet to officially endorse Iwase (until the primary filing deadline passes), Congressman Abercrombie supports Iwase, and a sampling of Iwase’s anti-Lingle message.

The Advertiser piece adds these tidbit, though:

… while Hawai’i Teamsters members were present when the candidate made his announcement, [other] influential labor unions [are] keeping their options open.


Iwase has already aligned himself with Akaka and the party’s establishment in the internal struggle with Case, which could help him with some core Democrats but cut badly if Democrats and independents gravitate toward Case. The congressman has said the party’s difficulty in finding a quality candidate for governor is part of a larger problem of discouraging competition and failing to groom younger Democrats for a changing Hawai’i.

Iwase is in a strange spot. He would prefer to focus on Lingle, but Iwase also has to keep at least one eye on the possibility that he will need to fend off a primary challenger first (be it Mayor Kim, or some other longshot hopeful).

Comments (1)
Shared authority at the OIP?

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 9:42 am
There has been legislation introduced on behalf of some (or all?) of the Counties that would have the Office of Information Practices run by a 5-member board instead of a single director, according to this SB piece.

Senate President Robert Bunda and House Speaker Calvin Say introduced Senate Bill 2657 and House Bill 2985 on Wednesday from requests of the County Council chairmen to establish the so-called Board of Information Practices, which would be similar to the campaign spending and ethics commissions, according to the bills.

The bill comes as the City Council is fighting an OIP opinion that said Council members cannot have private, one-on-one discussions on a topic before a public vote. On Wednesday the Circuit Court affirmed the agency’s opinion.


State Sen. Les Ihara, also a longtime proponent of open government, said he would support the creation of a commission if the office were given more funding and “enforcement powers” to file lawsuits against agencies on its own. The state attorney general’s office now must file lawsuits on behalf of OIP.

Hmmm. The fact that the Circuit Court has “affirmed” the OIP position regarding the Honolulu City Council seems to contradict Council Chair Dela Cruz’s defense of the idea:

Honolulu City Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz disagreed, saying, “I think everyone has noted that some of the opinions that OIP has published are extreme. It’s just one individual that interprets the law versus a group of people. And there’s no one to appeal to.”

Like Senator Ihara, I think it’s an idea worth looking at. Keever’s concern noted in the article about ignorant political hacks displacing the existing director is a bit overwrought. The bill provides that the board members are to be nominated by the judicial council and selected, by the Governor, from their nominations. I would also point out that the current director is not (by law) required to have any “expertise in an area of the law.”

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KHON changes hands, Earth continues to spin on its axis

Filed under:
HI Media
— Doug @ 9:22 am
The SB continues to flog the Joe Moore tirade story. Yawn.

Regarding the 35 job cuts the company has announced for KHON, Moore said, “A small percentage of people will be replaced by automation. The rest will severely reduce our ability to serve the community in the manner in which you, and we, have become accustomed.”

[New chief operating officer] Benton countered, “We have every intention of serving the community to the same degree it has been served in the past. If somebody had asked, we would have told them that. In fact, we did tell them that.”

Asked if the commitment could be maintained with one-third less staff, she said, “I think you continue to forget that a good percentage of (the job cuts) will be automation.”

It has not been announced who will be laid off at KHON.

Benton said she is aware that Moore has a track record of being outspoken.

“I don’t mind that he’s outspoken, but I don’t want to see inaccuracy flying out of here like that. I don’t know if our airwaves is the place to be outspoken,” she said.

Moore has four years remaining on his contract.

Your airwaves!? Well, excuse me, Ms. Benton, but the airwaves belong to the public. SJL/Montecito/whatever merely holds a license to use them.

I’m still a bit frustrated that story is, so far, entirely based on speculation and grandstanding. Nobody knows exactly which KHON employees are being laid off. Nobody knows how the layoffs will specifically effect newsgathering, ratings, profits, etc. Hence, it’s mostly interesting for the novelty of a news anchor actually talking back to his corporate masters and [minimally] risking his enormous salary. Most often the position of news anchor is, ironically, essentially an “automated” job only requiring a warm body to provide a smooth voice and authoritative presence for the task of reading from a teleprompter. A sinecure dangled out as motivation for the underpaid reporters who actually gather the news.

In my opinion. Heh.

Comments (1)
Still waiting to hear Akaka/Case differences

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 8:58 am
A story from the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports on the comments made by Senator Akaka on Thursday at a Honolulu PR firm “talk story” session. I found it notable for a few items. First, Akaka makes another prediction regarding the Native Hawaiian recognition bill bearing his name.

Akaka predicted his bill giving self-rule to Native Hawaiians could be heard as early as February, based on his conversations with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. The bill, which Akaka said he’s been working on “since I was young” was supposed to be heard last year, but was first blocked by Republicans then delayed because of Hurricane Katrina.


Akaka said he’d consider Case’s call for a debate “when the time comes.” He also refuted comments from some critics that he always voted with the Democratic Party or with Inouye.

“We have not voted the same way on many issues,” Akaka said. “The records show we did not vote in lockstep.”

It’s not a debate, but I understand that Hawaii Public Television will have back-to-back shows (from Richard Borreca and Dan Boylan) this weekend with the two men.

Anyway, talk is cheap. Votes are what ultimately matter. If you’re interested in making some comparison (and you’re able to understand the somewhat cryptic descriptions of each vote…) you could examine their voting records: Ed Case, Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye. For a more selective list of votes, with a progressive focus and brief descriptions of each vote, you could go to ProgressivePunch.com: Ed Case, Daniel Akaka, and Daniel Inouye. If there is a similar organization offering analysis of voting records from a conservative perspective, then please leave a comment to let me know and I’ll add those links.

Comments (1)

Honolulu City Council begins to compare bills to adjust property taxes

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 5:28 pm
Both of the Honolulu dailies have stories about the City Council hearing where a wide array of property tax-related bills were heard. Ultimately, nothing was decided. Advertiser piece is here and SB article is here.

Those at yesterday’s meeting had their own opinions of the bills.

“Many of them are gimmicks,” said Lowell Kalapa, president of the Hawaii Tax Foundation, who questioned what someone’s tenure on a property has to do with the ability to pay property taxes.

True, tenure on the property has nothing to do with ability to pay, but that’s not why it is being considered as a factor. Tenure has everything to do with discouraging speculators and slowing the rate of increase in assessed values. But Kalapa knows that.

Bob Grantham of the group Property Tax Relief Now, which is advocating a decrease in the residential tax rate, said some of the bills did not meet the immediate needs of taxpayers. “I was disappointed in some respect to see that some of these bills had been submitted have an effective date of July 1, 2007, which is going to be no help to the people who need the relief now.”

Kobayashi said that is a concern to the Council.

“If we’re going to pick a bill that can’t kick in until ‘07, then we’re going to have to do a tax credit so that there is immediate relief now,” she said.

Reminder: it’s an election year.

Kobayashi said that she hopes to come up with a way to help taxpayers across the board and is looking possibly at Bill 12, which aims to link adjusting tax rates with the rise and fall of assessments and also with the city’s budgetary needs. “Then we’re accountable,” she said.

Committee members also indicated they would rather spend money on tax cuts and not necessarily on the mayor’s plan to beef up the city’s rainy-day fund to $20 million.

Again, yesterday would seem to have been another meeting with no discussion (or at least no reporting) regarding what these tax reductions would cost in reduced revenue.

The City Council sets the property tax rates annually. But Councilman Gary Okino said the rates aren’t easy to change, either.

“I remember suffering through 10 years of declining revenues when we could have raised the rates a little bit but instead we chose to cut back government,” Okino said. “Nobody wants to even raise rates.”

Bill 12 is based on a rather clever mathemtical formula intended to keep property tax revenue growing no faster than the rate of inflation. After a few steps described in the bill, the formula produces an “initial tax rate.” If this initial rate is to be adjusted, the Mayor must draft a resolution proposing the adjustment and publish a notice in the newspaper. Then the Council can either approve the Mayor’s adjustment, accept the initial rate, or propose their own alternative rate (again, with public hearings). Thus, it will remain (politically) difficult to raise the rates, but if a rate increase is necessary then at least the Mayor will be forced to propose it first… Heh.

For some unexplained reason, the SB article includes a membership list of the newly-created Mayor’s Tax Policy Committee—but that’s it. No mention if they are participating in this debate. What do the commissioners think of the various proposals?

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Tailgaters will crack a brew for LG Aiona

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:27 pm
The SB has a piece about the decision by the Aloha Stadium Authority to kill a proposed ban on alcohol in the stadium parking lot.

Bowing to public opinion, the Aloha Stadium Authority voted down yesterday a proposal to ban alcohol during tailgating in the stadium parking lot at regular-season University of Hawaii and high school games.

The vote was 6-1, with only board member Marcia Klompus in favor of the ban. Stadium Authority Chairman Kevin Chong Kee did not vote, and one member was absent.

Authority members cited public testimony against the measure, a reduction in alcohol-related incidents at the stadium last year, the possible effect on attendance at UH games and the inconsistent message in banning alcohol outside the stadium and allowing sales inside as reasons to reject the ban.

Hmm. Why did Mr. Kee not vote?

No surprise that Klompus (the Lingle/Aiona administratin figure) was the lone vote for prohibition, even in the face of the reasoned opposition cited by the other six members of the Authority.

Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona, who had pushed for a total ban on alcohol at the stadium during regular-season college games, said the vote “was not in the best interest of our citizens.”

In a written news release, Aiona said, “The issue of banning alcohol is not dead. The authority’s subcommittee will reconvene so they can put more teeth into preventing underage drinking and discuss how to enforce it at the stadium.”

The issue of banning alcohol is a wholly separate issue from agressively enforcing the law against underage drinking. The issue of banning alcohol is dead. Actually, I think the Authority just did Aiona a big political favor. He can now wave his advocacy around in front of the “law and order” moralists, yet he will not feel the wrath of the voter/tailgaters that would have followed if the ban had passed.

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Hawai’i Raceway Park closing – as warned for years

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:25 pm
There is an announcement in the Advertiser that Hawaii Raceway Park will be closing in April. The operator of the facility has been lobbying persistently for State help to keep it open, but failed. Now, with cesspool requirements staring him in the face, he is calling it quits.

Hawai’i Raceway Park opened on the Fourth of July weekend in 1964. Oakland took over in 1990, and since then Campbell Estate has been granting him a series of lease extensions, the last of which expires in April.

“This is a decision made by Hawai’i Raceway Park and was not caused by Campbell Estate,” estate spokeswoman Theresia McMurdo said. “We have not asked Hawai’i Raceway Park to leave and in fact we have been extending the lease.”

But with his latest extension soon to expire, Oakland in the last year also received notice from the Environmental Protection Agency that he could no longer allow racers and fans to use the antiquated cesspool system connected to the raceway. And in January 2005, Oakland’s zoning variance expired.

“We have an expired variance, we have cesspools closing under federal mandate and we have a lease that’s expiring,” Oakland said. “All along I’ve been telling people that we’re running out of time. But people have just been looking at me like I’ve been crying Chicken Little. Well, guess what? Time’s up.”

Uh, I suppose it may be just water under the bridge, but how were they allowed to continue operating for more than a year with an expired zoning variance?

The park’s impending end comes after years of unsuccessful lobbying by Oakland to develop a permanent, 140-acre center dedicated to a variety of motorcycle and car racing events at the former Barbers Point Naval Air Station, now known as Kalaeloa.

“I am the perennial optimist that it will happen someday,” said Oakland, 63. “But am I going to be alive when it happens? Well, I’m an optimist.”

With no new home to turn to for now, Oakland said he has told the nine different concessionaires who produce a variety of car, motorcycle and go-kart events that they, too, will be out of business in April.

“Millions of dollars are directly affected by what we do,” Oakland said. “There are going to be hundreds of jobs lost because of the downside of not having a motor sports complex.”

I’m a motorsports fan (especially MotoGP and WSB), but I just don’t think that government needs to prop up this industry. I was even toying with the idea of participating in the public track days, but there are so many higher priorities for tax spending that is absurd to support the not-exactly-populist thrill-seekers who can afford to go racing. Motorsport is a “luxury” that I personally support, but it should be privately funded.

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Street performers remain unregulated as Council and Mayor spar

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 7:20 pm
Wow, some weird things are afoot at Honolulu Hale regarding street performers! The Council has deferred action on a vote that would have overturned the Mayor’s veto of Bill 71, so his veto will stand as a 20-day window closes. However, the Mayor had introduced his own measure, at the end of his veto messge that became Bill 6.

Bill 6 had the signatures of four Councilmembers, so it was pretty clear to me several days ago that the vote to overturn the veto would have failed. (six of the nine votes are needed, but only five of the nine dd not sign Bill 6).

However, the Advertiser and SB both run stories today to report that some of the councilmembers in support of Bill 71 were apparently shocked at the failure to overturn the veto. As if.

The Mayor lobbied the former supporters of Bill 71, and, if you believe Couniclmembers Djou, Marshall, and Kobayashi, he lobbied too aggresively. The three make no specific allegations and offer no convincing proof, but clearly they believe that the Mayor acted unethically. It’s not out of the realm of the possible.

One particular segment from the SB caught my eye:

But Djou was not done. He accused the Hannemann administration of threatening to withhold opposition to the bill if Djou backed off on his request for a federal investigation of a city contract for a transit study. One of the mayor’s supporters received a big chunk of the study.

“I guess this is old-time, old-boy city hall politics that I do not engage in, and will not play that game,” Djou said.

Brennan said the mayor’s position on Bill 71 has been consistent long before Djou’s call for the federal investigation.

“It seems that he can’t bring himself to admit that the mayor had a better bill, a better strategy and was able to bring people together. So, yes, it is a classic case of sore loser or sour grapes.”

That is farcical on it’s face: the Mayor threatened to withhold his opposition of the bill (i.e. Bill 71, Djou’s ban on street performers in the evening). Uh, that’s not a “threat,” that’s an offer of quid-pro-quo, if it indeed happened as Djou alleges. Hard to tell if that was simply sloppy reporting/editing, or if Djou is really that dense, or both…

I was a bit surprised that the Council also deferred action on the Mayor’s Bill 6 alternative. But, barring Djou et al coming forth with some evidence to demonstrate the Mayor’s undue influence, I consider this matter closed.

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Another dose of Case-Akaka news

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:45 pm
Okay, here are my thoughts on yet another batch of articles about Ed Case and Daniel Akaka.

First, there is an interesting piece in the Hawaii Tribune-Herald that is notable for Representative Case’s clear dismissal of the suggestion that he withdraw from the Senate race.

Case said he and Akaka differ on political philosophies. Case called Akaka a “liberal party loyalist” who no longer represents today’s Hawaii, while describing himself as a “moderate Democrat who acts independently based on the issues.”

Case said he has held more than 130 formal talk-story sessions with his constituents, something Akaka rarely does.

“I think I’m far more engaged with my constituency than he is, and I think that would continue,” Case said. “I’m not going to change. I like doing that, and I think it’s good to know what people are thinking.”

Case said he welcomes face-to-face debates with Akaka and expects Akaka’s campaign to turn negative. Case said he estimates he’ll need about $1 million not to get his message to voters, but to “counter the stuff that’s going to come flying out of the other side.”

Case said he will not start the mud slinging, but will respond if it comes from Akaka’s camp.

Noting Democratic Party leaders are split about his decision to challenge the veteran Akaka, Case said he will not change his mind as Inouye and many others have requested.

“I’m not backing out of the race,” he said.

Also, I note Case’s admonition that he is prepared to, as the campaign wonks say, “go negative,” if provoked by Akaka’s supporters.

Next, another article in the Hawaii Tribune-Herald has some quotes confirming Senator Inouye’s previous claim that the Senators will support Akaka and oppose Case.

In moves to bolster Akaka, top Democrats rallied publicly and said they would help financially to defend the incumbent against primary challenger Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawaii.

“When you have someone as effective and as strong and as well-liked as Sen. Akaka it would be wrong to stay neutral,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who heads the Democrats’ Senate campaign committee.

“We’re standing right by him, and we’re going to help him in any way we can,” Schumer said.

Case announced last week that he would run against Akaka, 81, whom many had predicted would coast to a third term. Case, 53, stunned the political establishment with a challenge to give Hawaii voters a new generation of representation in the Senate.

Senate Democrats on Tuesday taped a video endorsement for Akaka that will be aired in Hawaii.

“Danny Akaka is not loved, he’s revered,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said in an interview. “This is a man, when you go to the word ‘gentleman’ in the dictionary, you look under Akaka. He is the best.”

Case said he was not surprised by the reaction. He said it plays into his campaign message for a fresh face in the Senate.

Well, I suppose that is true, but it still must smart a bit for Case to have his hoped-for future colleagues shun him so vigorously. If Case wins it will make for some awkward “welcomes” to the Senate chamber, haha.

Last, I have a short riff off of the Advertiser editorial that basically argues that Case’s challenge is a potential jumpstart of the stalled Akaka Bill.

Following Congressman Ed Case’s plan to challenge U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka for his seat this fall, there are signs of quickening in the bill that bears the incumbent’s name. As part of his claim to having the superior record of experience on the Hill, Akaka said the support he has drawn for the measure could evaporate should he not be re-elected.

That’s hard to confirm, but what’s crystal-clear is that Akaka certainly would like to see progress on his bill before the primary election. And whether or not voters support the legislation, the measure deserves a substantive debate on the Senate floor.

His supportive Democratic colleague, Hawai’i senior Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, is sure to be calling in his favors to get the Akaka bill its elusive approval by the U.S. Senate.

“Crystal-clear?” Hardly. However, it seems “crystal-clear” to me that it would help Senator Akaka if his bill is still pending as the primary election draws near. Here’s why: Akaka has begun to argue that without his (heretofore underwhelming) personal shepherding that legislation is unlikely to pass the Senate. Thus, if the bill passes the Senate before the primary election it obviously would make that component of his campaign strategy moot. So far, it seems like it is the only campaign issue Akaka has, and it’s a fairly strong one. I don’t think he’d want to lose that leverage.

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State playing hide-and-seek with plans for Kahului Harbor

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:39 pm
The Maui News has an op-ed piece submitted by the leader of Maui Tomorrow Foundation, Ron Sturtz. Sturtz argues (well, almost) that the State Department of Transportation did not properly notify the public of the completion of a Final Environmental Assessment for the modifications at and around Kahului Harbor necessary for the Superferry to use it for onloading and offloading of vehicles and passengers (I posted on this topic here).

Just two days before Christmas, the DOT sent a copy of their massive plans to two obscure offices in Honolulu. The department didn?t extend the courtesy of informing Maui County officials. Mayor Alan Arakawa was never informed. The County Council was not told. The Maui News was not given a press release. There were no public meetings. Nothing.


Three weeks ago, the DOT?s Harbors Division filed a dubious claim that all of these changes will have no environmental effect and they issued a finding of no significant impact.

It wasn?t until after New Year?s that a Maui Tomorrow supporter spotted a reference to it on the Internet and alerted a consortium of environmental groups: Maui Tomorrow, Sierra Club, Kahului Harbor Coalition and Friends of Haleakala National Park. They, in turn, notified the mayor, the county Planning Department and other county officials. However, time was so short to file an objection that the county couldn?t respond quickly enough in the courts.

Once again rising to the challenge, the environmental groups filed a lawsuit one day short of the 30-day legal challenge deadline to protect our county?s interests, and those of the public. As the result of our discussions with the county corporation counsel and the mayor, the county is assessing its ability to join later in the suit.


With a properly prepared environmental impact statement, Maui will have a harbor that will facilitate the smooth flow of vital freight and may also be available for some limited passenger traffic. However, plans must meet the letter of the law for legal public review, not be stealthily avoided by the DOT?s Harbor Division.

I’m by no means an expert on this topic, but “the letter of the law” does not require that all of the interested parties for a specific project must be individualy notified that a Final Environmental Assessment and FONSI has been submitted. Likewise, if the media are not paying attention it is not the obligation of the lead agency to do a press release. Basically, if you are interested in a project, then you are obligated to carefully read each issue of the Notice to learn if the particular Assessment you are interested in has been filed. Failure to do so, as Sturtz discovered, leaves little time to review the Assessment and file a challenge. Here’s how it is explained by the Environmental Notice (where the Final EA was published on December 23 – see page 3 of the PDF):

After the FEA is written by the lead agency, and notice of the FEA and EISPN is published in the this [sic] periodic bulletin, any agency, group, or individual has 30 days from the first publication of the EISPN to request to become a consulted party and to make written comments regarding the environmental effects of the proposed action. The public (including an applicant) has 60 days from the first notice of an EISPN in this periodic bulletin to ask a court to not require the preparation of an EIS.

I’m not saying that’s a good policy, but it is the policy. Filing the Final EA at the peak of holiday distractions obviously could be (and almost certainly was) expected to minimize public awareness, but shrewd cynicism is not necessarily illegal.

Looking on the bright side for Sturtz and those filing suit, the State wants to go full speed ahead with this project—so by waiting until the last possible day to complete each filing it slows down the process to the maximum extent possible. Cynical gives as good as cynical gets. Heh.

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City loses Sunshine Law case re: reorganization plotting

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 6:06 pm
The SB reports that a Circuit Court judge has issued a declaratory ruling against the Honolulu City Council and found that their serial one-on-one meetings before a reorganizational vote were violations of the Sunshine Law.

I’m still a bit confused as to how this lawsuit complements (or supplants) the OIP ruling on the matter. In any case, the City intends to appeal the ruling.

Jeff Portnoy, who represented eight journalism and open-government organizations in a lawsuit against the City Council, said the decision clears up any ambiguity with the state’s so-called “Sunshine Law,” making it “absolutely clear” that “the practice of deciding things in secret” is illegal. The suit stems from a July Council vote on a reorganization plan.

“The underlying decision is clear: that serious, one-on-one communication on matters of substance are not permitted,” Portnoy said. “All of the deliberations and votes are to be done in public.”

But City Councilman Charles Djou, whose district includes Waikiki and Ala Moana, said he disagrees with the ruling. “The intent of the Sunshine Law was to prevent behind-closed-door meetings,” he said. “I don’t think it was meant to ban Council members ever talking to each other.”

Council Chair Donovan Dela Cruz noted that Hifo pointed out there are exceptions to bans on serial, one-on-one communications, including when Council members are discussing a budget bill or scheduling a meeting. “We all believe in open government,” Dela Cruz said.

“We also owe it our constituencies to balance and ensure government efficiency and effectiveness.”

Well, without reading the actual ruling, it’s hard to evaluate the comments from Dela Cruz and Portnoy. Portnoy’s interpretation, that this ruling provides clarity and a definitive statement, seems to contradict what I read in the section of the law describing “permitted interactions.”

( c) Discussions between two or more members of a board, but less than the number of members which would constitute a quorum for the board, concerning the selection of the board’s officers may be conducted in private without limitation or subsequent reporting.

Try wait. Isn’t that exactly what the Councilmembers were engaged in?

Dela Cruz’s interpretation of the ruling is also curious, because nowhere among the “permitted interactions” proscribed by law do I see any specific mention of budget discussions or the scheduling of meetings. Huh.

Is this ruling available online somewhere? I can find Appeals and Supreme Court opinions, but not the Circuit Court information.

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Hokulia bills appear at Lege again

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:02 pm
The two Hawaii County dailies carry the same article (choose either the West Hawaii Today or the Hawaii Tribune-Herald) about legislation intended to resolve the thorny Hokulia dispute (which is not only waiting for resolution at the Supreme Court but is the subject of a civil suit, too). Last year the Hokulia-themed legislation died an ignominious death.

There are two fronts in the effort. One is HB 2525 and its Senate companion bill, SB 2405. This seeks to essentially grandfather existing homes on agricultural lands, so long as the property has a low amount of high-quality soil. The second proposal (alluded to in the article, but not cited) is probably SB 3097. It would amend the definitions of “ancillary dwelling,” “farm dwelling,” and “family member” in an attempt to clarify future residential buildings developed on agriculture lands.

The preamble language of HB 2525 is notable for its concise precis of the Hokulia dispute. I suppose you could argue this preamble language is biased, but it sure beats plowing through the voluminous official records or the rambling accounts at Hokulia Update! So, if for that reason alone, the bill has already been useful to me.

Still, the idea of the Legislature creating laws seen as circumventing a court ruling makes lawmakers squeamish. And no one wants to draft abiding policy for the entire state around a single case.

[Representative] Green said the Big Island legislative delegation has agreed to follow the lead of Sen. Russell Kokubun, D-South Hilo, Puna, Ka’u, the powerful chairman of the Water, Land and Agriculture Committee.

Kokubun said Tuesday that he’ll hear the mayor’s bill as a “political courtesy,” but he is filing his own bill that will set strict definitions of what’s considered a farm dwelling from this point on.

“Judge (Ronald) Ibarra made a certain ruling. It’s being challenged, but as a ruling it currently stands,” Kokubun said. “One of the questions is, have the counties changed their approach relating to agricultural land. And it may be too that the state law is too general.”

Given these statements, I would be surprised if Kokubun (or, his unmentioned House counterpart, Representative Kanoho) will go along with this proposal for the grandfathering of existing developments as proposed by Mayor Kim.

Why is it taking the Supreme Court so long to rule on this, anyway? Maybe there is some heavy arm-twisting going on trying to reach a unanimous ruling or some other such intrigue.

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KHON staff cuts will hurt ratings – or not

Filed under:
HI Media
— Doug @ 5:56 pm
Some interesting claims in a PBN article concerning the layoffs at KHON.

Jim McCoy, former KHON news director and current public relations executive, said the station’s cuts could cripple its ability to gather news and that now is the perfect time for competitors to act.

“If I were the boss at Channel 4 [KITV] or Channel 8 [KHNL], I would certainly plead with the owners not to cut back and go in for the kill,” he said. “This is certainly the time to do it.”

With a third of KHON’s employees about to be fired, McCoy said it’s only a matter of time before the quality of news declines and viewers switch to other stations.

Again, as I asked when this was first announced, how is automation going to be noticable to the viewers? How does it “cripple their ability to gather news?” They’ll still send a reporter and a camera out into the field, so I just don’t understand these claims.

KHON’s job cuts will affect every department at the station except for on-air talent, according to SJL Chief Operating Officer Sandy Benton. She said the cuts are necessary to lower operating costs and make the station more efficient, which will come largely through automation.

SJL has a history of buying stations, cutting costs and staff, and later selling them, having already done the same with close to 20 stations around the country.

“We look at every single line item and say what can we do to make it more efficient without hurting the asset,” Benton said.

That can include overhauling everything from a station’s lighting to its phone system to its Internet connections.

SJL bought KHON as a package along with stations in Portland, Ore.; Wichita, Kan.; and Topeka, Kan. The staffs at each of those stations are seeing similar job cuts.

Benton said that along with a history of cutting staffs, SJL also has a record of increasing ratings.

“In the 20-some markets we’ve done this with, in almost every single case, ratings have stayed constant or gone up,” she said.

Really, no negative impact on the ratings? Hmmm. So who is right, Benton or McCoy? Benton’s claim should be possible to verify, with a little bit of digging. Seriously, what’s the point of a (literally) he-said, she-said story with no attempt to hold either side to their claim?

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That which does not kill Dems makes them stronger

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:54 pm
Some interesting spin commentary from the Chair of the Hawaii Democratic Party in this SB op-ed. Is it just me, or does Mr. Galuteria seem happy to have something to comment on other than the lack of a challenger to oppose Governor Lingle?

Clearly the great clash for the governorship in 1970 between incumbent John A. Burns and challenger Tom Gill brought out both an old guard and a new wave in full force, reinvigorating the party for a generation.

Many other distinguished candidates have competed to the party’s benefit, from Spark Matsunaga and Patsy Mink to Cec Heftel and John Waihee. Ed Case won his U.S. House seat in a heavily contested race, and Dan Akaka went to Washington after defeating a popular Democrat of the times, Joe Kuroda.

I was only just born in 1970, so forgive me if I’m familiar with this alleged “reinvigoration” of the Democrats dating to that era. Heh. But, for you older readers, is it a valid claim? Same question with Akaka-Kuroda. (You may leave aside the question of if you think Case-Akaka/Akaka-Kuroda are comparable scenarios to Gill-Burns, if you like.)

I didn’t sense any “reinvigoration” in that 2003 free-for-all to fill the late Patsy Mink’s 2nd Congressional District seat, but I don’t belong to the Party so maybe I’m not in contact with those who were reinvigorated…

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UH Newspaper unclear about separation of powers

Filed under:
HI State Politics
HI Media
— Doug @ 5:53 pm
The reporter at the UH student newspaper (Ka Leo O Hawaii) who wrote an article about pedestrain safety is either very ignorant of the legislative process, or was simply misquoting the Department of Transportation spokesman. This is how the piece begins:

The Hawai’i State Department of Transportation has recently made revisions to the crosswalk law due to a rash of pedestrian deaths that have occurred over the past three years. Public service announcements will air next month to alert Hawaii’s drivers of the new law, according to Scott Ishikawa, spokesperson for the DOT.

“We are actually looking at revising the law again this legislative session to create different penalties for drivers who violate it,” Ishikawa said.

Note to Ka Leo: The Legislature “revises” laws. The Executive, believe it or not, “executes” the law.

This will be on the test.

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Pimping the State made to look easy by DBEDT

Filed under:
HI Media
— Doug @ 7:14 pm
Nothing new to report on the DBEDT trade delegation “sponsorship” issue, but the Advertiser editorializes on the subject in today’s paper.

Transparency is absolutely mandatory. The public has a right to know who has gained access to the state’s favors in this way and what, precisely, they are getting in return.

The more troublesome issue has to do with the clear inference that there is a quid pro quo involved. Anyone willing to pay his travel expenses and a small mission fee is entitled to go on these trade missions.

But those willing to pay much more are told they would get extra attention and promotion and extra access to key meetings through the courtesy of the governor and her staff.

Specifically, those willing to pay would enjoy the following benefits on the China trip, according to the DBEDT solicitation letter:

Senior-level government meetings, provididng insights into Chinese government policies. Despite decades of reforms, China’s economic system is still centralized, with most major policy and implementation decisions made by the government. At the provincial and municipal levels, the Mayors and their cabinets have tremendous political and economic/financial powers, much like the Chief Executive of the region. Meetings with these senior officials will provide insight into key major policy directions and practices that will guide China’s economy for the near future.
Specific meetings can be requested on behalf of [company name] with the government agency of most interest to it.
Expression of State of Hawaii support for [company name]. Governments matter in China. Chinese political leadership and business decision-makers place significant value on a foreign company’s relationship with that company’s own government.
DBEDT is basically trading on the use of our State’s name and reputation (tendered on behalf of these high rollers) in return for only, at most, $50,000. The Chinese, according to my own blunt interpretation of DBEDT’s vague insinuations, prefer to do business with foreign companies that have a demonstrated track record of adhering to the “pay-to-play” theory of government relationships.

Returning to the Advertiser editorial, the editors conclude that the Lingle administration is not much better when compared to the Chinese:

The message inferred here is that the Lingle administration will work extra hard on your behalf ? for a price. The intent might well be honorable, but the message is mixed.

Liu should follow through on his plan to make public a list of who paid, and how much they paid, for these missions. And the disclosure should include a precise itemization of what they got in return.

Ab-so-lutely! I would only add that the Lingle administration should also disclose a) the name(s) of the other nonprofit(s) involved, and b) the communication her administration had with the Ethics Commission that (allegedly) okayed this scheme. I’m not holding my breath on either count.

Last, I note Susan Page’s column in the Midweek wherein she serendipitously chose this week to write about lobbying:

Lobbyists are frequently portrayed as schmoozing arm-twisters who get their way by bribing with lavish gifts or first-class trips, but in reality most lobbyists are there to provide education, perspective and compelling arguments as to why Congress – or a state legislature – should pass a certain law or include something specific in an existing piece of legislation. Every industry and special interest has them, and they provide an important service. They represent your interests to your representatives.


And, remember, lobbyists come in many forms, some not officially holding down a full-time lobbyist job like [Page’s daughter] Joy does.

For example, Gov. Lingle, Lt. Gov. Aiona and trustees from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) have taken trips to Washington to lobby senators in behalf of the Akaka Bill.

[Cough] Linda Lingle, the uber-lobbyist? Well, it would appear her lobbying track record in China (after which the Hawaii businesses who “sponsored” the trade mission reported millions of dollars in new deals) is a better example than her underwhelming Akaka Bill efforts. Heh.

Actually, I was surprised to find myself agreeing with Page right up until her lobbyists “represent your interests to your representatives” sentence. Uh, no. First and foremost, lobbyists reliably represent the interests of whoever is paying them. If “our” interests and the interests of their client are congruent, then great. But if not, then the client’s interests prevail.

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Gasoline price cap is revealed as a popular legislative subject

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 7:04 pm
A media dogpile on the news of Democrats in the House who propose to repeal the gasoline price cap law, plus other less-dramatic tweaks to gasoline-related laws that have been proposed.

At KHNL they report on the Senate Democrats’ plan to tweak the existing law.

Senate Democrats want to eliminate the state excise tax on gasoline sales. Instead, they want to charge a flat tax of 8-cents per gallon.

Democrats in the Senate also want to add Singapore to the list of markets used to calculate the state’s gas cap. That list currently includes Los Angeles, the Gulf Coast and New York.

They also want to make one more change. Each week they want to throw out the market with the highest price. So the state’s gas cap would only be based on the three markets with the lowest prices.

At KITV, the focus of their piece is mostly the same as KHNL’s.

PBN makes an attempt to be comprehensive in reporting on the proposals. Ooopsie, the bill introduction deadline is 6PM Wednesday, but they made mistakes even in what they did report: First, an amusing typo that has Representative Marcus Oshiro “enforcing” a general concept (obviously meant to read “endorsing”) of repealing the so-called “divorcement” law. More substantively, they mention HB 2328 by title only “Relating to gasoline price gouging” but did not realize that it is an administration-sponsored bill. That’s what they get for jumping the gun…

As expected, the Advertiser piece and the SB article are the most thorough of the lot.

The author of the (Democrat’s) gasoline price cap repeal bill is Representative Souki, one of two House Democrats to oppose the law as Act 77 in 2002 (joined only by Representative Nakasone), and the only Democrat to oppose the law (as amended) in Act 242 of 2004. Obviously, there is not much room for compromise between Representative Souki’s repeal plan and Senator Menor’s amendment plan. In the House it would only take a few more Democrats (to join with the Republicans) to pass Souki’s repeal bill, but it’s an open question how strong Menor’s colleagues in the Senate support his amendments, in lieu of a repeal. If it crossed over, Souki’s repeal bill would probably die of inertia in Menor’s Senate committee, unless a majority were found to pull it onto the floor for a vote. Not likely, but there is not a reliably cohesive Democratic Caucus in that chamber.

It’s an election year. This will be interesting.

Comments (3)
Infinite election speculation regression in Hawaii County

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:25 pm
A semi-amusing (and semi-serious) story from the West Hawaii Today about the possible candidates who would run to replace the Hawaii County Mayor who is himself a possible candidate … for Governor.

Mayor Harry Kim hasn’t announced whether or not he will run for governor later this year but, in the event he does, there appears to be several people eyeing the mayor’s seat.

Of six people polled Monday, only Andy Levin, who serves as one of Kim’s executive assistants, said he would “seriously consider” a bid for mayor should Kim challenge Gov. Linda Lingle in the November election.

State Sen. Lorraine Inouye, D-Hilo, Waimea, Council Chairman Stacy Higa, Puna Councilman Gary Safarik, former Hamakua Councilman Dominic Yagong and Billy Kenoi, Kim’s executive assistant, all acknowledged they have thought about running for mayor, but none were as committal as Levin.

Prefacing with “there is no vacancy for mayor,” Levin said, “If there was a special election, I would seriously consider it. Harry Kim is an exceptional mayor who has taken an approach to government that deserves to be maintained. I have seen how he has dealt with issues on a nonpolitical basis, on merit alone, and it is a very positive approach I think the public appreciates.”

Gee, why no discussion of who would run for the seats of Senator Lorraine Inouye, and Councilmembers Higa and Safarik, should those three run for Mayor, should Kim run for Governor? Heh.

Seriously, though, Levin is so closely placed to Kim that, despite Levin’s pro forma “no vacancy” preface, I have to wonder if this is a signal of Kim’s intention to enter the race. Inouye and Yagong both speculate that Kim will not run for Governor, though.

Random tidbit: Safarik indicated he may run in 2008 for the seat presently held by Representative Helene Hale.

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They agree on the Akaka Bill, but…

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:21 pm
The impact on the Akaka Bill is the main topic of this Advertiser article (and it’s a pretty good piece), but I would like to see further expansion on this:

In the three years Case has been in the House, there has been only one public disagreement among the delegation on a significant Hawai’i issue. In July 2003, Case proposed legislation to exempt Hawai’i from the federal Jones Act, which requires ships operating between U.S. ports to be U.S. flagged and crewed. The congressman argues that it discourages competition and has led to higher costs for consumers, but the rest of the delegation believes the act ensures the reliable shipping of goods to the Islands.

Both Akaka and Case have said over the past few days that they would continue to be cordial toward each other and work together for Hawai’i in Congress during the campaign. But Akaka’s belief that Hawaiian recognition could depend on his re-election could add more tension to what already is a sensitive issue in the Islands and Washington.

Hopefully the media are not going to rely on the candidates to explain to the public if/how Representative Case and Senator Akaka have taken opposing views on significant non-Hawaii issues. Still plenty of time, but I would hope that the comparison is already underway. Only three years of votes to scrutinize so, for that reason, be thankful it isn’t Abercrombie who is making the challenge. Heh.

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Web-based procurement transparency is improving

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:20 pm
The Hawaii Reporter has a post that includes a very useful link to a State Procurement Office website that shows which vendors have been awarded contracts and describes the purchase and the cost. The HR also reports that Governor Lingle has ordered all state departments under her control to begin using the SPO website. The website goes beyond what is required in the procurement law, and is clearly a victory for transparent government. I like it.

Rooting around in there can yield things like this contract awarded “for Analysis of the Hawaii High School Assessments in Reading & Mathematics.” You can find interesting insights as to what it actually costs to carry out various initiatives and goals of the Lingle administration and/or Legislature.

The HR piece has also apparently shamed motivated the Campaign Spending Commission into replacing archival records of administrative fines levied by the Commission that are (again) available at their website. Apparently, when the HR post first went online the CSC had removed the pre-2005 items. I’m reluctantly impressed.

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Army looks for ordnance; shills for NASCAR

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:14 pm
The Hawaii Army Weekly Online website uses some annoying Java-based system that does not seem to provide for direct links to articles, but this week there are two items that caught my eye.

First, from a story headlined “DA addresses environmental issues with Hawaii leaders”, an update on the search for munitions (including chemical weapons) that were dumped into the ocean waters near Oahu decades ago:

According to [Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Environmental, Safety, and Occupational Health] Davis, the Army is engaged in the most comprehensive archive search to date. This comprehensive effort, which includes reviewing information provided by other federal agencies, will determine, to the extent practical, the what, when and where of sea disposal operations.

“The information obtained from this search, which will be cross-checked and validated, will be critical to characterizing disposal sites,” he said. “The Army is working with its sister services and other federal agencies to garner all available information to supplement and validate the information available.”

Until the research and analysis is complete, the military is not in a position to address the actions needed, Davis said. The results of these studies or any monitoring that may be required may indicate that these munitions do not pose a hazard to the public or the environment, and the safest course of action is to leave them in place.

As part of the information-sharing process, Davis is planning on returning here in a few months to update community leaders as well as government officials on what has been found to date.

Before departing Hawaii, however, Davis took the opportunity to meet with Governor Linda Lingle, representatives of the Hawaii state legislature, community leaders and other federal agencies to provide information on environmental topics of interest. The meetings allowed Davis to gain key insights on issues, he explained.

The cynic in me suspects that the “research and analysis” will drag on and on, and this will postpone the remediation effort (if any) indefinitely. I’m also assuming that, among the “environmental topics of interest,” Davis must have had some discussion about Makua with the Governor, legislators, community leaders and federal agencies. Too bad the media didn’t hear/include his comments on the Makua valley dispute.

In another, uh, article, titled “Nascar Caf? races to open at Schofield dining rooms,” we learn that the dining halls are now slinging NASCAR-themed hamburgers, chicken, and pork sandwhiches. It is a very odd piece, bordering on an advertisement, especially the strangely juvenile promotional prize drawing: two winners will receive die-cast NASCAR replica cars. Knock-off Happy Meals for the Army of One? Whatever.

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Maui County Data Book 13th ed. is online

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:04 pm
The Maui News and the First Reading blog from the LRB both announce the 13th edition of the Maui County Data Book.

It’s available online in PDF form, with the separate chapters downloadable from here. I spent some time browsing the chapter on government, of course, and found that it has extremely thorough election results and some other interesting data, too.

I’m not going to commit the time to download and read the whole thing, but if anyone finds something particularly notable, please let me know.

It would sure be cool to see a similar product covering Oahu. I’m not sure why Maui seems to be the only island to have the attention of the Hawaii Business Research Library every year. ??

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Governor defends state trade missions; Ethics Commission is shocked

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:20 pm
The Advertiser is still digging around for more on the DBEDT trade delegation “sponsorships,” while the SB remains on the sidelines—just because the Advertiser was leaked a copy of the DBEDT and the SB was not? Whatever.

The Lingle administration has declined to disclose who gave how much, arguing that such details are not public because the donations are funneled through nonprofit organizations.

Liu said yesterday he will consider seeking approval of the state Ethics Commission before offering or accepting large sponsorships. He also said he will consider disclosing more details about trade mission sponsors.

“It will be transparent, just be patient,” Liu said. “This is not a slush fund. Every cent is accounted for.”

That’s encouraging, in a way. However, it all depends upon the quality of the accounting used, of course. If the ledger merely reads “donation from XYZ, Corparation: $50,000; defrayed expenses: $50,000? that won’t exactly be reassuring.

Administration officials also said that all previous administrations sought similar private sector support for trade missions in some form or another. The major difference under the Lingle administration is in the larger scope of the trade missions and the level of business sponsorships, Liu said. Sponsorships are one way to save the state money, he said.

“It is a different way of doing things, but just because it’s different, doesn’t mean it’s bad,” Liu said. “I think the results have been positive.”

Lingle and Liu yesterday said last year’s trade mission to China is expected to generate more than $100 million for businesses that went on the trip. That figure came from an anonymous survey and discussions with the businesses involved, including DFS Hawaii, Simple Green and Alexander & Baldwin, Liu said.

Director Liu and Governor Lingle are persistent in their effort to conflate the more legitimate “previous administrations did it, too” private sector support for the trade missions (i.e. the “defraying expenses” explanation), with the novel (and ethically dubious) panopoly of donor benefits. It was, after all, these benefits that were the basis of the solicitation when the current administration was making their pitch to the potential donors. Indeed, nowhere in that 11-page letter to potential donors is there any explicit discussion that the $50,000 donation is meant to defray expenses, but there is plenty of detail regarding all the lucrative access to markets and government officials it will buy.

As many as 200 people from Hawai’i went on the trade mission with Lingle to China and South Korea. The state raised more than $377,000 in cash, in-kind contributions and other fees, which was used to help defray the cost of bringing along Hawai’i entertainers, putting on shows and other activities.

The nonprofit Pacific and Asian Affairs Council, which handled a portion of that money, would not disclose the identities and contribution levels of trip sponsors.

Lisa Maruyama, executive director for the council, was unavailable for comment yesterday. However, in an interview with The Advertiser last summer, she said the arrangement with the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism helped the nonprofit build relationships with local businesses while at the same time supported the council’s mission to promote awareness and understanding of international issues.

The Pacific and Asian Affairs Council was reassured by the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism that all corporate sponsorships were made with the intent of enhancing the trade mission to China and South Korea, Maruyama said.

Huh. “Enhancing the trade mission” could mean almost anything, from defraying expenses for the entertainers and shows, to graft. Since they brought it up, now I’m also curious to know which other nonprofit was involved, if PAAC only handled “a portion” of the donations. By the way, skulking around their website I notice that The Honolulu Advertiser is a corporate member of the PAAC (which means they pay at least $250 for dues).

Lingle said the state Ethics Commission approved the use of nonprofit groups to help the state raise money for foreign trade missions.

Ethics Commission Director Dan Mollway said his agency gave Lingle officials some guidance, but never approved of the administration’s offer to allow a local business to become a sponsor for five trade missions planned for this year in exchange for special benefits.

“When we found out it was a package for five trips for $50,000, we were in a different world,” he said. “We were in a world we’ve never seen. We called them up and said, ‘Look, everything we said, forget about it.’ “

Assuming there is a paper trail for that communication, wouldn’t it make sense to take a look at the messages sent from the Lingle administration and the “guidance” received from the Ethics Commission? In particular, what specific use of the nonprofit groups did the EC approve and how did the Lingle administration explain their intentions when seeking EC approval? Mollway’s statements certainly give the impression that some bait-and-switch took place on the part of the Lingle administration.

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More “RINO” ammunition for Lingle’s critics on the Right?

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:12 pm
Some comments from Lowell Kalapa in this SB piece by Borreca. Really makes me wish there were video or audio to judge if Kalapa is as disappointed with Lingle as I interpret his comments to indicate.

If most Republican tax packages call for giving tax breaks to the rich, in hopes that the money saved will go to new investments, Gov. Linda Lingle is running against the grain by urging tax cuts for working families.

Lingle’s $285 million tax plan will help the poor, she said yesterday after her State of the State address.

“Our tax system hurts the poor, probably more than in any other state,” said Lingle, whose plan focuses on families with income of $50,000 a year or less.

Lowell Kalapa, Hawaii Tax Foundation executive director, called it “pandering to the poor and the middle class,” noting this is usually “a Democratic thing.”


“Lingle’s strategy is, ‘Are you going to pass my package, or are you against poor people?’” Kalapa said.


Kalapa and Bank of Hawaii economist Paul Brewbaker say this thinking runs counter to the traditional GOP plan of “trickle-down economics.”

“This is not the Republican plan in the sense that people in high end create jobs and we need to re-evaluate their taxes,” Kalapa said.

Borreca missed the perfect follow up question: Is Mr. Kalapa going to support Lingle’s package, or is Kalapa against poor people? Heh.

Comments (1)
Makua training may be halted next week by Court

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:10 pm
Well, it would seem that my earlier predictions (here and here) may turn out to have been off the mark. Both Honolulu dailies report that a federal judge is “inclined” to rule in favor of Earthjustice and against the Army, thereby halting military training at Makua valley until the completion of an agreed-upon-but-never-completed Environmental Impact Statement. Advertiser article here, and SB piece here.

Robert Lewis, a lawyer with the environmental law division of the U.S. Army Litigation Center in Arlington, Va., told the judge yesterday the study was delayed in part by a “prescribed burn” that went out of control and the Army’s hopes to put together “the best document available.” The study should be completed in March or April, he said.

Lewis urged [Judge] Mollway to grant the Army’s request [to resume training at Makua] because “unanticipated” developments warranted the modification. When the settlement was reached, the country had not yet invaded Afghanistan or Iraq, he said.

The duration of the war, its intensity and the rotation levels for soldiers going to Iraq could not have been foreseen, he said.

But David Henkin, Earthjustice lawyer, pointed out that the U.S. started bombing Afghanistan only three days after the settlement was reached.

Mollway said even though the country was not at war at the time, war had been anticipated. “Clearly, the Army was contemplating it would be in combat,” she said.

She also pointed out that the Army’s environmental impact statement is long overdue, now nearly 4 1/2 years after the signing of the agreement. “Deference to the Army shouldn’t be confused with letting the Army violate environmental laws,” she said.

Lewis’ argument that the duration of the war(s) could not have been foreseen is interesting. Now, with no end in sight for the war, allowing the Army to train at Makua (for the open-ended duration of the Global War on Terror) instead of performing the EIS could create so much environmental impact as to make the 2001 agreement with Malama Makua into a complete farce.

Stepping back for a larger view, with the Executive running roughshod over Congress by, for example, directing the NSA to spy on Americans without warrants and in violation of FISA, perhaps we’ll see the Executive simply defy the Judiciary and (wrongly) invoke the same 9/11 Resolution to re-start training at Makua by fiat.

Comments (5)
Senator Akaka sponsors pro-CNMI legislation

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:10 pm
I make a habit of checking the Pacific Islands Report website, and today I was rewarded with this little nugget from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

A senior staff member of a U.S. senator says the Northern Marianas? close ties with disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff will make it more difficult for the islands “to get things done in Congress.”

Allen Stayman, a staffer of Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said the CNMI?s affiliation with Abramoff will have repercussions in terms of its relationship with American lawmakers.

“The close ties between the CNMI and Mr. Abramoff will make it more difficult for the CNMI to get things done in Congress,” said Stayman. “Obviously, members of Congress want to avoid any association with Mr. Abramoff, his associates, or his former clients.”

The CNMI is pushing for the passage of three bills in Congress … S. 1954, which seeks to amend the duty free privilege of the island; and …


S. 1954 authored by Senators Larry E. Craig, R-Idaho, and Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, would allow Saipan garment factories to import a greater percentage of the raw materials for their “Made in the USA” apparel products.

The original legislation, for which Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff are well known for (in the CNMI, that is), was one of the key parts of a DeLay biography I read many months ago called, The Hammer. (Recommended!) The two led a few junkets to the Commonwealth and became ecstatic over the prospect that garment sweatshops could operate on Saipan and the products would still be allowed to have “Made in the USA” labels.

Now Senator Akaka wants to expand this ugly practice of diluting that label? Ewww. Akaka is fortunate that Representative Case has such weak ties to organized labor…

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Further thoughts on the DBEDT trade delegation “sponsors”

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 7:20 pm
I was doing some further thinking about the Advertiser article from yesterday. In particular, about these paragraphs:

Lingle and other state officials did not benefit directly from the private contributions, said [DBEDT Director] Liu.


Business leaders who accompany Lingle and other state officials on the trade missions pay their own airfares and for lodgings, and are charged a small delegation fee. The extra donations paid by some help to defray other expenses related to the trip, such as ground transportation, entertainment, receptions and meals.

Okay, if Lingle did not benefit, then who did?

Seriously, I’m confused. When the trade delegation went to China, these businesses who made “extra donations” were defraying the expenses for whose ground transportation, receptions and meals? Liu implies that the donors were not paying for the Lingle administration’s share, so was it to defray the non-donating businesses’ share of the tab, or the foreign, uh, “hosts” share?

When trade missions visit Hawaii, does Hawaii bill the delegates for receptions and meals which are provided to them incidentally as part of simply being a good host? I can see where perhaps a delegation (to or from Hawaii) might choose to arrange for their own transportation when on a trade mission, but to host, for example, a reception and meal—and then to bill the guests—seems pretty crass, doesn’t it? I mean, just how much does Jasmine Trias and Tihati charge for an appearance, anyway? It does not seem that the bill should come to tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. (Especially in the Phillipines, where the dollar goes much further)

It is not clear from the DBEDT letter (i.e. the one the newspaper reproduced yesterday) how many travellers each donor was allowed to send on the trade mission in exchange for a sponsorship fee paid to the nonprofit organization. Again, however, I would think that tens of thousands of dollars could buy ground transportation, meals, entertainment and receptions for quite a crowd—and there were several donors.

According to a Lingle press release there were 178 people in the delegation that went to the Phillipines. The press release accounts for 56 people, so does that mean that over 100 people were “donors?” I dunno. The press release for the China trip does not note the number of travellers in the delegation, but did note that the trip “is open to businesses, organizations, and individuals who are interested in taking advantage of the numerous economic and cultural activities in China and Korea.” Links provided in that press release to PDFs elaborating on that trip are 404 now. Hmmmm.

Call me naive, but at this point I don’t think the nonprofit organization is funneling any “extra” money to the Lingle administration’s re-election coffers. But…

There’s no delicate way for me to state where my thoughts do lead me: Was some portion (or the entirety) of these donations used for essentially bribing the foreign officials? There is a stringent law that forbids U.S. companies from paying foreign officials for business advantages. If that is what happened, then the Lingle administration (okay, more specifically, the officers of the nonprofit allegedly working with the administration) would be complicit in that unlawfulness.

Obligatory hedging: This is only my own thinking-out-loud theory and I have no proof. I am alleging nothing.

I’m willing to entertain other explanations if anyone has some, but why else would there need to be a nonprofit inserted into the middle of this, if not for covering these kinds of embarrassing (possibly illegal) tracks? The “benefits” offered to the sponsors certainly have some value (advertising, media exposure, meetings with foreign officials, etc.), yet they are not things that I would expect the Lingle administration to solicit—rather, I would expect the event organizers in the host country to negotiate for advertising, media exposure and the like. DFS and A&B would seem to (or at least should) be fully capable of arranging and negotiating for their own promotions campaigns, so why put the Governor and a nonprofit in the middle? Here’s how my theory accounts for that: those host governments were not entirely on the level, and some money was needed to grease the skids. China? Korea? The Phillipines? There is a history of self-dealing throughout the leadership of those governments. Having a passthrough group would be a way of obscuring any funny business (pun intended) and possibly evading the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Another, much more banal, possibility is that by passing the money through a nonprofit recipient it provides some tax advantage to the Hawaii donors. Eh. The bribery angle is so much more fun to ponder!

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Democrats’ communications director Brower to run against Representative Stevens

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 7:20 pm
The Advertiser announces that Tom Brower intends to campaign as a Democrat to unseat the newly-appointed Representative for the 23rd House Distict, Anne Stevens. He is the communications director for the Hawaii Democratic Party, and will be resigning that post. (Who will the Democrats name to replace him?)

At his rather amateurish website I noticed that the “issues” link asks us to check back in February. Plenty of photos, mostly illustrating his biography.

Brower’s candidacy is no surprise. Last week he had this to say upon Stevens’ appointment:

Tom Brower, the communications director for the Democratic Party of Hawai’i who serves on the neighborhood board, said he wishes Stevens well but believes other members of the neighborhood board who applied to replace Fox would have been better. He said Lingle’s decision to appoint a Republican Senate aide was political patronage, and suggested he might run for the seat this year.

“I think that Anne is a nice person, though her appointment is primarily because of whom she knows not what she knows,” Brower said. “Anne’s primary qualification is that she worked for a state Republican’s office and is a team player with the Lingle administration.”

Legislative staff positions provide a well-worn path to office/candidacy, and Brower should know that from his job in the Democratic Party, but whatever. I would argue that legislative staff work provides more relevant skills and experience than a neighborhood board environment, if I were to counter-snark. Heh.

Brower describes on his website his interest (and work experience) in talk radio. I’ve never bothered to attach the AM antenna to my receiver, so I’ve never heard him (or any other Hawaii talk radio) on the air—though I’ve probably heard him on KPOI if he ever DJ’s music shows. Anyway, it will be interesting to see if his campaign adopts the talk radio “attack and confrontation” style from the get-go.

Comments (1)
Non-English-speaking students getting some needed attention

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 7:20 pm
The SB has an article today that follows up with some encouraging news about the so-called “English as Second-Language Learners” that I had earlier posted about. Back then, I was upset that the State was exploiting immigrant parents’ ignorance of their rights to allow the DOE to all but deny migrant children from Pacific island territories an adequate education, but this report is a bit more encouraging.

Facing a growing influx of immigrant students ill equipped for Hawaii classrooms, the Department of Education plans to set up “newcomer centers” aimed at easing their transition into the public school system.

The centers would offer one year of academic instruction for high-schoolers with limited English proficiency as well as training on acculturation and getting used to the American school environment.


Initial DOE plans call for securing steady state funding by the 2007-08 school year for three permanent centers, each of which would serve students from several schools.

But amid dire need, the department is not waiting. Using federal funding, a limited program began at Maui High School in September, and two other centers are expected to be in place somewhere in the Honolulu and Leeward Oahu districts by this fall.


The idea, modeled after a similar program in the San Francisco school district, is the latest sign of concern over the ability of Hawaii schools to handle such students. Already struggling to lift achievement in the general student population up to federal standards, schools also must raise ESLL students to the same level.

However, while ESLL numbers have surged in recent years, ESLL funding has stayed stagnant for the past decade.

The Lingle administration, in its budget proposal for the new legislative session, included funding for 29 new ESLL teaching positions to add to the current 140.

Without some sort of action to ease the burden on overwhelmed teachers and schools, school officials say, the state could be vulnerable to legal action for not providing federally required access to a free and appropriate public education for all students.

The State could still be liable, if the Legislature does not approve the budget request and/or the federally-funded efforts turn out to be too-little, too late. …and, of course, the immigrants are made aware of their right to sue in pursuit of a free and appropriate public education.

Assuming there is follow-up on this subject, then I hope that next time the media solicit some comments from Na Loio. They should be a player in this, if they take their mission seriously.

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A Case v. Akaka article that talks issues instead of politics

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 7:19 pm
It had to happen sooner or later, haha. The SB has this piece that, instead of reading campaign tea leaves and telling us yet again how shocking Case’s decision was, begins to sketch out the most obvious places where Case and Akaka part ways on the issues.

The issues mentioned are the Iraq War, the PATRIOT Act, and drilling in ANWR. Representative Case favors the first two, Akaka favors the last. They both support the so-called Akaka Bill to establish a process for Native Hawaiian recognition at the federal level. It’s not mentioned in this particular article, but they split on the Jones Act, too, with Case opposed to it.

Can that really be all there is? Gotta be some interesting lower-profile things in their records somewhere… go turn one of those SPJ interns loose on the question!

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DBEDT defends practice of rewarding trip sponsors

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 10:35 am
By far, the most interesting local story today is by Sean Hao of the Advertiser and is based upon a letter provided to the paper that describes how the Lingle administration solicited substantial “sponsorship” contributions from various corporations and then rewarded these donors with special treatment and access while on the “sponsored” trips abroad. (Unfortunately, my Safari browser downloads that letter only to display it as an 11-page PDF, completely blank! Grrrr. If someone gets it to download properly, please paste it into a comment.)

In a letter dated Dec. 5, Ted Liu, the director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, asked a local business to become a “Title Sponsor” of this year’s trade missions by donating $50,000. The money would go to a nonprofit organization that would help finance the trade mission. The sponsor would get access to foreign government leaders and “VIP events (such as backstage or after-show parties),” according to the letter.

The Lingle administration has raised more than $827,000 in cash and in-kind contributions from Hawai’i businesses and organizations ? including Alexander & Baldwin, Castle & Cooke, DFS Hawaii, Dole Food Co., Ko Olina Resort and Marina, and NCL America ? to help pay for trade missions to China, South Korea, the Philippines and elsewhere, according to DBEDT.

The issue of government officials’ providing special service or access in exchange for large sponsorships raises ethical questions, according to the executive director of the state Ethics Commission. The practice also has drawn fire from a key lawmaker.

That’s a pretty big understatement from the Ethics Commission! Amazingly, Liu digs himself further into the hole when he says:

Liu said significant private-sector sponsorships of state trade missions mark a change from previous administrations and are one way to do more with less public money.

“To me that’s the only way that these trade missions should be done,” Liu said. “If we weren’t doing this, probably we would get criticized for doing too little.”

Lingle and other state officials did not benefit directly from the private contributions, said Liu.

The state has sent out five or six letters seeking corporate sponsorships in exchange for benefits, though not all of the letters sought $50,000 cash contributions, Liu said.

Hmmm. Ask yourself: exactly who would criticize the Lingle administration if they did not sell sponsorship and special treatment to the private sector? It’s as if Liu thinks this will pass the smell test with an average voter/taxpayer (not to mention the average small business owner) who is unable to afford such access, and, indeed, is not even offered the opportunity to participate.

Liu would not say how much each company spent on sponsorships. Such disclosure is complicated because under a Lingle administration practice, sponsorship money raised by the state is funneled through a nonprofit group, then spent with state approval. That means such activity isn’t subject to typical state oversight, budgeting and public-disclosure rules.

[Senator] Kim asked Liu for contribution figures for each sponsor. Liu said he’s considering the matter. DBEDT denied a similar request The Advertiser made last June.

Wow. Hao is too polite to say it, but that’s a “slush fund,” folks. Less overtly evil than Tom Delay’s scheme, but this “nonprofit group” would appear to be operating using a local donor (so far as we know now) version of that same general game plan.

Kim said the practice of soliciting donations from large local companies could place unfair pressure on them to contribute or possibly lose access to and influence in state government.

“All of these people have some (state) connection and you’re asking them for all this money?” she said. “Certainly with the governor asking, they’re not going to say, ‘No,’ so they’ll give something.”

Many of the companies participating in the trips have ongoing business with state government. For example, DFS [a $40,000 donor] has an exclusive contract with the state government to sell duty-free goods to departing foreign travelers. Alexander & Baldwin [a $37,500 donor] was selected by a state agency to develop a $650 million project on about 30 acres of state land in Kaka’ako.

“Certainly one has to question what the side benefits would be from being a major sponsor of the trip,” said Lowell Kalapa, president of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii. “Do these sponsors earn brownie points?”

Gee, ya think, Mr. Kalapa? Sheesh.

Comments (3)
No clever title – more on Ed Case

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 9:38 am
The latest batch of columns and an article about Case’s campaign for Senate that managed to elicit my commentary. It would be futile for me to try and maintain exhaustive coverage of this topic, something has to give…

From Jerry Burris’ column in the Advertiser:

In truth, Case is not challenging Akaka. Rather, he is challenging conventional wisdom that says the smart thing to do is wait your turn.

Case’s argument is that now is the time to get fresh blood in the Senate. Since Akaka and Sen. Daniel Inouye are the same age, there is a strong possibility that they could both retire around the same time.

That would leave Hawai’i without an iota of seniority in the Senate, where seniority means a lot. In other words, Case is making a strategic argument for Hawai’i’s interests.

It is hardly clear whether the argument will work. It might have appeal in a general election, where independents and others participate.

But will it work in a primary, where old loyalties and Democratic Party alliances still matter? Case knows the challenge: He ran ? and lost ? against “establishment” candidate Mazie Hirono in the Democratic primary for governor in 2002.

Uh, Burris has that almost exactly backwards. It is the primary, not the general election, that will appeal to “independents and others” who want to express their opinion of Case, old loyalties and Democratic party alliances. In the general election those Democrats with “old loyalties” are not likely to bolt to the Republican candidate, even if Case were to win the primary. I think Burris is greatly underestimating the potential crossover appeal of this particular primary battle.

On the other hand, according to the wise political sages consulted in this SB piece, it is foolish to give much weight to a crossover vote making the difference for Case.

The native Hawaiian bloc, [pollster] Clegg said, could prove a significant factor in an Akaka win.

“He’ll get the native Hawaiian vote,” Heen said. “Dan is their icon.”

He also said it was a long shot to count too much on independents and Republicans. “Crossover votes never work,” he said. “I don’t see that really as being the ability to mount a challenge.”

However, Clegg said the victor could very well be the candidate able to bring out a growing bloc of moderate, independent Hawaii voters who don’t call themselves Democrats or Republicans.

Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, Clegg added, “didn’t win by getting a bunch of Republican votes.”

If that’s true, then the race then becomes a simple question of turnout and the raw number of so-called moderate, independent, non-partisan voters and Native Hawaiian and/or unionized voters. Hopefully there’ll be some debate on the issues, too, yeah?

Meanwhile, the SB has a Richard Borreca column that offers a (clever, if slightly corny) “Eagles vs. Genoa Keawe” generational analysis. Well, I’m 35, non-Hawaiian, and don’t belong to a union, but I hate the Eagles and their gigabucks “farewell” concerts. Heh. Aunty gives me chicken skin, though. Go figure.

Comments (1)
UH athletics pulls in more corporate sponsorship than ever

Filed under:
HI State Politics
HI Media
— Doug @ 9:04 am
I noticed another PBN story about UH sports marketing contracts that will bring in $2.4 million in 2006. Unlike the earlier report, which focused on a contract with First Hawaiian Bank to guarantee them a monopoly at Aloha Stadium, this article reveals that Bank of Hawaii pays even more (for even wider exposure, but with a focus on “image” instead of products).

The four largest corporate sponsors, which are paying at least $125,000 apiece, are The Honolulu Advertiser, Budweiser, Papa John’s Pizza and Bank of Hawaii. Together, those four will contribute more to UH athletics than the $301,890 that Aloha Stadium expects to receive this year from its 12 largest advertisers.

University officials would not divulge exact amounts of the corporate sponsorships, citing competitive strategies.

Huh? UH is a public university. The Stadium Authority could reveal exact contract figures ($107,888 per year in a deal with Pepsi) for that previous article, so I don’t understand why the UH Athletic Deparment is allowed to keep the details of these contracts secret. Perhaps the athletic department simply asserts the right and it goes unchallenged? (Not that I’d expect the Honolulu Advertiser to dig too deeply into this, haha. Does their sponsorship influence better access to information and athletes for Advertiser sports columnists/reporters?)

Furthermore, if Klompus’ earlier complaint that the stadium should be getting $500,000/year from First Hawaiian Bank is valid (I don’t know if that’s reasonable), then what would that say about the “at least $125,000? contracts with Bank of Hawaii, et al?

Comments (0)
It’s not only lobbyists who persuade legislators

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 8:42 am
A timely story in the Advertiser to remind readers that the cynics are not always correct when it comes to the utility of participating in the legislative process.

In a political arena where some of the biggest stakeholders hire professional lobbyists to advance their positions, the average person, especially one with a full-time job, might be overwhelmed at the thought of competing for lawmakers’ attention.

It is worth the effort, legislators say.

Whether it’s testifying at a public hearing, visiting a lawmaker’s office or simply attending a rally, the very fact that a person has taken the time to express his or her views speaks volumes.

Well, I don’t know about “volumes,” but let’s say it at least speaks, uh, “chapters.” Heh.

The article is spot-on when they refer readers to the Public Access Room. Too bad the link is mangled in the article… The PAR is a great resource. There should be satellite offices on the neighbor islands during the legislative session, in my opinion.

The Advertiser sidebar to the story, listing do’s and don’ts for testifying, is also a useful reference.

Comments (0)
Civil suit challenges assessment of Kahului harbor

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 8:26 am
The Maui News reports the emergence of another hurdle for the Hawaii Superferry. It’s another legal challenge.

Attorney Isaac Hall filed the action in 2nd Circuit Court on behalf of Maui Tomorrow, the Kahului Harbor Coalition and the Friends of Haleakala National Park. His civil suit said the final EA (envrionmental assessment, a PDF, see pages 1 & 11) prepared for the state Department of Transportation was ?inadequate? and that an environmental impact statement should have been required.

This is all part of the ritual for a contested project, so I can’t say that I’m particularly surprised. I do not know what standard must be reached for the civil suit to prevail and an EIS to be ordered, but the article illustrates that Hall has quite an array of objections to the how the EA was handled.

Hall pointed out conflicting information in the draft environmental document and the final product as well as the operating agreement signed just a few months ago between Superferry officials and DOT. For instance, a distinct two-lane roadway from Puunene Avenue to Pier 2 to accommodate vehicles and passengers loading and unloading from the Superferry is part of a map in the operating agreement and the draft EA (another PDF, see p 9). But it is not included in the final EA, replaced by a broken line between Puunene and Pier 2, he said.

The Superferry?s operating agreement makes it clear that traffic for that operation will enter and exit from Puunene and the draft EA states that ?the north end of Puunene Avenue . . . will have to be renovated to accommodate the increase in traffic.? The final EA, however, says that Superferry traffic will ?be primarily limited? to Wharf Street or Hobron Avenue.

The traffic study cited was completed in 2002 for a retail project at the intersection of Hobron and Kaahumanu avenues although Superferry officials have indicated traffic from the ferry will use the intersection at Puunene and Kaahumanu avenues. A passenger terminal and other facilities are proposed to be located on the property that now accommodates a Valley Isle Motors used car lot.

I’m not familiar with the area, so I can’t comment as to how significant these inconsistencies are, but it certainly at least gives the appearance of shoddy work and/or intentional deception.

Between the time of the draft EA and the final document, the name of the project was changed, too. The original publication was titled ?Kahului Commercial Harbor Improvements? and the title of the final EA was ?2025 Master Plan Improvements, Kahului Commercial Harbor.?

The finding of no significant impact was issued on Nov. 29 and published in the semimonthly bulletin published by the Office of Environmental Quality Control on Dec. 23. On the front page of the bulletin, DOT stated that the ?EA is not geared to the Superferry? and that ?the Superferry is a recent (circa 2003) potential specific user of Kahului Harbor, and can use existing or proposed harbor facilities.?

The harbor?s 2025 master plan went before the public five years ago when Superferry had not yet been proposed. The strongest recommendation made during those community meetings called for the separation of cargo and passenger operations. Currently, Superferry intends to share Pier 2 with Young Brothers cargo barges.

Was the recommendation to separate cargo and passenger operations included in the 2025 master plan five years ago, or was it the strongest recommendation that was left out? The title change seems subtle, but if was adjusted to share the title with the (allegedly) unrelated 2025 master plan (what was its official title?), then I could understand Hall’s (implied) argument that the change is evidence of an effort to deceive.

Finally, the article summarizes the EA itself:

Among the projects planned for the harbor that DOT said will have no significant impact on the surroundings is the extension of Pier 1 to create Pier 1D; the renovation of Pier 1 restrooms and sewer line; a waterline from Ala Luina Street to the end of Pier 1; the expansion of Pier 3 with dredging between Piers 1 and 2; a new Pier 4; and the improvement of the Puunene yard used by Young Brothers with a new access bridge.

The opposition seems to rest on a more meta-level question of whether these projects enable the Superferry which in turn threatens the environment through the introduction of invasive species, etc. I don’t know if the Court will allow that line of reasoning. The Sierra Club tried a similar tactic against the Hawaii Tourism Authority while they were making tourism expansion plans, and it failed.

I believe the DOT comment (paraphrased by MN, but reproduced here in full) is a bit too slick for its own good:

In response to a concern that the Kahului Harbor expansion was being geared toward accommodate the new Inter-island Super Ferry, the DOT responded that the ?EA is not geared to the Superferry. As stated in Sections 1.1 and 3.4, the EA is for the short-term 2025 Master Plan (the Master Plan was completed in 2001) improvements for Kahului Harbor.? To indicate this more clearly, the Department of Transportation revised the title of the final environmental assessment to ?2025 Master Plan Improvements, Kahului Commercial Harbor.? The Department of Transportation notes that the Superferry is a recent (circa 2003) potential specific user of Kahului Harbor, and can use existing or proposed harbor facilities.

Constructing the improvements listed in the EA may have no significant impact (I don’t confirm or deny that), but the actual or intended use of those improvements is/was never subject to any assessment? That’s the question the Court will need to consider.

Comments (2)

Another sampling of comments about Case v. Akaka fallout

Filed under:
HI State Politics
HI Media
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 4:31 pm
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but merely the articles/posts in which I found something to comment about.

First, from this Maui News article:

?My big concern is the possibility that a Republican candidate will emerge who can challenge for Case?s seat,? said Maui Democratic Party Chairman Ian Chan Hodges.

?This opens the opportunity when we as Democrats have an opportunity to take back the U.S. House.?

The only Republican name I have heard mentioned is Mike Gabbard. I don’t see how he could win. It’s still very early, and (an)other Republican(s) could step forward, but it’s to the Republicans’ advantage to not have a contested primary so that their members could instead pull the Democrat ballot in the primary and vote strategically. It would arguably help the Democrats to have a semi-credible candidate from the Republican Party run for Case’s vacated seat, if for no other reason than to be a money hole for GOP campaign spending and to provide a common punching bag for the (big, and growing) field of Dems that will be tempted/forced to bash each other during the primary.

Moving on to this piece in the Advertiser, Senator Whalen has some similar comments on the strategic primary voter theme:

What might affect the makeup of the Legislature more will be turnout at the polls ? the rush of Republican and independent voters who want to participate in the hard-fought Democratic primaries for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House, said state Sen. Paul Whalen, R-3rd (Kohala, Kona, Ka’u).

“Normally the Democrat primaries are pretty much controlled by the public unions and unions in general because they get out the vote, and the average guy in the street tends to ignore the primaries,” Whalen said. But with the “extremely heated” federal races, general voter turnout for the Democratic primary will jump.

With so many non-Democrat voters joining in the Democratic primaries, Whalen said that will dilute the influence of Democratic Party insiders and “power brokers, and in some races the outcomes may change,” he predicted.

“I think it will bring the vote more toward the average guy instead of just the special interests,” Whalen said.

“Special interests” is GOP code for union households, if that’s not obvious to you.

Next, I took note of the final paragraph in the Hawaii Reporter post:

Case?s decision has created movement in what seemed to be a dull 2006 election year. Already Sens. Colleen Hanabusa, Gary Hooser, Ron Menor and Rep. Brian Schatz – all sitting Democrats – have announced their intention to run for Case?s vacated U.S. House seat. Many younger Democrats say privately that Case?s courage gives them hope that they too can buck the political “Machine” that has controlled them all too long.

With the big caveat that I don’t believe Zimmerman has her finger on the pulse of the private feelings of “many” younger Democrats, I’d say it’s far too early for anyone to draw much hope from Case’s decision. Case could well be politically destroyed by this. Younger Democrats may be pulling for Case, but I doubt that many (other than Representative Schatz, who has already announced) will follow his lead.

Last, another Advertiser story. I found the story itself rather unremarkable, but I was pleased to see the footnote that provides links — to blogs! Will this be a new trend? It would be better if they actually linked to blogs from Hawaii (cough), but it’s a start. They also link to their own discussion board, which is commendable, but there are many others.

To further tempt the editors, adding this feature need not be a big technological burden or entail much additional workload. Partner with Technorati and you could have a set-up like this random article from the Washington Post. Very cool. Midweek uses a slightly less fancy version. Both are rather trivial to implement, but first you must set up an RSS feed of your website. Duck soup.

Comments (0)
Maui pols will soon complete affordable housing quotas

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 4:02 pm
The Maui News has an article that will be sure to drive “free market” types crazy, describing the various strategies being considered to ensure that as market-priced houses are built on Maui there are affordable units coming, too. In my opinion, Maui leads the way on this issue. Well, at least in rhetoric and intentions. None of this is law yet…

Council Member Charmaine Tavares worried about an opposite kind of chilling effect, that the number of market-priced units would be sold primarily to nonresidents.

?If we have 20 or 30 percent affordable, then are we OK with 70 percent newcomers?? said Tavares. ?I don?t mean to say that we don?t have local people who can afford market homes, but if we continue along this path and don?t draw a hard line in the sand, we know where we?re headed. We see it every day.?

A few months ago, Tavares proposed that 80 percent of all projects be designated affordable, but defining affordable prices to include more middle-class families.

Council Member Jo Anne Johnson echoed her colleague?s concerns.

?If we?re buying this philosophy of 30-70, we?re going to get a population reflective of that,? she said.

How’s that for pointing out the obvious?! It’s not as if the people with low income are migrating to Hawaii on account of our housing market, and the wealthy Hawaii residents almost certainly own a home already. Anyway, the options for preventing that outcome are few, but the article discusses the various ideas.

Last month, Council Member Dain Kane suggested an amendment that would give preference for affordable housing units to those whose primary residence was on Maui and who held jobs on Maui, working at least 36 hours a week.

Kane?s proposal would not exclude nonresidents from applying to purchase an affordable housing unit.

[Maui County Deputy Corporation Counsel] Kushi said residency preferences could be imposed ?as long as it?s not indicating a duration for residency.? After the meeting, Kushi acknowledged that could mean that someone who has lived on Maui for a day could claim a residency preference for a housing unit.

Wha? Well that’s pretty much pointless.

The Council is also eager to address the question of concurrency, and the article does an excellent job explaining that angle, too:

The bill would also address the timing of completion of projects. Previously, that?s been the sticking point, with thousands of affordable units deferred because developers were not required to build both components concurrently.

Instead, developers were allowed to hold off on the affordables until after the market-priced units were constructed. If projects would be left unfinished, that meant no affordables came on line although market units did.

In Mateo?s draft, the ?residential work-force housing units? would be made available for occupancy ?either prior to or concurrently with market rate units at the same ratio required of all development.?

Furthermore, certificates of occupancy would not ?be issued for the market rate units unless certificates of occupancy are issued for the residential work-force housing units concurrently or sooner.?

The economists, land use planners, and developers all warn that these schemes will distort the market and inhibit the supply of affordable housing. There will be some effect, but I think that the wealthy buyers will pay almost any premium to get their slice of paradise—if that’s what it takes. Developers will continue to be eager to develop and I believe that, in the end, developers are willing and capable to pass the losses (if any) associated with the affordable housing requirements on to those customers. Would the wealthy buyers rather pay (the already exhorbitant) “market rates?” Surely.

Furthermore, in my opinion the prospect of slower (or zero) development is not an altogether bad outcome, even if it means I can never afford to buy a home… at least not until the next time the real estate bubble bursts, that is.

Comments (3)
Senator Inouye comments on lobbying reforms

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 8:00 am
The Hawaii County newspapers share a report on U.S. Senator Inouye’s reactions to the new calls to reform lobbying regulations in D.C. The Hawaii Tribune-Herald piece is here and the nearly identical West Hawaii Today article is here.

According to congressional travel records, Inouye aides have taken 53 trips in the past five years, with private sponsors paying for nearly $69,000 in meal, hotel and transportation costs.

Aides traveled to conferences and other events spanning the nation from Albany, N.Y. to Aspen, Colo., with three trips to France, Canada and the United Kingdom.

The senator himself is one of Capitol Hill’s less frequent fliers, according to records. Since 2000, Inouye’s only privately sponsored trip was to the dedication of the Battle Creek Federal Center in Michigan in 2003.

Some Democratic senators this week have responded to the scandal by prohibiting their own aides from accepting meals, gifts and other perks from lobbyists.

Inouye indicated he did not plan to follow suit, saying, “We don’t pay these people enough.”

Current rules allow lawmakers and staffers to accept gifts of up to $50, not to exceed $100 from a single source in a year.

It’s not improper for aides to accept moderately priced meals within the limits of the current rules, Inouye said. But he said that a staffer who indulges in pricey sushi dinners, for example, would be fired.

The better approach to reforming ethics rules, Inouye said, would be through better disclosure of lobbying activities.

Better disclosure of lobbying activities would be great, especially if it were timely and frequent. I am not so sure that the public is going to buy into the argument that the trips are, on balance, a good thing—no matter how much practical information is gathered in the process.

Meanwhile, in Honolulu, the SB editorializes that this rush to make even cursory lobbying reform is bad news … but with their clear implication left unsaid: it would be bad news for Hawaii tourism. Boy, talk about missing the whole point!

Comments (2)
Regents hear UARC testimony

Filed under:
HI State Politics
HI Media
— Doug @ 7:40 am
Both Honolulu dailies cover the Board of Regents meeting yesterday where many hours of testimony was heard from supporters and opponents of the UARC proposal. The (misleadinglly-headlined, since supporters spoke, too) Advertiser article is here and the SB article is here.

The arguments presented for and against the UARC are pretty well-known by now, and, with a three-minute limit on testimony, it would have been hard for any big revelations to emerge at the hearing anyway. With this hearing concluded, the UH President will make his decision before the February BOR meeting, but the ultimate decision lies with the Board.

What I found to be the most interesting part of the coverage (although it further clouds the explanation for the Advertiser’s choice of headline) was this revelation from the SB:

Honolulu Advertiser Publisher Mike Fisch was among those writing to urge support for the UARC. Fisch cited the high-paying jobs that could be created.

The UH chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists wrote to the regents in opposition, saying that secrecy over classified research is “intolerable and unacceptable.”

The Advertiser piece should have also made that disclosure, don’t you think? There’s a subtle distinction between “publisher” and “journalist,” but the distinction is lost on some people and usually journalists are pretty scrupulous about not participating publicly in a political debate. The testimony from the UH chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists is, in my opinion, less ethically suspect—especially since their testimony is described as being concerned with secrecy and not the actual research per se, and they are (to my knowledge) only infrequent contributors of actual news reporting.

Along those lines, the SB also has a piece about some internships being offered by the Society for Professional Journalists-Hawaii chapter. I was surprised (well, sorta) to see that flacks public relations professionals are also members of the Society and are, in fact, even sponsoring and hosting some of the internships. Those would be appropriate postings for those journalism communications majors who would prefer to earn a decent salary after gradation… Heh.

Comments (0)
Akaka Bill gets mixed reviews in D.C. briefing

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:58 am
The Advertiser has a piece commenting on the briefing in Washington, D.C., yesterday where the U.S. Commissin on Civil Rights heard from supporters and opponents of the Akaka Bill. I did a postearlier where I described the Commission, and the news here seems to bear out my hunch.

Noe Kalipi, counsel for Akaka, and H. Christopher Bartolomucci, an attorney with the Hogan & Hartson law firm in Washington, laid out the case for federal recognition.

Kalipi said Hawaiians are an indigenous people like American Indians and Alaskan Natives and not a racial class. She said the U.S. Supreme Court has acknowledged that the federal government’s dealings with Indian tribes are not based on race but on political status.

“It is also clear that Native Hawaiians are ‘native’ in the same sense as American Indians ? aboriginal,” she said. “When Congress deals with Native Hawaiians as an aboriginal people, it legislates on the basis as it does with American Indians.”

But H. William Burgess, a Ho-nolulu attorney and opponent of the bill, said the bill would unconstitutionally recognize a new privileged class consisting of anyone with an indigenous ancestor.

Who is Mr. Bartolomucci of Hogan & Harston? Or, more to the point, who is paying his expenses? I’m more familiar with Mr. Burgess, but I also wonder who is paying his expenses or if he is self-financed.

I also note that the Chair and Vice-Chair of the commission are quoted in the article and say things that lead me to think they will ultimately oppose the Akaka Bill when they make a recommendation “in several months.”

Comments (1)
AG opinions are archived online

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:54 am
Thanks to this post at the LRB blog “First Reading,” I have an interesting new bookmark to browse. The post is a short reminder that the Attorney General regularly compiles their written opinions and they are available online here.

A window into the (legal) minds of the Lingle administration, and of previous administrations, too. AG opinions are, of course, important and more-or-less self-executing, but only until they are superceded by judicial rulings and/or Supreme Court opinions.

Comments (0)

Victim of human rights violation smeared by Hawaii Reporter – Again

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 7:01 pm
The Hawaii Reporter re-opens the political scab concerning Senator Kanno, Representative Cabanilla, and the Representative’s former office manager. After resigning last year, HR today reports he has been hired this sesion to serve as a Committee Clerk for Senator Baker.

The HR post helpfully reminds readers of where the story left off last year (my account of it is here):

Senate Republicans asked the Senate President, Robert Bunda, D-Waialua, to force Kanno to step down as chair of the labor committee – he refused. The Senate Republicans also filed a complaint against Kanno for his actions, asking the state Ethics Commission to determine whether Kanno abused his position and power as a lawmaker. To date, the state Ethics Commission has not issued its ruling.

Don’t hold your breath for that “ruling.” As I posted earlier (regarding Senator Hee’s unrelated matter before the Ethics Commission), the law says this about the Ethics Commission:

It shall render advisory opinions upon the request of any legislator, employee, or delegate to the constitutional convention, or person formerly holding such office or employment as to whether the facts and circumstances of a particular case constitute or will constitute a violation of the code of ethics. If no advisory opinion is rendered within thirty days after the request is filed with the commission, it shall be deemed that an advisory opinion was rendered and that the facts and circumstances of that particular case do not constitute a violation of the code of ethics.

Thus, the complaint against Kanno, now close to a year old, would seem to be moot. Usual disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.

For what I perceive to be purely prurient motivations, Zimmerman excerpts from the salacious details of the allegations filed by the prosecutor in the Phillipines against the man now serving as Senator Baker’s clerk.

Zimmerman, in the one (almost) redeeming part of her post, then acknowledges that after spending many years in a Phillipine prison (and after he was finally released for health reasons):

The United Nations Human Rights Committee sided with Rouse, issuing a written report that said its investigators agreed Rouse was mistreated. They also said Rouse did not receive proper medical attention, was arrested without a warrant and was not fairly tried because the child [sic] was not present for cross-examination, rather his sworn statement obtained by police was used in court.

Zimmerman neglects to add, however, that the alleged victim was never conclusively proven to be a child. More importantly, the victim later retracted the sworn allegations previously given to police and stated that he was not a minor at the time of arrest (see section 2.6 in the link below). The Court failed to consider that new statement, even though (or perhaps because) the statement alleged and implied police and prosecutorial misconduct.

Note: The link to the UN report in the HR piece is mangled, the correct link is here.

I urge you all to read the report, especially the conclusions found in section 7. The UN dismisses a few of his complaints, but on the important topics he was vindicated. Nevertheless, the HR continues to hound him—apparently for the “offense” of simply being a homosexual who wishes to rejoin society and to earn an honest living after being unfairly tried in a corrupt foreign legal system on trumped up and homophobic accusations, cruelly imprisoned for several years, and (now, again) shamed in the media.

A new low, even for the Hawaii Reporter.

UPDATE: Grant Jones also takes time from his busy schedule to pile on, essentially dismissing the UN report altogether.

UPDATE 2: Grant Jones has shown some class and deleted his post. Mahalo!

Comments (2)
Representative Case challenges Senator Akaka

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:57 pm
It’s the big political story, and I still haven’t really wrapped my head around it enough to figure out what to say (plus, it seems to change by the minute). It’s obviously not a complete surprise. Anyway, for today I will simply offer you links to, and my bullet-point summaries of, a sampling of the stories.

Ed Case’s campaign website does not have much content beyond a statement and a page of previous media endorsement blurbs.
Hawaii Reporter has the text of the official statement from Case.
Lee Cataluna’s column stresses the novelty of a Democrat making an important decision without first consulting Senator Inouye.
Basic facts on this year’s Senate race in the Advertiser is just that.
Case’s bid for Senate shakes up Democrats in the Advertiser includes quotes of the reaction of key Democrats, most notably from Senator Inouye and Representative Abercrombie who will support Akaka’s campaign. Inouye also noted that the national Democratic PAC will support Akaka.
Party, Case often at odds in the Advertiser is a short political biography of Case.
Akaka in Congress since 1976 in the Advertsier is a short political biography of Akaka.
Case ensures this won’t be an ordinary election year is a Jerry Burris column that makes a few interesting observations about why Case launched the challenge and what it might mean for the Governor’s race and the race to fill his vacated seat.
Case to oppose Akaka in the SB is Borreca’s report on Case’s newsconference and the ad hoc news conference held by Abercrombie, with a bit of political biography for Case and Akaka.
Candidates line up for U.S. House seat in the SB is an early laundry list of potential candidates (admittedly stale already) that includes State Senators Hanabusa and Hooser, Duke Bainum, Honolulu Councilmember Garcia, and State Representative Schatz.
Dems ’shocked’ but hope voters will rally in the SB is notable mostly for a quote from former Democratic Party treasurer declaring that the competition could be a good chance to show that the party does not “annoint” their candidates.
Case to take on Akaka for U.S. Senate from KHON summarizes the reactions as falling into two basic categories: those who think Case is disloyal and those who think Case is independent.
Who will run for the U.S. House? from KHON mentions only Hanabusa and Hooser, but it was filed early yesterday.
More politicians seek election to U.S. Congress from KHON, now includes State Senator Menor, Mazie Hirono, and State Representative Brian Schatz.
Believe it or not, making my own predictions concerning the odds of specific political campaigns is not something I give a lot of attention. Basically, I don’t have the right kind of insights needed to be good at it, so I probably won’t bother to say much original. Candidates and campaigns are much less interesting to me than actual sitting politicians.

Comments (4)
Kauai Councilmember switches party label to run for House

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:11 pm
The Garden Island News had a story yesterday, and a letter to the editors about the recent announcement that Kauai County Council Vice Chair Jimmy Tokioka will run for the House seat being vacated by the retiring Representative from Kauai, Ezra Kanoho. First, however, Tokioka will switch from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party.

The move comes at the end of a political truce that saw Tokioka essentially waiting his turn to run for the seat.

Kanoho previously announced he will be retiring after completing his 10th consecutive two-year term, and has endorsed Tokioka to become his successor.

“Six years ago I asked Councilmember Tokioka if he was considering running in District 15. His response to me was, ‘Representative Kanoho, you and my dad worked together for many years at Hawaiian Telephone Company, and out of my respect to you and our families, I would never think of running against you for that seat,’” Kanoho said.

“I appreciated that gesture, and I know that with 10 years on the council behind him, Jimmy will make a fine state legislator,” said Kanoho.

That’s all well and good, so far as it goes… but:

How could the GIN neglect to question Tokioka (or Kanoho, for that matter) about that decision to switch party affiliation?! Not that I would necessarily expect a completely frank answer to that question from either man, but even a token response or, “Tokioka would not comment,” would be better than (as it seems) simply neglecting to even ask. Bizarre.

Comments (1)

Law enforcement seeks looser wiretap oversight

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 7:36 pm
The SB editorializes today in support of a Law Enforcement Coalition bill that would make major changes to the wiretap and electronic communication monitoring law. There was a similar bill introduced last year, which passed the Senate (with amendments) but the idea was not heard by the House Judiciary Committee.

The most contentious issue will be whether to make Hawaii’s law consistent with a 35-year-old federal statute and laws in most other states to utilize wiretaps to gather evidence against suspected drug dealers. Federal agencies can acquire warrants for electronic eavesdropping if they can show probable cause that a crime has been, is being or is about to be committed, and that the use of wiretaps will produce evidence of the crime.

Hawaii law requires that the privacy rights of a person targeted for a wiretap be represented by a “devil’s advocate” in closed-door sessions with the judge who will decide whether to issue the warrant. As a result, wiretap warrants “are virtually never used” by state agencies, according to Attorney General Mark Bennett. He says no other state or jurisdiction has such a requirement.

The issue should not be confused with the controversy about the National Security Agency wiretapping American citizens without acquiring warrants for a secret surveillance court. Under the Hawaii proposal, local authorities still would be required to obtain warrants before planting wiretaps. Legislators should approve the change.

Not so fast. The shocking (and, in my opinion and the Congressional Research Service’s opinion illegal) NSA wiretapping is much more egregious than the spying authorized by the PATRIOT Act and FISA Court warrants. However, the wiretaps under PATRIOT and FISA are obtained in a similar manner to what the AG is asking the Legislature to adopt. i.e. The federal law enforcement agents go before a judge, in secret, with no representation provided for the person to be monitored.

Of all the requests for warrants under PATRIOT and FISA, very few (perhaps zero!) have been denied. One has to decide if you believe that the low refusal rate is because the government always presents a strong case, or if the high approval rate of the warrants is chiefly because there are no counterarguments presented. I believe the latter, but the court documents are sealed so that debate is defused before it even starts. However, in light of the shocking paucity of charges (much less convictions) against terrorists, the civil liberties given up to the PATRIOT Act are not buying us additional safety, in my opinion.

The editorial mentions that Hawaii law enforcement does not even try to use the existing adversarial process to obtain warrants. Which makes the argument of a “broken process” a bit hard to swallow. The ACLU testified last year that Hawaii law enforcement used the process only once in a five year period between 1997 and 2002.

According to a U.S. Courts report and state-by-state statistics, Hawaii did not use the process at all in 2003. Why not? Surely, the AG does not propose doing away with the adversarial process throughout the judicial system, but on this intrusive topic they argue that allowing challenges to their wiretap authority is too dangerous. Basically, the AG’s argument boils down to this: he does not trust sworn officers of the court to keep the information divulged at an adversarial hearing secret from the target of the wiretap. By that reasoning, grand juries should be eliminated. Oh yeah, they asked for that change, too. At least they are consistent. Heh.

When the State Senate heard that bill last year, attached to the AG’s testimony were many letters from other Attorneys General from across the United States in support of the Hawaii legislation and warning of the dire consequences of the existing statute if it were in place in their jurisdiction. Those states and their wiretap use figures for 2003 (found in the earlier link) are:

California – 188(!) wiretaps in 2003
New Hampshire – 5
Utah – 4
Wyoming – 0
Nebraska – 0
Montana – wiretaps not authorized by statute
Vermont – wiretaps not auhorized by statute

California is one of the few states (along with NY and NJ), that comprise the vast majority of all reported uses of wiretaps. Most of the 23 states that reported using wiretaps in 2003 only did so a handful of times, yet, according to Bennett, no other state requires an adversarial hearing.

Given that, I do not think that this amendment which the Law Enforcement Coalition seeks will be a very useful tool for law enforcement. Furthermore, in the face of the section of the Hawaii Constitution that grants us a Right to Privacy, I do not think the issuance of wiretap warrants without adversarial hearings is a path worth going down. At the very least, the Coalition needs to have a better argument in favor of this change and some evidence to demonstrate that the current law is unworkable.

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Opening Day from the fringe

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:54 pm
The Hawaii Reporter post about the opening day at the Legislature is openly cynical and partisan, but nevertheless I read it and now direct your attention to these three paragraphs:

Gov. Linda Lingle, in office since 2002, is the first Republican governor to be elected in more than 40 years, however, she often sides with Democrats over the Republicans and leads the way in introducing liberal policies. She will layout her proposals for the last year of her first four-year term on Monday, Jan. 23, 2006.


Both political parties have interesting internal challenges this year, within their own caucuses. Robert Bunda still retains the presidency in the Hawaii State Senate, even after his political enemies attempted to re-organize throughout the session last year and oust him from the position. That fight over who will lead the Senate and chair important committees continues as Democrats are divided 10 to 10 on who will lead, and Republicans, with 5 seats, will not side with either side unless they are rewarded with a chairmanship or vice chairmanship of a committee.

In the House, Republicans are getting to know the newest member of their caucus. Anne Stevens, the former office manager for Sen. Gordon Trimble, was appointed by the governor on Monday, Jan. 16, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which some supporters say is particularly fitting because Stevens is part African-American. Stevens replaced former House Minority Leader Galen Fox, who resigned last year after being convicted of fourth-degree sexual assault for fondling a female passenger sitting beside him on flight from Hawaii to the Mainland U.S.

Uh, what exactly is the “interesting internal challenge” facing the House Republicans, then? The fact that Stevens is part African-American? [scratches head]

On the Senate leadership topic, I remain very doubtful of any center-right coalition forming that would give Republicans a Committee chairmanship or vice-chairmanship (all the Republican Senators are men). Thus, to the extent that you trust Zimmerman’s beau source in the Senate, I would take this to mean there will be no leadership change there.

As for that first paragraph about Lingle, I only quoted it because I enjoy highlighting the frustrations of the “GIH wing” of the Hawaii Republicans. Heh.

Comments (0)
Lingle’s media Svengali; the Hawaii version of Karen Hughes

Filed under:
HI State Politics
HI Media
— Doug @ 5:53 pm
Dan Boylan’s cover story in Midweek about Lenny Klompus suggests to me that Boylan has cultivated a relationship with the Lingle administration that is akin to the relationship Bob Woodward exploits for inside access to the Bush administration. On the surface (like Woodward’s work), the article may seem to be a very generous piece for Klompus and the Governor, but it’s not altogether sycophantic.

Klompus defends his elaborate staging of gubernatorial events with the backdrops on which a key phrase from the governor?s speech is repeated: ?Let?s face it, we live in a fast food world. The whole story on the 5 o?clock news may get only 45 seconds. With the backdrops we?re able to communicate the essence of her message while the governor?s explaining it. You have to reinforce the message.?

Working for Lingle can be trying. ?The best thing about working for the governor,? says Klompus, ?is that she?s a journalist, a terrific writer. The bad thing is she?s a journalist, and an even better editor. Whatever she gets from us, she edits. No press release goes out of here that she doesn?t edit.?

The claim that Lingle edits everything that goes to the media is very interesting, especially if it’s true… Could be reason enough to re-read some of those releases in the archive.

Lingle, however, bridles at the suggestion that photo opportunities are what her administration is all about.

?Those criticisms simply show how hugely successful we?ve been,? she says. ?Those critics resort to personal attacks rather than deal with the issues. We?ve turned the economy around, achieved the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, lowered fees for doing business in the state, produced more housing for people. The public sees that.?

Their vision is certainly helped by Lenny Klompus. Seventy-seven-year-old Francis Lum has worked as the state?s protocol officer for every governor since John A. Burns. ?Lenny plans events that are compatible with Gov. Lingle?s position on the issues,? says Lum. ?He doesn?t send her out on any old thing. He doesn?t waste her time.

?And wherever she goes to speak, he sees to it that everything?s prepared – that the press is there, the right guests, her speech. He?s a great planner. A great organizer.?

Says Jen Rulon, one of the eight members of Klompus?s staff: ?He sets the stage, plans the backdrop. He finds the personal story to make the point. He?s theatrical.

?Lenny gets excited about planning media events. I remember last summer during the Nanakuli brush fires, he arranged for a helicopter to get the governor from the airport out to the Leeward Coast. She was in Hilo, so he had to get her back – all in time for the 5 o?clock news.?

?It?s all about leadership,? says Klompus. ?And I?ve known a lot of great leaders, like UCLA basketball coach John Wooden and North Carolina?s Dean Smith. But I?ve never seen a better leader than Linda Lingle.

?You can?t package anything that has no substance, and the governor is all substance. It?s our job to explain it.?

If you say so, Mr. Klompus.

But it sure seems to me that Klompus’ strategy to showcase Lingle’s claims to “huge success” affirms rather than denies the charge from her critics that the administration is all about photo ops. Klompus’ own staffer provides a perfect example: what was the added expense (and the taxpayer value) of arranging for a helicopter to ferry the Governor to a brushfire — just to beat a newscast deadline?! Last time I checked, the H-1 Freeway and Farrington Highway still lead to Nanakuli, and the Governor does not list “smoke jumper” on her resume…

The second half of the piece is typical MidWeek fluff. Biographical details and the like. Yawn.

Comments (1)
Educators pawing around for drug-sniffing dogs

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:43 pm
The Advertiser has a story today that quotes private school and public school officials who are advocates for canine searches on school grounds.

At a recent school board committee meeting, Ron Okamura, superintendent of the Hana, Lahaina, Lana’i and Moloka’i complexes, said he wanted to move forward with the program in schools on Maui that want it ? if the attorney general would represent any department employee in the event of a lawsuit.

“If an employee is sued in their official capacity, that’s a suit against the state. Then representation is given,” said deputy attorney general Holly Shikada. “The facts and circumstances will determine if representation is provided (in a lawsuit).”

Others suggested a more cautious approach.

Under Hawai’i administrative rules, school officials can search students, lockers or possessions if there is “reasonable” suspicion they have violated the law.

Two Maui schools ? Lahaina Intermediate and Lahainaluna High School ? have shown interest in bringing drug dogs on campus. But Lahaina Intermediate wants the dogs to sweep the campus, not target students.

“We were not talking about having the dog on campus when the students are on campus,” Lahaina Intermediate Principal Marsha Nakamura said. “We’re not trying to confront individual students, but to keep our environment clean.”

Nakamura said targets would be members of the community who hide illicit drugs or other contraband on campus, potentially endangering students.

Nakamura said the dog would never be used to sniff lockers, student backpacks or other student property.

Hmmmm. That policy would probably minimize (but does not eliminate) the civil liberties concerns, but, if you rule out all those types of canine searches, how effective could the resulting program be in reducing contraband? In other words, with those restrictions in place, the program would be more about symbolism than about actually trying to reduce the use/presence of illegal drugs on campus. Not that I’m very surprised to see yet another mostly symbolic shot fired in the War on Drugs…

However, I don’t have much confidence that, Nakamura’s assurances aside, once the dogs are brought onto campus there will never be searches of student property or lockers. Also in this piece, as predicted earlier, a Deputy AG has (tentatively) stepped up to reassure the Lahaina principals that the State will defend any DOE employee sued for implementing the canine searches if “the facts and circumstances” allow. Pretty thin gruel, that.

The debate at the BOE could be interesting and contentious, but I have a hunch they will go forward with it.

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Harry’s in no hurry to decide if he’ll run for governor

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 7:34 pm
An Advertiser piece has some of the most substantive comments I can recall reading from Mayor Harry Kim and his (in)decision about running for Governor.

Kim said he will rely on his instinct and is aware that some in politics already believe he has waited too long. Kim did not announce his 2000 campaign for mayor as a Republican until right before the filing deadline. He officially has until July 25 to file nomination papers with the state for the governor’s race.

Randall Iwase, a former state senator and Honolulu City Council member who is chairman of the state Labor and Industrial Relations Appeals Board, has said he will announce his intentions in the next few weeks. Kim said the public reaction to Iwase, if he enters the race, might influence his thinking.

Kim said he understands, but does not agree with, the emphasis on fundraising in a statewide campaign. Lingle has said she could collect and spend a record $6 million for her re-election campaign. Kim said he would likely not approach a run for governor much differently than his previous campaigns for mayor, which were low-key and limited individual contributions to no more than $10.

“I don’t believe the average voter needs or responds to all this campaign money,” Kim said.

Keep waiting, Mayor Kim, and you’ll put that belief to the test (and/or watch Iwase take the nomination by default). Heh.

I believe Kim is very wrong. Although I, too, lament the emphasis on fundraising which is a necessary burden in a statewide campaign (or, indeed, in almost any scale of campaign), the average voter does respond to campaign spending, incumbency, organization, charismatic ambition, and name recognition. Kim will be very far behind in all those areas if he waits until July to begin his campaign.

Plus, whether it is true or not, Kim’s beginning to look like he is afraid of a fight (both the fight against the Governor and the fight against any potential Democratic rival).

Poop or get off the pot, Mayor. This is boring.

Comments (2)
Big Isle legislators comment on upcoming session

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:55 pm
Two stories in the Hawaii County dailies today (Hawaii Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii Today that are of the same vein as the story from Maui I had praised a few days ago. These articles compile pre-session comments from many of the island’s delegation to the Legislature.

Many of the legislators’ ideas are based on district pork CIP spending for particular schools, health facilities and infrastructure. By and large, the pieces largely downplayed whatever legislation of statewide impact (if any) these lawmakers have in mind.

As noted by Aaron Stene of The Kona Blog, Representative Green commented about Hokulia:

Rep. Josh Green, D-Kailua-Kona, said he would like to secure $12 million to develop a water source for residential and hospital use in North Kona, and $4 million to complete a mauka-makai route between the Kealakehe houselots and the former Laiopua and Kealakehe High School.

“We’re also working with all sides to resolve the Hokulia situation,” said Green. “We’d like to move beyond this impasse and hope it will be resolved this May with the hard work of the Legislature and the cooperation of the plaintiffs and the Oceanside people.”

Green did not elaborate. Stene’s blog follows the twists and turns of the Hokulia saga, and lately it seems as if another blip of judicial action (or further delay) is at hand.

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Lingle has been thrown in the briar patch on GET collection

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:35 pm
The likelihood of Honolulu collecting the GET surcharge for mass transit is poor, judging by this SB story. As I’ve repeated a few times already, the Governor’s pact with the Senate President and the House Speaker was no guarantee of the transfer of that collection duty from the State to the County actually becoming law.

I find it hard to believe that the Lingle administration did not realize the almost purely symbolic nature of that last-minute pact.

It’s likely that the bogus “deal” was made only to give her a sliver of political cover to deflect some of the outrage over the GET surcharge—with the Governor’s team knowing full-well that the GOP true-believers would still pillory her for not vetoing the bill altogether, while at the same time the deal would not divorce Lingle from the pro-transit voters who would have been upset at a veto. The right wing of the GOP is stuck with Lingle, a substantial part of the middle supports rail and really doesn’t care who collects the surcharge, and to the remaining voters she can pitch them a story about her being double-crossed by the Democratic leaders of the Legislature.

Plus, like I said in that earlier post, the “deal” allows Lingle to now trot out the idea of privatization of government tax collection services and force the Legislature (and City Council) to demonstrate the extent of their alleged fealty to the HGEA.

If all this was part of her strategy, then it was pretty darn slick indeed.

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Joe Moore clarifies his opinion

Filed under:
HI Media
— Doug @ 6:08 pm
Joe Moore of KHON has a letter (second item) to the Advertiser editors today. In the letter, he makes it clear that he is not merely content to ride out whatever changes the new owner may have in mind. An excerpt:

I believe it’s fair to say that I, along with many of my fellow employees at KHON, did not swallow the Kool-Aid offered last week by the SJL comptroller during a question-and-answer session with our staff, and have adopted a wait-and-see attitude as to whether the new owners truly plan to operate KHON in the interest of the people of Hawai’i.

At this point, it is also fair to say that my fears for the worst exceed my hopes for the best.

Joe Moore would certainly have no trouble moving to a different anchor desk in Honolulu, so this public chest-thumping is not very risky for him. However, the production staff and junior reporters don’t enjoy that same level of security. They could become very principled, but nevertheless unemployed, newshounds if they don’t “swallow the Kool-Aid.”

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Mayor’s nephew lands newly-created position at TheBus

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 5:58 pm
KITV has story about questions being raised regarding a new job for Mayor Hannemann’s nephew.

T.K. Hannemann is a 20-year city bus employee. He was a bus driver for 15 years and spent the last five working in labor relations for the Teamsters Union, which represents bus drivers and mechanics. He lost his union job at the end of the year and met with Morton [of TheBus] in December.

“I really want someone in labor relations who has been doing it for some time and knows exactly what the job of a bus driver is,” Morton said.

Some bus employees who refused to be identified said the newly-created job is “fishy” because it was never advertised, so no one else could apply and because T.K. Hannemann is the mayor’s nephew.

“I think it was good choice and I don’t think it would have been fair to not consider him because he’s related to the mayor,” Morton said.

The mayor’s spokesman said his nephew did not ask for or receive the mayor’s help in getting The Bus [sic] job[.

Merely by sharing that well-known name, T.K. really doesn’t need to ask for any special help, of course. No matter how his application and appointment was handled, some amount of “fishiness” would be perceived even if not actually present.

More interesting to me is the question of why the Teamsters let him go. If he was doing labor relations for the Teamsters, he will now be “relating” with his replacement at the Teamsters from the other side of the table. He knows the inside of both organizations, which is a pretty good position to be in, to put it mildly.

The Teamsters might not be too thrilled at this development. Especially if they let Hannemann go after a falling out of some kind.

Comments (0)

Property tax appeal deadline looms

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 5:57 pm
If you’re planning to appeal your property tax assessment, an Advertiser article provides a reminder of the deadline and a few pointers.

At least 400 more homeowners than last year have appealed the city’s property value assessments and at least 2,000 more appeals are likely to be processed after today’s deadline, a city official said.

As of Friday, 1,800 appeals have been registered and the bulk of the challenges are expected to arrive in the mail this week, said Gary Kurokawa, administrator of the city’s Real Property Assessment Division.

Those who appeal must provide a reason for the challenge based on the grounds listed on the form that was included in the mid-December mailing sent to 273,000 property owners.

Kurokawa said most people say that the city’s assessment goes more than 10 percent over the market value of the property. He urges those appealing to remember to state what they believe the value should be and submit a signed check for $25.

And he reminds owners that being unhappy with the estimated tax amount isn’t grounds for appeal.



? The assessed value is 10 percent more than the property?s true value.

? Your property was not treated the same as your neighbors.

? You were denied an exemption to which you were entitled and you filed on time.

? You believe property taxes are unconstitutional.

I’m a renter, so I could be forgiven for ignoring this. However, this article raises many more questions than it answered. For starters: How many appeals are typically successful? What is the typical reduction of a successful appeal? How long does the appeal process take (the article includes anecdotes where the appeals drag on for years)?

Then, without getting too postmodern, what is a “property’s true value?” Is it what it would fetch on the resale market, its sentimental value, what the owner paid for it, its “highest and best use,” or something else? It seems strange that the City allows itself a 10% cushion between a property’s “true” and assessed value, but whatever.

Finally, regarding the challenges based on a belief in the un-constitutionality of property taxes, have there actually been successful appeals based on that argument, or is exercising that ground for appeal essentially throwing away a $25 filing fee in a purely symbolic protest? It would seem to me that if property taxes were ever found to be unconstitutional for even one appeal, then all other appeals would prevail on that basis…

Again, the usual disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer.

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Classifieds looking over shoulder at craigslist

Filed under:
HI Media
— Doug @ 5:53 pm
The PBN has a timely article about craigslist and the effect it has on classified advertising in the local dailies.

So far, Craigslist hasn’t taken a serious bite out of local newspaper revenue. As the state’s largest daily, and with the most extensive classifieds, The Honolulu Advertiser stands to lose the most if free online ads gain traction.

“It hasn’t had a measured impact on our classifieds at this point, although we do keep track of it,” said Mike Fisch, president and publisher of the Advertiser. “Certainly any new services that compete with us is something that we watch carefully.”

Fisch said classified advertising in the Advertiser has grown in each of the last three years, primarily because of the reach of its Sunday edition. In each of those years, overall advertising revenue grew between 5 percent and 7 percent, he said.


“If people are going to get results and they can pay less, that’s where they’re going to go. That’s certainly why the Craigslists of the world are seeing results,” said David Kennedy, vice president of marketing for the Honolulu Star- Bulletin and MidWeek. “The word will spread here too, it’s just taking a little longer.”

Kennedy said the Star-Bulletin and MidWeek also have seen little impact from Craigslist, but that’s mostly because classified advertising is dominated by the Advertiser. Classified ads for the Star-Bulletin and MidWeek account for “nowhere near” 30 percent of revenue, Kennedy said, but he declined to give a specific amount.

I’m a craigslist believer. I bought a used motorcycle through it (and got a great deal) and I recently sold one of my bicycles using it. The motorcycle ad had several photos, so I could tell right away if the description was, uh, too generous (it was not). My bicycle sold in less than 10 hours and I had two buyers literally racing each other to my door!

Plus, “free” is always good. Heh.

Oh, and I make a habit of occasionally checking the “best-of-craigslist” section where you find gems like this.

WARNING: Some adult content at craigslist, blah, blah, blah.

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Lingle education ideas should get close look

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:52 pm
The Advertiser editorializes today in support of the ideas put forward by the Governor at the weekend HSTA conference. Near the end, the paper purports to question one aspect of Lingle’s message (about her call for lowering the assessment standards), but in actuality there is little difference of opinion.

Yes, our standards are high, but that should be a source of pride. Lingle proposes lowering the standards so more schools will be able to show progress.

Rather than lower the standards, the state should work for greater flexibility in the manner in which schools are measured, such as not judging an entire school by the performance of a particular sub-group.

In other words, the state should manufacture the impression of better progress by removing the low performers? Forgive me, but I say that is equivalent to lowering the standards. Also, the cryptic ambiguity of using the phrase “particular sub-group” makes me a bit uneasy.

Which “particular sub-group” is the Advertiser suggesting should be “Left Behind?” I dunno.

Comments (0)
Senator’s aide named to House

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:48 pm
At almost the very last possible moment, the Governor has named a replacement for Galen Fox. She has appointed Anne Stevens to serve as Representative from the 23rd House district. Advertiser story here, and SB story here. Compared to the Harbin debacle, this is boring stuff. So far. Heh.

Awww shucks, to bad for Kristi. I did hear that she recently won a beauty scholarship contest, though…

Comments (0)

Economic analysts discuss the nascent state budget

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 11:36 am
The SB offers some discussion of the budget surplus in this article that also includes comments from the Chair of the Council on Revenues and from market analysts at Moody’s and S&P (two firms that set the bond ratings for debt issued by the State).

From what is included in the article, it would seem that Mr. Brewbaker of the Council on Revenues considers some of the Governor’s (still vague) tax cuts and credits “ill-advised,” although he does support correcting “distortions” such as the standard income tax deduction and setting aside a rainy-day fund (though he implies Lingle’s proposal is perhaps too small). On the other hand, Brewbaker seems to be slightly more in favor of the Democrat’s proposals to spend on infrastructure.

In May, Moody’s Investor Service upgraded the state’s rating for general obligation bonds, the type issued with the understanding that a municipality will be able to pay them back with taxes or other revenue.

The company bases its ratings on a number of factors, including the area’s economy, the debt it already has and management strategies, said Lisa Tibbitts, spokeswoman for rating at Moody’s.

“It’s rare that you can put your finger on one factor” that pushes a rating up or down, she said.

Among the financial strengths listed by the company in announcing the upgrade were Hawaii’s growing revenues, strong housing market and low unemployment. To move up, Hawaii would need an economy with a strong foothold in industries besides tourism. It also would have to maintain a balanced budget and get control of expenditures, especially rising Medicare costs, according to Moody’s.

Another smart thing for states or local governments to do when they find themselves with extra revenue is to build reserves, particularly if the economy is dependent upon a fluctuating industry, said Gabe Petek, a credit analyst specializing in Hawaii at Standard & Poor’s.

I would sure be interested to know what Brewbaker, Petek, and Tibbitts would have had to say about the upcoming required changes in accounting standards (that I posted about yesterday) and what effect that will have on our credit rating in their estimation. I guess we will learn that soon enough…

Comments (0)
Maui delegation previews Lege session

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 10:35 am
The Maui News has two useful stories (focusing on the House and Senate) where they contacted all of the members of the Maui delegation to the state legislature. I liked it when the Maui News wrote a similiar article after then end of the 2005 session, and I like these articles, too, even though they only speak in broad themes and bullet points.

This regional perspective (and soliciting comments from the lower-profile legislators, especially) is something I’d like to see from all over the state.

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Probe into inmate’s Ky. death next week

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 10:15 am
The Advertiser carries a brief AP story to update us on the follow-up to the Hawaii inmate who recently after falling ill at a Kentucky private prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America.

A spokesman for the Hawai’i Department of Public Safety, Michael Gaede, said an autopsy found she died of natural causes. Dr. Tracey Corey, a state medical examiner, said in an interview that her death had no public health implications for other inmates.

The Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA said that a review of Ah Mau’s medical records found that her care was “appropriate and provided promptly, in a quality manner.”

Gaede said medical records show Ah Mau complained twice between Thanksgiving and Christmas of stomach pain and was treated with castor oil for constipation.

Compare that to the earlier KHON report:

The prison told the coroner it was a heart attack. The coroner says no way.

“I have a short, heavy-set Hawaiian lady who definitely did not die of a heart attack,” says the coroner.

Two other inmates have recently been admitted to the hospital – one source says was suffering for awhile from pneumonia. Sources inside the prison, and Sarah Ah Mau herself, told relatives several women hadn’t been able to kick what they called a bad flu since early December.

The Kentucky state medical examiner told the coroner she’s concerned.

“She gave me the impression that she thinks there might be some kind of virus going around the prison there,” says the coroner.

The coroner says the prison may be ignoring a contagious problem by trying to portray Ah Mau’s death as a heart attack.

So, at least the possibility of a virus nows appears unlikely. But for the KY medical examiner to say the death has no public health implications for other inmates may be epedimiologically true, but that is almost beside the point. It seems the larger “public health threat” to the inmates could be the quality of health care provided by CCA, rather than any particular communicable disease.

I’m not a doctor, but I’m dubious if castor oil is still (or ever was) considered state-of-the-art medical care for constipation. Stepping back further, is constipation the usual diagnosis for someone complaining of the symptoms described by Ah Mau’s relatives? According to CCA, all this care was “appropriate.” Coming from someone facing potential liability, that statement is hardly reassuring. As far as that goes, the State could also face some liability for this death if there were any wrongdoing found. Thus, the fact that DPS is conducting this investigation is not exactly reassuring, either.

Comments (1)
State plans to slash payroll tax for 2 years

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 9:33 am
PBN seems to have scored a scoop with this story about a newly-bipartisan proposal to “slash” Hawaii payroll taxes for two years.

Hawaii’s 30,000 businesses are in for a big windfall – a huge cut in payroll taxes for at least the next two years.

In a rare show of election-year unanimity, Democrats and Republicans say they will support efforts during the legislative session to greatly reduce the tax that employers pay into the state’s unemployment insurance fund.

A typical Hawaii business with 30 employees could see its payroll tax cut from close to $30,000 a year to $6,000.

The article appears to be correct in identifying the election year motivations behind the change in Democratic opinion. Compare this year:

In an effort to show they are even more pro-business than the governor, the Democrats who control the Legislature wanted to do away with the tax for two years, but discovered that federal law requires states to collect a minimum amount.


“We don’t want to give money accumulated in the fund back, but we don’t want businesses to pay any more money into it,” said Rep. Kirk Caldwell, D-Manoa, chairman of the House Labor and Public Employment Committee.

Many legislators are up for re-election this year and some of the House Democrats who weren’t enthusiastic about the measure last year say they now think a brief tax holiday for businesses would work because it’s clear the economy will continue expanding for at least several years.

“There’s strong support for it because it makes so much sense,” said Caldwell, who was against the plan last year.

..vs last year:

Gov. Linda Lingle and Republicans had pushed to cut the unemployment tax last year, but House Democrats blocked the effort, saying they didn’t want to shortchange the fund in the event the unemployment rate increased. They also said it made more sense to save the money now, during prosperous times, and give businesses a break later if the economy stalled.

So, if this isn’t an election year ploy, then which is it—tax relief makes more sense during hard times or good times? Heh.

To be an equal-opportunity cynic, I also note this wishful thinking from the Republicans:

James Hardway, spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, said the administration hopes that companies will use the savings from the lower tax rate to “pay for extra benefits such as health care.”

I wouldn’t bet on that. The proposal (for now) only lowers the payroll tax for two years. Short of extending that sunset date, how would the employer pay for those extra benefits when the tax goes back to the current level? It’s much more likely that this temporary windfall won’t trickle down very far.

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Lingle’s advisor sketches out ideas on affordable housing

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 9:00 am
Another interesting affordable housing article at the Advertiser today. Since the article announces that the Joint Legislative Affordable Housing and Homeless Task Force will be releasing its report this week, I’ll just focus on the comments from the Lingle administration in this post and speak to the Legislators’ response later.

Lingle has proposed using $20 million of the state surplus to repair and expand homeless shelters operated by private groups.

Linda Smith, the governor’s senior policy adviser, said there are nine separate state funds set up to build affordable housing, but year after year the money has been raided for other needs and homes have not been built.

“Since 1995, slightly over $200 million has been taken out of these funds for uses other than housing,” Smith said. “If people ask why we haven’t had a lot of affordable housing, that is one of the first places to look. We want to specifically prohibit the transfer of monies out of these funds.”

The administration also would like to increase the percentage of tax money going into the Rental Housing Trust Fund and to broaden the definition of what these funds can be used to build.

Affordable homes are generally for people making 80 percent or below of the median income level of $62,000 a year for a family of four, Smith said. Lingle would like those funds available to build homes for people earning up to 140 percent of that amount, about $94,000.

“It sounds like a lot of money for a family of four, but it is really a teacher and a firefighter,” Smith said. “They are the ones that have been squeezed out. They are making too much money to be able to qualify for low-income housing, but make too little money to qualify for market housing.

“That is the gap group that she really believes should be addressed.”

Without any details provided, I would be inclined to agree with Smith that $20 million for homeless shelters and tighter controls on the money already being set aside for affordable housing are worthy proposals. I question the Governor’s proposal to provide affordable housing to those making up to 140% of the median income.

The administration has obviously given careful thought and has put forward a very sympathetic hypothetical family ("a teacher and a firefighter") to illustrate her case, but, in the end, it is purely a judgment call as to which income group “should be addressed.” Is that family really more deserving than, say, “a waitress and a groundskeeper?” Lingle’s example would be more likely to vote and to be unionized, I’ll say that much. Heh.

I think a better idea would be to set aside portions of the available units for buyers at different income levels. That way the “gap group” does not simply push the median and sub-median income families further from the hope of buying a home. Perhaps Smith et al would need help on the mathematics behind such an idea, haha.

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Former Kauai councilmember will oppose Baptiste for Mayor

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 8:32 am
The SB has two stories from Kauai at this link. The first story is about the pending retirement of Representative Kanoho (10-days stale). The other story at the link is about Jesse Fukushima and his bid for Kauai Mayor against incumbent Brian Baptiste (which is also months stale).

Nothing much new in the Kanoho piece, but there are some interesting comments from Fukushima.

The three major issues affecting Kauai, as Fukushima sees it, are traffic, real property taxes and affordable housing.

While traffic is not really an issue for the mayor, since most of it concerns the Garden Isle’s state highways, more consistent lobbying efforts are needed to get a bigger slice of state funds. Kauai has grown economically in the past few years, but residents have suffered from high prices and taxes.

While the County Council has been trying to curtail tax rates, Fukushima said, “the appraisal lies strictly with the administration.”

He said leadership is his major qualification.

“I think any candidate … the basic question is we all care,” Fukushima said. “How we care is the question mark we put out to the voters.”

Wow, I hope that poorly-phrased final statement was not a prepared remark. Awwwwkward.

More to the substance, It’s a bit strange how Fukushima characterizes traffic as one of the major issues affecting Kauai, but then immediately claims that the most likely solution is more state highway funding. It’s as if he believes nothing could be done at the County level, where, for example, a Mayor could guide plans for future development on Kauai to proceed in ways that will minimize the traffic congestion. Whatever.

Next, his curious comment about the administration (i.e. the office he is running for) being responsible for the appraisals that comprise one half of the property tax calculation. Thus, essentially implying that he will appraise property values lower if the Council does not (or does) adjust property tax rates. That’s a novel approach, for sure, but I don’t think it would take long for the Council to short-circuit it. For starters, I’m not sure how much discretion is afforded to the Mayor and his administration when it comes to establishing the formula used to appraise property values.

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Happy Birthday, Dad!

Filed under:
— Doug @ 10:25 am
Thinking of you today, Pops! I will see you in a few months. Please, stay healthy and keep having fun.

Comments (0)
Surplus? What surplus?

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Honolulu Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 10:16 am
The SB runs a fairly boilerplate editorial calling for tax relief to be an important part of how the Legislature chooses to deal with the millions in surplus State tax revenues expected. Meanwhile, over at the Advertiser, there is a fascinating op-ed by Jerry Burris where he argues that all this talk of tax cuts and spending on long-delayed and -neglected programs could be premature.

Okay, I’ll admit that I was goaded into reading a little more closely when Burris wrote this:

Over the years, the state has done a good job of reducing the unfunded liability in its pension plan largely by giving up the short-sighted habit of siphoning off excess money from the pension fund for immediate expenses elsewhere in the budget.

But now comes word from something called the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (nicknamed Gazby) that says government jurisdictions must shortly begin reporting and preparing for other post-employment benefits, which largely means healthcare benefits.

(For those with a terminally geek interest in these matters, look it up as Governmental Accounting Standards Board Statement No. 45).

That’s me, dear reader! haha.

I’ve heard quiet rumblings about this from national sources, but this is the first time I’ve noticed the issue mentioned locally. The GASB would require governments to calculate and report the costs of future (non-pension, because pension benefits are already covered) benefits for government employees.

How Do Governments Currently Finance Postemployment Benefits?

In general, postemployment benefits are financed in one of two ways. Some governments follow an actuarial approach, which entails paying to a pension or OPEB plan an amount that is expected to be sufficient, if invested now, to finance the benefits of employees after they are no longer working for the government. This approach is commonly followed for determining pension contributions.

For [Other Post Employment Benefits] (OPEB), however, most governments currently follow a pay-as-you-go approach, paying an amount each year equal to the benefits distributed or claimed in that year. The new OPEB standards do not mandate the funding of OPEB benefits (in other words to set aside assets in advance to pay benefits in the future). As noted above, they address accounting and financial reporting issues only.

In spite of that, Burris’ column and the comments he reports from Speaker Say imply that the actual assets to fund these future benefits are required to be set aside in advance (i.e. as is done in the actuarial approach described above). I suppose that may be true, to the extent that failure to do so would cripple bond ratings. ??

Forcing governments to look at the long-term impact of such benefits on the budget could boost annual contributions by five to 10 times, some actuaries estimate.

House Speaker Calvin Say, who is looking closely at this issue, says the outside “bill” under this accounting standard for Hawai’i could be as much as $3 billion. So much for the surplus.

In Honolulu, Mayor Mufi Hannemann says this new requirement is a major reason he wants to begin building up a so-called “rainy day” or “fiscal stability reserve” fund.

The new standards, which governments really have no choice but to accept (if they wish to keep good bond ratings and “clean” ratings from the auditors), kick in for the state and the larger counties at the end of this year.

Say said there is nothing in Gov. Linda Lingle’s supplementary budget that reflects this new obligation, but he said the attorney general’s office is studying the matter.

The short-term upshot is that governments will soon have to begin setting aside more money every year against future bills for healthcare for their retirees. The amounts will be substantial.

That means less to spend on schools, roads, parks and other public services.

But long term, the impact of this change may mean a rethinking of the range of healthcare services available for government retirees and, indeed, the general public.

“This forces us to think,” Say said. “Should we move to socialized medicine?”

I know this much: it would be tempting political suicide for the Governor, Mayor Hannemann, or legislators to propose reducing (or eliminating) government retiree healthcare benefits. But, is that enough to make socialized medicine palatable to elected leaders?

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Fox replacement still unknown; one hopeful writes again

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 9:06 am
The session starts on Wednesday, and still we don’t know who the Governor intends to appoint to fill the House seat vacated by the resignation of Galen Fox. There is another Letter to the Editor in the Advertiser today from one of those seeking the job.



It is obvious that early childhood education is a great asset to social and academic development. But we have to ask ourselves if we can afford it.

As the state is learning, throwing more money and positions at the Department of Education isn’t reinventing our public schools. Can we expect to provide an adequate preschool foundation for Hawai’i’s keiki if we cannot care for the essential, core public education system?

Kristi Sue-Ako

We’ll see if the flow of banal letters from her continues if she is not appointed. Heh.

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Teachers meet with Governor – Lingle’s team flunks math test

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 8:55 am
The Governor attended a conference of the Hawaii State Teachers’ Association yesterday and the SB and the Advertiser were there. The SB piece focuses on the Governor’s critique of Hawaii standardized tests being too difficult and the resulting impact on teacher and student morale.

“It is a difficult test,” [BOE member Watanabe] said. “If you want to look good, we can make it so easy that everyone could pass. As an educator, I don’t know if that’s what I’d like to see. Our kids are now having to compete on a world market.”

State Education Department spokesman Greg Knudsen, who was not at the conference, said he did not want to respond directly to Lingle’s comments. But he did say Hawaii has been recognized as having high standards.

He also said the standards are in line with the intent of the federal law.

“It’s not appropriate to lower standards simply to allow more students to reach a watered-down definition of proficiency,” he added. “Our results aren’t what we want them to be, but the standards … still seem to be a worthwhile goal.”

Lingle told HSTA delegates that her own senior policy advisers took the fifth-grade Hawaii math test and could not pass it.

“I am supporting making the standards more in line with what the children need to know to be able to read and write and multiply, subtract and divide,” she said. “Right now the standards are broader and are not focused on core proficiencies of the students.”

Okay, now I really would like to see what is tested in Hawaii’s fifth-grade math test, haha.

The SB article does not make it clear, but the BOE and DOE are responsible for setting the content/difficulty of the Hawaii assessment standards. The Governor certainly has no control over the standards, beyond her power of the bully pulpit, that is.

… Lingle touched on an sensitive issue for many educators: the No Child Left Behind Act, a federal law which is meant to improve student achievement by holding schools accountable for test results in reading and math through high school.

Lingle pointed out how some states had received high state test marks by making their local assessment standards “ridiculously low.” Hawai’i, by contrast, did the opposite under a previous administration when it burdened itself with “ridiculously high standards that can never be met.”

Hawai’i, she noted, has performed satisfactorily on the federal portions of the tests.

“You know that No Child Left Behind didn’t set the standards. We set the standards. Whatever position we’re in today, we put ourselves in this position,” Lingle said.

Lingle suggested reassessing the assessment standards to make them more realistic. The DOE and the Board of Education should stop being “afraid of being accused of dumbing down the tests.”

During a question-and-answer session, Karolyn Mossman, National Education Association director for Hawai’i, said she agreed with much of what Lingle had said about Hawai’i’s high standards. But she added, “We also must send a message to Washington that No Child Left Behind has some flaws in it.”

In response, Lingle said, “I’m not worried about a message to Washington. I’m worried about a message to Kalihi and Hana … I want a message here to our teachers and our principals that help is on the way.” She added, “We need to narrow our focus right now here at home, put the politics on the side.”

What an interesting response. The NCLB Act was based upon tough and lofty rhetoric of setting high standards and having faith in the ability of each child to succeed, as I recall. Talk is cheap, of course, and the President and Congress are widely acknowledged to have fallen well short on the funding for the ambitious ideals of NCLB. Now, when the testing shows that the high standards are going unfulfilled and the federal help is (still) not forthcoming, the Governor is worried about the message this sends … to Kalihi and Hana? I don’t think that’s what is really going on.

To dumb down the Hawaii tests would be to obscure the failures of the NCLB Act; and here is the message Lingle would send to Washington, “Pssst, we’ll cover for you guys.” The message to Kalihi and Hana is, “Pay no attention to the flawed federal law behind the curtain. We’re okay with your failing scores so long as the shortfalls of NCLB and the gradual creep towards school vouchers remains unnoticed.”

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Ships jam harbor; winds disrupt schedule

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 8:08 am
Not an overtly political story, but this Maui News article obvioulsy has (further) possible implications for the efficient operation of the Hawaii Superferry at Kahului Harbor.

[Harbormaster] Pfister has been engaged in this watery version of musical chairs more and more in recent months. In just the last two fiscal years alone, Pfister said harbor traffic has increased by 50 percent.

?The bottom line is that I fill up this harbor 49 percent of the time in a 24-hour period,? said Pfister.

That traffic load doesn?t include the arrival of the Hawaii Superferry, which has plans to make daily visits to the harbor beginning in the spring of 2007.

This week?s overcrowding extended even onto land. Because the Young Brothers overflow yard at the end of Puunene Avenue is being resurfaced, all of the containers usually stacked up in that area have been moved. Many of them have been relocated to the apron area of Pier 3, making for close quarters for everyone.

With the Great Land rolling off and rolling on vehicles, Pfister said he had cars ?all over the place.?

?I?ve got a gaggle of cars,? he said. ?I don?t know what?s going to happen when the poor tourists try to park their rental cars (later in the day). We?ll have to deal with that, too.?

I can only wonder where the Superferry would rank in priority compared to the other harbor users. I would assume, with passengers on board, a ferry woud take precedent over cargo traffic in the fight for access to the dock, but who knows.

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Legislator spotting guide

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 7:38 am
It’s an annual newspaper ritual—a headshot and contact information for the (sitting) members of the Legislature. Available in PDF form here from the SB.

A few things that I noted that may or may not mean anything:

relatively few legislators publish their home telephone numbers; and
Representative Harbin is the only (non-leadership, non-committee chair) legislator that has only one committee assignment. I seem to remember her asking for zero, but I don’t have a link.
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Waimea valley owner squeezes buyers for almost triple amount

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 9:57 am
Much trimuphant news about a deal that appears to have been reached ending the uncertainty over the condemnation of Waimea valley. Reports in the Advertiser, Star-Bulletin and a sketchy (early) segment at KITV.

Originally the City had put $5.1 million into escrow for this condemnation process, but the owner then began to insist on 10s of millions. Luckily for the city, there were others with deep pockets almost tripping over themselves to make up the difference. OHA will get title to the land, and the Nature Conservancy will continue to operate the park.

The settlement amount includes $5.1 million the city paid in 2001 at the start of a condemnation lawsuit. The remaining $9 million will come from the U.S. Army (via the Trust for Public Lands), Office of Hawaiian Affairs, state Department of Land and Natural Resources, and National Audubon Society.

Hannemann praised and thanked the agencies, city officials, organizations and the landowner. “When it was made clear to me that we appeared to be short to bring about a settlement, I contacted both the Trust for Public Lands and the Army,” he said. “Because of the very positive relationship we had with them in the preservation of Pupukea, I thought this might be a unique opportunity for them to come forward.”

Beyond perserving the valley for all of Oahu to enjoy, this is a pretty major political coup for Mayor Hannemann. I am surprised that the Army played a role in this, since I had never heard them included among the interested parties until this announcement. Self-interested or not, I’m curious about the Army-TPL connection.

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Taylorism visits the television world

Filed under:
HI Media
— Doug @ 9:33 am
Some very interesting points made in this SB editorial about the purchase and technical staff firings at KHON.

Massive layoffs at KHON-TV by the station’s new owners threaten to lessen Hawaii’s television news competition in the short term. That’s a disturbing prospect, but on the plus side the sale of the company means the end of one company owning two of the four network-affiliated stations. Personnel moves among the stations in the weeks ahead should clarify the competition vital to robust local media.

The Federal Communications Commission allowed Alabama-based Raycom Media Inc. to own two TV stations in the same market when it acquired KHNL and KFVE. The FCC’s 1998 waiver allowing the purchase of KHON and KGMB by Indiana-based Emmis Communications was more bothersome because they are affiliated with major networks, Fox and CBS respectively.

Emmis put the two stations up for sale last May and announced three months ago that KHON was being sold to a venture of California-based SJL Broadcast Group and Blackstone Group, a New York investment firm. A buyer has not been found for KGMB, but FCC rules require that it be sold to a separate company.

A waiver of those rules would be inappropriate. SJL has a history of operating two stations in the same market, according to J.R. Rothschild, assistant business manger of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1260, which represents KHON’s technical employees. That should not be allowed in Honolulu.

I agree that ownership consolidation is bad for news-gathering and is a setback for the proliferation of different editorial viewpoints. However, I don’t think that Mr. Rothschild of the IBEW should focus too much on the question of who will buy the station because the IBEW is not out of the woods as far as further threats to the members’ jobs.

I say this because whoever ends up buying KGMB (and, for that matter, the current owners of KITV, KFVE and KHNL) could be contemplating the same cost-saving (and profit-maximizing) automation that SJL is going ahead with at KHON. I’d be interested to hear what this automation means to the audience (if anything). i.e. If I watched television news (I do not), could I even tell the difference?

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A $50 regisitration fee well-saved

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 9:09 am
The Hawaii Reporter has a post describing the Small Business Hawaii conference that I was curious about last week. I had been especially interested to hear the debate on the small business impact of the Akaka Bill, but it seems there was very little debating done on the topic:

Sandra Puanani Burgess and Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Rowena Akana participated in a debate over the Akaka Bill: Whether the federal legislation is right for Hawaii and whether it will help or hurt small businesses.

Akana, who has lobbied for the Akaka Bill in Washington D.C., focused on telling the audience what the Akaka Bill will mean for Hawaii – i.e. federal recognition. She said the “economic ramifications” of the bill, would be good for Hawaii. “We sell Aloha spirit here. The state is dependent upon tourism. Our state must preserve the Hawaiian culture,” she said noting the bill will allow Hawaiians to form a sovereign government. She maintained that once the bill is passed, Hawaiians will not be able to do much of anything unless the federal government and the state government approve.

Sandra Puanani Burgess told business owners that the Akaka Bill will hurt their businesses if they are non-Hawaiian because Hawaiian businesses owners, under the Akaka Bill, will be able to avoid paying state and federal taxes and not be subject to the same regulations for their businesses including paying minimum wage or adhering to environmental regulations imposed on all other businesses. This, says Burgess, will allow Hawaiian business owners to make a much bigger profit than the businesses they are in competition with.

In addition, political contributions can freely flow to lawmakers from native Hawaiians, as is currently happening with many Native American Indian tribes, allowing native groups to have tremendous influence with politicians who “cannot say no” to the contributions.

Burgess, who is part Hawaiian, says she does not believe she should be privy to special political powers, rights, tax free benefits and powerful political influence just because of her race and who her parents are. “That is morally wrong,” Burgess says.

That could have been an interesting debate, but as far as I can tell from the post, it was merely two consecutive speeches.

Oh, and there was also this random nugget under the heading of “Small businesses share their challenges, success stories:”

Gino Godinet of Access Lifts Hawaii agreed his success comes from his employees – even though some of his employees recently voted to unionize his shop. Seventeen years ago, Godinet says he was inspired to open his business, because his mother was unable to get out of her home.

Zimmerman never misses an opportunity to jab at unionized workers—even when the employer attributes the success of his business to the employees. Heh.

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Privatized GET collection scheme is deferred

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 5:34 pm
Much more today about the stalled effort at the Honolulu City Council to approve a MOU authorizing a privatization effort for GET collections. First, from an Advertiser report:

Council member Ann Kobayashi, chairwoman of the Budget Committee, said the city does not have the capability to collect the tax. And under current law, it doesn’t have to.

“It is premature to do a memorandum of agreement since the Legislature still has not taken action on authorizing the city to collect,” Kobayashi said.

Others, like Councilman Romy Cachola, worry that the agreement could adversely affect government workers and collective bargaining. He said yesterday that he wants the state to continue collecting the tax.

But Randy Perreira, deputy executive director of the Hawai’i Government Employees Association, said the plan would have no effect on the existing government workforce. Instead, he said the proposal is “stupid.”

“It’s bad public policy to have a third party ? the private sector ? doing what is the basic and fundamental function of the government,” Perreira said.

It is easier and makes more sense for the state to continue to collect the general excise tax, he said.

Council action on the proposal to privatize the collection of the surcharge was deferred at Wednesday’s hearing by the Budget Committee. It will likely not be heard again until the Legislature is poised to change the current law, Kobayashi said.

As it stands now, the state would collect the surcharge, keeping 10 percent of it for administrative purposes, Kobayashi said.

Speaking of that, if the Governor (and/or those that side with her) was peeved that the State would retain 10% of the GET surcharge to administer the collection, imagine how people will feel when they realize that a private company would be getting a cut of their GET. Furthermore, since the private company would be collecting all of the GET revenues, a collection fee of even a tiny percentage could be a big windfall for whoever wins that contract. [Which begs the question, who would get to award this contract, the Governor or the Mayor? Heh.]

[DOTAX Director] Kawafuchi said yesterday that the [MOU] agreement is preparation for when the surcharge collection function is ultimately transferred to the city based on an agreement between legislative leadership and the governor.

“We’re proceeding on the deal that has been cut,” Kawafuchi said.

He also said privatization would be a “win-win situation for everyone.” Government workers are “overburdened” and the agreement would reduce the volume of work, he said. Businesses would win by writing one tax payment check to one place, he said.

But Kobayashi, a former state legislator, said the city doesn’t need to make this agreement, at least not at this time. She said the deal between the legislative leadership and the governor was that the leadership would introduce the legislation to give the county the authority to collect tax.

“They can’t say that the Legislature will pass it because you just never know. The leaders can’t speak for the body,” Kobayashi said.


But take a closer look at Kawafuchi’s “win-win situation” claim. First Kawafuchi mentions “overburdened” government employees would be relieved of their GET collection duties, which I’m sure the employees won’t consider to be a big “win” if it costs them a job (and, if it does not result in any staff reductions, then I fail to see how it would save any money or otherwise be a “win” for anybody but DOTAX employees); and then Kawafuchi mentions that businesses would only have to write one payment check, which is the same as what would happen with the status quo, so I don’t see how that’s a big “win.” This scheme would be a “win” for getting the privatization camel’s nose into the State and County government tents, though. That is what really is at play here, in my opinion.

Governor Lingle repeats the “this is an approach to avoid two excise tax bills” red herring, and Mayor Hannemann adds another rational reminder in the SB article on this topic.

State and city officials said that if the city is going to collect the tax, they wanted to find a way to avoid having taxpayers pay two excise bills.

“We thought that was the right approach so that taxpayers weren’t filing two times – that’s what this arrangement allows us to do,” Lingle said yesterday. “We don’t want to burden taxpayers any more than they already are, and it also keeps the state out of the collection of a tax that is not ours.”

Lingle said she believes that with this collection system idea, it will be easier for the Legislature to approve the change in who will collect the new tax.

Hannemann said, however, that he continues to believe the state is in a better position to collect the tax because it already has a general excise tax collection system in place.

“So we’ll do as much as we can to ensure that the city is collecting it, but at the end of the day, if this all falls apart, the state’s got to collect it,” Hannemann said.

Finally, the SB editors might actually share my constitutionality doubts from yesterday.

The Hawaii Government Employees Association, the state’s largest public workers union, is opposed to the plan since it would eliminate a number of jobs and possibly violate collective bargaining agreements. A union grievance would surely complicate the matter and possibly stymie progress on the city’s transit project.

Such a radical endeavor would seem to require a legislative change. The city-state plan appears to exceed the authority of both administrations. Even if the City Council approves the plan, it remains questionable whether the change is lawful.

No kidding?

Comments (1)
New Hilo TV station

Filed under:
HI Media
— Doug @ 5:24 pm
Overshadowed on Oahu by the KHON ownership change/staff layoff story, but from the Hawaii Tribune-Herald there is this article about a new television station that will begin transmitting this week.

HILO 5 TV is billing itself as “local weather and so much more,” and the island’s only non-cable station to feature local programming, Kevin Culbertson said.

The station’s Pepeekeo transmitter was activated Sunday and is now being tested, with plans to start full broadcasts in the next few days, he said.

“It will be 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said.

Real-time weather reports, radar maps, information on current conditions and a five-day forecast will be displayed down the left side of the TV screen, said Culbertson, a member of the Nevada Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame who has worked for CNN and PBS.

Short films, music videos, performances by local artists, free public service announcements, upcoming events and advertisements also will be broadcast, he said.

Based on the article, I did a Google search on Culbertson and found that in addition to his work for CNN and PBS, his (hall of fame award-winning?) work in Nevada was for a station that is an affiliate of Christian broadcaster Total Living Network. HILO 5, so far as I can tell, will not be an affiliate of TLN.

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Governor describes her energy plan

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:22 pm
The SB has a story that discusses the 5-point effort by the Governor to revamp Hawaii energy policy. It’s not an especially sexy topic, but it’s important nonetheless.

Yesterday, Lingle unveiled her package of bills and directives aimed at making homes and buildings more energy-efficient, increasing renewable energy sources, developing alternative fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel, establishing Hawaii as a leader in hydrogen energy technology and repealing the state’s gasoline price cap law in favor of more transparency in gasoline pricing.


The announcement came a day after legislative Democrats announced their goals for the 2006 session, which included similar bills focused on increasing solar energy systems at schools and other public buildings and increasing tax credits for installation of solar devices on homes and buildings.

“If you look at the packages, we have a lot of overlap,” said Senate Energy Chairman J. Kalani English (D, East Maui-Lanai-Molokai). “There’s great potential for a major energy package emerging from the Legislature this year that’s really bipartisan.”

The key difference remains the gas price cap.

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find her proposed legislation online. I was able to find the Fact Sheets that were distributed at the press conference, but not the actual bills mentioned in the article (no bills have been formally introduced at the Legislature yet, of course, as the session has not even begun yet). Lots of jargon in those fact sheets, that’s why it is such a bummer that I could not find the bills (since I am much more adept at parsing legalese than I am at deciphering press releasese).

Lingle’s plan, as promised, includes a proposal to repeal the law that pegs Hawaii’s gas prices to an average of three mainland markets.

“While the gas cap law was well intentioned, it has become the de facto energy policy of the state,” she said. “It has focused attention and government resources away from the state’s actual energy problem, which is an overdependence on the use of oil.”

She said she would push to have oil companies provide more pricing data to the Public Utilities Commission, which would allow regulators to determine whether any price gouging is occurring.

Ted Liu, director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, said the administration also would seek to have as much pricing information made public as possible.

“If we can tell what the fair price is, you would be able to shop for the gasoline that comes closest to it,” Liu said. “Consumer behavior will be altered. Demand at that price will increase, and if I’m a producer, I’d also think twice about charging in excess of that. It might draw regulatory attention, but also, the consumers have a vote in not buying gasoline that is in excess of that fair price.

“This arms consumers with the knowledge which I believe will drive prices to a fair level with an objective standard.”

Lawmakers have said they support greater transparency in pricing, but they are unlikely to repeal the cap.

Senate Consumer Protection Chairman Ron Menor (D, Mililani) has said he would not support any transparency measures that do not include the price cap.

Hmmm, I don’t understand Liu’s comment that producers would “think twice” about charging in excess of what “transparency” suggests to be a fair price because “it might draw regulatory attention.” Uh, no, Director Liu, if the gasoline price cap law is repealed there would be no option for “regulatory attention.” To use the parlance of the prosecutor’s office, there is no “hammer.” Clearly, this might explain Senator Menor’s admonition…

The Advertiser also has a piece with some good quotes from various players in the legislative and business energy arenas, including this exchange:

Lingle also proposed forcing Hawaiian Electric Co. to divert more money from an energy-efficiency surcharge on consumers to support energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. The administration claims HECO uses only about 40 percent of the more than $19 million it collects from the surcharge on such programs. Lingle wants to divert more of the money into an energy efficiency fund that would be overseen either by government or a professional third party.

Chuck Freedman, a HECO spokesman, said the company was not consulted about the proposal and believes the administration misunderstands how the money is spent. He said portions of the surcharge are used to cover fixed costs and offset the lost revenue from consumers who are more energy efficient. If the utility was unable to offset the costs through the surcharge, Freedman said, it would likely have to pass the costs back on to consumers.


Seems to me like the Governor’s statement may be based upon the rate increase HECO requested in late 2004 (which I’m assuming was approved). In a 2004 press release about that request, HECO said:

Citing the critical need to continue and to expand its successful energy conservation and efficiency programs, Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) will be asking the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) this week for a rate increase to support an even more aggressive package of programs.

According to HECO, if its request is approved, customer rates will increase by a net 7.3% or $74.2 million in net revenues. If the request is approved by the PUC, a typical residential household using 600 kilowatt-hours, would see its monthly bill increase by $6.51 (from $92.52 per month to about $99.03). At the earliest, any rate increase would not take effect until the latter part of 2005.

Over 40% of the requested increase in base revenues is needed to ensure the continuation and expansion of energy efficiency and conservation programs, including the popular solar water heating program. Without approval by the PUC, the existing programs will end in 2005.

It seems that Mr. Freedman is arguing that because over 50% of the conservation surcharge has been diverted to uses other than conservation (he cites fixed costs and revenue offsets) the customers would see higher rates in order to make up the difference if HECO were to be forced to use more (or all) of the conservation surcharge for actual conservation purposes. Basically, it seems HECO has been disguising higher rates under some bogus “green” camouflage, i.e. the conservation surcharge. Now, if I’m correct, when confronted about that policy of greenwashing, they will try to blame the government for driving up rates? Nice.

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That rug really pulled the room together, Dude

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 5:58 pm
File under “life imitates art.”

Gratuitous link to a Hawaii County story reminiscent of one of my favorite movies.

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Privatized GET surcharge collection won’t be politically easy

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 5:55 pm
An interesting piece in the SB today about a sure-to-be-contentious battle to establish how the GET surcharge for Honolulu’s transit project will be collected. If the effort to transfer the collection responsibility to a “third party” (i.e. privatization) fails, then the State may have to collect the GET surcharge and distribute it to the City (contrary to a non-binding agreement that got HB 1309 passed last session). The Honolulu City Council was asked to approve a memorandum of understanding that would initiate the privatization.

The MOU between the State and the City (attached to the end of that PDF), provides that:

in anticipation that the Legislature will authorize the City to levy, assess, collect and otherwise administer the county surcharge on the State General Excise and Use taxes, DoTAX and the City will work cooperatively to procure, and, upon authorization by the Legislature, to contract with a third party to collect and/or otherwise administer the State General Excise and Use taxes and the City surcharge as appropriate.

I am not a lawyer, but, in my opinion, it is not allowed by the Constitution for the Legislature to delegate GET collections to a private third party because the power of taxation is inalienable. However, another section of the Constitution would clearly seem to allow the Legislature to delegate the “taxing powers” to the County. That would suggest that the County might then be able to contract for the collection of the GET surcharge, but… you can be sure HGEA will fight the privatization idea using every avenue—certainly at the Legislature and possibly along this legal front, too.

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Alcoholic? Become a harpist and never rejoin society

Filed under:
— Doug @ 5:55 pm
If you haven’t noticed, I’m in a particularly snarky mood today.

I can’t tell if this op-ed in the SB by a 10th-grader at Moanalua High School is intended as satire, or if it is the craziest proposalI’ve read in a long time (well, at least since this).

What we need to do is get all the alcoholics in one spot. Since alcohol can be found just about anywhere, they have to go where there is no alcohol – a deserted island.

With no alcohol, the alcoholics will have nothing on which to feed their desires. The untouched island will be a new start with no detrimental influences. To keep their minds off alcohol, they will learn to play the harp. Practicing this instrument eight hours a day will ensure an alcohol-free mind. Their nutrition will be healthy and effective. Exercise will be another part of their daily routine.

When the patient has fully recovered, going back to home will be denied. The risk is too great. They might go back to their horrific lives and all the progress would have been for nothing. Instead of going back to their homes, the sober, cured patients could transfer to another island.


Some people might think that forcing alcoholics to learn the harp is a waste of time, but it has many benefits. It is not so much the instrument, but the music. Music should be in everyone’s life. By learning music, the patients will gain back the knowledge that their drinking caused them to lose. They will respect their newfound talent for the harp.

This could be a great program, but it needs a lot of funding. The airfare to get the alcoholics onto the island would be expensive, depending on the number of people. The unusual size of the harp would require another plane to transport the instruments to the island, in addition to the cost of the harps themselves. There are many islands, but finding a deserted one and using it could cause some complications. There is the thought of getting the government involved or even buying an island, which again requires money.

Whether the piece is a satire intended to demonstrate the ultimate folly of the “War on Drugs” or the ravings of a future rightwing lunatic, the op-ed is worth a read. Too funny!

Ah, to be young again and have whatever op-ed you submit run in a major regional newspaper, no matter how zany… Sorta like a blog, only with more readers.

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Goodwill assumes Waikiki cleaning duties

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 5:54 pm
The Advertiser has a feel-good article about a new contract that aims to keep the Waikiki Business Improvement District clean and, in the process, provides an opportunity to some hard-to-employ folks. It’s especially nice to see that the WBID does more than just harass street performers. Heh.

As of last month, Goodwill employees clean sidewalks along Kalakaua and Kuhio avenues ? from the Kalakaua Avenue Bridge to Kapahulu Avenue ? and connecting side streets seven days a week over two shifts covering 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Their job includes picking up rubbish, emptying trash containers, removing graffiti, pressure-washing sidewalks, and cleaning up spills on sidewalks, street furniture and landscaped areas.


The contract is part of the Waikiki Business Improvement District Association’s nearly five-year-old “streetscape maintenance” program funded by area businesses.

Under the contract, Goodwill provides a 16-member custodial crew, which includes Goodwill employees and participants of the organization’s human services program. The goal of the program is to give participants the work experience they need to help them move on to other jobs in the community, said Laura Kay Rand, vice president of corporate services for Goodwill Industries of Hawaii.

“This contract opportunity is in direct alignment with our mission of helping people to get really good jobs and be able to maintain those and look for promotable opportunities,” Rand said.

Goodwill, a nonprofit corporation, provides job training and support services for people with employment barriers. Populations served by Goodwill include people transitioning off public assistance, at-risk youth and people with disabilities, Rand said.

Workers are paid a normal market rate for entry-level positions, said Jan Yamane, executive director of the Waikiki Business Improvement District Association. The contract follows a three-month pilot program with Goodwill last summer, she said.

Well, those may indeed be “really good jobs.” The figure seemed pretty generous at first glace, so I took a closer look at those numbers:

$1,600,000 for a 16-member crew = $100,000 per member over the life of the contract.

The 31-month contract = 2.5833333 years.

$100,000 per member of the crew divided by 2.5833333 years = $38,709.68 annually per member of the crew. Not too shabby! Realistically, I suspect that Goodwill has some significant overhead built into this contract… If not, each of these employees would be averaging over $18/hour, which hardly sounds like “a normal market rate for entry-level positions.”

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Gas cap adjustments still pending

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:53 pm
The SB has a report about another swing in the gasoline price cap, this time up by 11 cents, and the article also has a bit of information about what we can expect during the legislative session on this topic.

Opponents of the measure say voters will ultimately decide whether they think the law has helped, by ousting those who supported it.

Supporters say they continue to believe the caps are working as intended – keeping Hawaii’s prices in line with mainland trends – and they plan to push forward with proposals to strengthen the measure.

Senate Consumer Protection Chairman Ron Menor (D, Mililani) has said lawmakers might consider lowering the markups that wholesalers may charge or changing the benchmarks that the cap formula is tied to.

House Energy Chairwoman Hermina Morita (D, Hanalei-Kapaa) said her main concern is establishing additional profit margins for different steps in the gasoline supply chain.

Under the law, profit margins for oil companies are fixed.

Jobbers – middlemen who buy gas at wholesale and resell it to smaller gas stations – have said they are unable to recoup a lot of their delivery costs because wholesalers can eat up most, if not all, of the profit margin.

Morita noted that the Public Utilities Commission, which sets the weekly price caps, has the authority to adjust the cap formula to address jobbers’ concerns.

The PUC asked oil companies and industry officials in November to submit proposals on how they would like to see the margins adjusted.

“We and our consultants are, at this time, still reviewing the proposals,” said Lisa Kikuta, the PUC’s chief researcher.

They are still reviewing the proposals?! Whatever. It was good that the PUC was granted the authority to adjust the cap formula, but it now seems necessary to proscribe a reasonable timetable in the law for the PUC to actually consider and/or make the adjustment.

In the meantime, how about some enterprising journalist or legislator submits a formal UIPA request to the PUC? It sure seems like they intend to stall this as long as possible, until the November election ideally. I’m sure interested to know what has been submitted by the jobbers and the oil companies concerning these margins. I don’t believe we necessarily need Ms. Kikuta or some consultants to lead us through the proposals, either. The wait is frustrating, and I don’t believe it’s because the PUC is merely being contemplative.

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Hey, what a good idea…

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:58 pm
Hmmm, sure seems as if somebody at the Lege has been reading this blog and following the links in my posts… Oh, alright, perhaps the Senators actually read the article from the same primary source as I and followed the same trail to a useful link critiquing Hawaii’s lobbying regulations.

However you/they choose to explain it, it’s pretty obvious where these (good) ideas were “formulated.” Makes me want to do another post about publicly-financed campaigns… haha.

UPDATE: A Maui News article acknowledges the study and the 36th place ranking for our state that spurred this bill.

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Voters won’t decide tax relief by ballot

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 5:56 pm
The Advertiser reports that the Charter Commission rejected the proposal to put a freeze of property assessments at 2004 levels onto the November ballot. This is the idea I posted about yesterday.

Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz said it’s better to have elected officials deal with the issue to allow a balance between city services, revenues and taxpayer needs.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann also favors proposals from elected officials rather than a charter change.

Waiting until after the November election just didn’t seem like an option to Dela Cruz.

“We have to address this now,” he said.

And that’s what Meyers would like to see the council do. “Let the council people sit down and hash through some of these proposals,” he said. “And make something happen now.”

have re-awakened me to the fact that he is facing the voters in 2006. As are Councilmembers Djou, Tam, and Okino. This might also help to explain the observation I made earlier, i.e. Councilmembers Garcia and Cachola have been deafeningly silent on property tax relief so far—they do not face the voters this year.

The article starts out, however, with numerous people making comments similar to those that I refuted yesterday. “The council’s hands would be tied, blah, blah, blah.” Oh well, doesn’t matter now anyway.

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HPD investigation drags on

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 5:54 pm
The SB updates a story from many months ago about HPD officers suspended for a FBI investigation into cockfighting allegations. I also posted on this topic way back then.

HPD placed the CIU officer and four others on paid administrative leave about nine months ago while the FBI investigated whether the officers were involved in accepting payoffs from illegal cockfighting operations on the North Shore.

FBI agents raided the homes of the five officers and a relative of one of the officers on March 31 and April 6 as part of the investigation.

The officers under investigation include [a Criminal Intelligence Unit] officer who retired; a 22-year veteran sergeant with the gambling detail; two members of the District 4 (Windward Oahu) Crime Reduction Unit – a six-year and a 20-year veteran; and a 20-year veteran District 2 (Wahiawa-North Shore) patrol sergeant.

None of the officers involved has been arrested or charged with any crimes.

A source close to the investigation said one of the officers involved allegedly accepted a payoff from a confidential FBI informant.

Honolulu FBI spokesman Tony Lang declined to comment on the investigation.

Hmmm. “A source close to the investigation,” in other words, someone from the FBI or the HPD Internal Affairs, we’d be forgiven to assume.

As I said earlier, any “confidential FBI informant” involved in cockfighting is probably not a member of the church choir, if you know what I mean. The informant’s credibility would surely be an open question, especially if the person cooperated to save his or her own neck and, of course, his or her testimony is rebutted by a police officer…

I still wonder what effect this investigation (and the ongoing suspension of these officers) has had on arrests and prosecutions for illegal cockfighting. For that matter, have there even been any arrests, charges, or prosecutions for illegal cockfighting initiated (or stalled) because of this?

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Coming soon: the Charles Djou Landfill?

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 5:53 pm
An interesting short piece in the SB about Bill 76 which came before the Zoning Committee of the Honolulu City Council yesterday. The bill would allow parks, sites, or facilities to be named after elected officials not yet deceased. Many current councilmembers voiced their reservations about the bill:

“Kind of tacky,” Councilman Romy Cachola said of the reference to council members. “I don’t want to create an impression that elected officials are only what we are thinking about.”

The legislation is being pursued by Mayor Mufi Hannemann. Fasi supported Hannemann’s mayoral bids in 2000 and 2004.

Since being elected mayor in 2004, Hannemann has included Fasi in several city celebrations.

After Fasi was eliminated in the primary of the 2004 election, he announced he wouldn’t run again.

Council members said they had no idea until yesterday’s meeting that the bill was aimed at Fasi and they have no objections to him being honored this way.

Zoning Chairwoman Barbara Marshall said she was under the impression that the bill was on a fast track because Fasi may be ill.

But Fasi’s wife, Joyce, said her 85-year-old husband recently had a checkup “and all the tests were negative. … He’s just getting a little older.”

She said they didn’t know about the bill, either.


Cachola and Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said they also have no problem honoring Fasi.

But they cannot support a bill if it grants an exception only for elected officials – especially if it includes council members.

Kobayashi said elected officials are always singled out for special recognition. “And that’s what I don’t like,” she said.

“There might be a lot of living nonelected officials who are deserving,” Cachola said after a meeting of the council’s zoning committee, which moved the bill for a full vote on Jan. 25.

Marshall said she doesn’t like council members being in the bill, but she also doesn’t want to “open a can of worms” by allowing all living people to be considered in the naming of a city facility.

Cachola and Kobayashi “cannot support” and Marshall “doesn’t like” the bill? Hmmmm, not exactly. Despite those comments, the bill passed second reading yesterday unanimously. The can of worms is all but opened.

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Home of the transplants

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:51 pm
A tantalizing, but too brief, article in the PBN today based upon a study by SMS research.

In a survey of 2,500 adult residents by diary and phone, the Honolulu research firm finds interesting differences between the 52 percent who say they were born in Hawaii (down from 59 percent as recently as 1998) and transplants.

The trend is stronger on neighbor islands. Only 43 percent of Maui residents were born in Hawaii. A sizable chunk of transplants, 39 percent, have been in Hawaii for more than 20 years.

SMS’s Hersh Singer said the mix change appeared to have resulted, not just from an influx of new residents, but also from outmigration for economic reasons. “Is it possible,” he asked, “that we are on the verge of another such outmigration caused by housing costs, and lower paying jobs in Hawaii?”

Yes, it is possible, but why would Hawaii-born residents be more likely to outmigrate than “transplants,” if, as Singer claims, their incomes and education levels are not appreciably different? Anyway, some marketroid probably commissioned this study and thus the detailed results would be proprietary, but I’m still curious to know what other conclusions could be drawn from the data.

I’m not Hawaii-born, and I’m white, so I suppose I fit comport to the profile in this article. I arrived in 1989 when I received orders to report to the Kaneohe USMC base, and remained here when my enlisted ended in 1993 to enroll at UH under the GI Bill. Still can’t afford to buy a place, but I’m stayin!

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Lahaina school may attempt to implement canine drug searches

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:49 pm
The Advertiser has a piece today that reports on a Board of Education meeting held on Maui where the area superintendent, Ron Okamura, is interested in using canine patrols to search for contraband (drugs, in particular) in some of the district schools.

Two O’ahu private schools, Academy of the Pacific and Saint Louis School, have used contraband-sniffing dogs for more than a year.

Lahaina Intermediate has had a demonstration of a drug-sniffing dog’s abilities at the school, and parents have been supportive, he said. Meanwhile, a demonstration by the dog is scheduled at Lahainaluna in the next month, and parents there will be surveyed as well.

Okamura said as much as he and the principals want the program, if the attorney general’s opinion excludes school administrators and officials from being represented in a lawsuit, that could stop implementation.

“If the AG won’t represent us, Mike Nakano, the Lahainaluna principal, said he doesn’t want the program,” Okamura said.

Okamura expects to provide the attorney general’s office with additional data on lawsuits from Whitney White, who owns Interquest Detection Canines of Hawai’i, which also has been working for two Hawai’i private schools and a number of hotels and private businesses. White, who appeared at the meeting with Okamura, said in the company’s 25-year history across the country, it has never lost a court case.

White said the company operates in 26 states, 1,200 public school districts and 500 private schools across the country.

“As far as the issues with the courts, it’s a privacy issue,” she said.

Generally, the areas where drug-sniffing is conducted are student parking lots, student lockers, backpacks, clothing, and even school supplies on desks in random rooms. Whitney said crystal meth can be carried in a pen.

“We are not allowed to sniff people,” she said. “It is not in our protocol at all.”

The dogs can detect illicit drugs, alcohol and gun powder.

White told the board that she had the backing of Maui businesses to support the cost of putting the program into some Maui schools.

“Our focus is deterrence,” White told the committee. “Detection happens and all of a sudden drugs are off campus. In the second year, contraband drops by 70 percent.”

As I mentioned when Mid-Pac began this effort, since the canine searches exclude sniffing people, it’s obvious that the only stoners and meth heads students this policy will sweep up are those too stupid to keep their contraband on their person. I think that once the drug-possessing students who are not too stupid have learned to exploit this huge loophole, there will be little reason to rejoice over boasts of “contraband drop[ping] by 70 percent.” i.e. The fact that the canine searches no longer yield as much contraband does not mean that the presence of contraband has been eliminated (or even greatly reduced) at the school.

As for Mr. White’s claim that he has never lost a court case, his confidence may be misplaced. Of the 26 states and 1,200 public school districts where his company has done business, how many lawsuits were directed against the searches carried out in public school districts? Further, of those lawsuits filed versus public school districts, how many were defeated in states with a Constitutional right to privacy as strong as the one we enjoy in Hawaii?

Given the predictable “War on Drugs” hysteria, I suspect the AG will step forward to defend the DOE staff should they go forward with this. I don’t know how likely it is for the BOE to authorize the searches, though. If all those hurdles are overcome, then it would not take long for someone to initiate a lawsuit to challenge the policy and I’m certain the ACLU would be willing to represent any such plaintiff(s).

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Charter amendment would put Council in the hotseat

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 5:48 pm
Upon reading the headline of this Advertiser story I initially assumed that a Prop 13-style initiative campaign for Honolulu had formally started. That isn’t happening (yet). This story is about a less-drastic Charter amendment.

A proposed amendment to the Honolulu City Charter being considered today by the Charter Commission takes aim at skyrocketing city property tax assessments yet another way: It would cap property tax values at 2004 levels.

Approval today would be the first step in a months-long process that could land the measure on the November ballot, giving residents reeling from years of double-digit property tax increases the chance to decide.

City Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz said changing the charter is the wrong approach because it takes the decision away from the elected officials responsible for running the city. The proposal is among 25 to be considered by the commission.

Elected officials should not have their hands tied by the charter “so that we can respond to the needs of the community and society as it changes,” he said.


Councilman Gary Okino agrees that granting relief by changing the charter is the wrong way to go.

Capping taxes could create two classes of taxpayers, Okino said.

“You create an unfair situation where certain people pay a bigger percentage of city costs while getting essentially the same services,” he said.


Hannemann spokesman Bill Brennan said the charter should be changed only after careful consideration. He said flexibility allows elected officials to decide the best plan depending on all the issues at hand.

“It’s better left to administrations and councils to determine rather than having it dictated in the charter,” Brennan said.

No sense letting the actual language of the proposed charter amendment get in the way of a soundbite, I suppose…

The Charter Commission votes on Proposal 2 (PDF) Tuesday afternoon and if Brennan, Okino and Dela Cruz had bothered to read the proposal they would know that while it caps the the property tax assessments at 2004 levels, the Council would still have ultimate control over the amount of tax revenue generated by means of adjusting the property tax rates.

On the other hand, Okino and Dela Cruz may have read the proposal and actually oppose it for a different reason: The Council already is obligated to set property tax rates every year, but under this amendment holding property tax rates steady would not result in higher revenues. This is significantly different than the current situation, where the Council has left property tax rates steady and thus it is the assessors that look like the bad guys when tax bills go up. With this change, when the Council needs more revenue the Council would need to go on record with a vote to “raise taxes.” Politicians prefer to do that as infrequently and as stealthily as possible. Heh.

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A new player

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:46 pm
Look what I found in my visitor logs…

Bev Harbin – Campaign, Election, and Legislation News 24/7

A WHOIS lookup shows that the operator of this blog took pains to try to be anonymous, but whoever is running it claims to be unaffiliated with Representative Harbin in any official way.

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Iwase may enter Governor race for Democrats

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:48 pm
The 2006 Governor race had further developments today, with another Democrat withdrawing from the race and word of a potential new challenger to Lingle.

The latest quitter withdrawn candidate is Lee Donohue, the former HPD chief. He attributed his decision to an aversion for fundraising.

The potential new candidate is Randall Iwase, who formerly served as a Honolulu City Councilmember and a State senator and is currently sitting as Chair of the Labor Appeals Board.

The Board?s primary activity is to conduct contested case hearings pursuant to the Hawaii Administrative Procedures Act, Chapter 91, Hawaii Revised Statutes. All workers? compensation appeals are from decisions rendered by the Director through the Disability Compensation Division. Boiler and elevator safety appeals are from citations issued by the Director through the Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health Division against employers for violations of the Boiler and Elevator Safety law. De novo hearings are conducted for these appeals. To accomplish its primary mission, the Board schedules pretrial conferences and settlement conferences for each case prior to conducting a trial. Hearings on pretrial motions are also a normal event. Written decisions and orders are issued following trial or a hearing on a motion. The Board?s work is evenly spread throughout the year.

Given the GOP and Lingle administration’s mutual scorn for the existing workers’ compensation policies and the fact that Iwase is only about halfway through a 10-year appointment, Republicans may be quite pleased to see Iwase enter the race. Assuming Iwase resigns to run for Governor, it would give Lingle an obvious campaign issue to attack him and an opportunity to nominate someone of her liking to replace him.

My next thought would have been to browse some of the appeals Iwase and the Board have adjudicated, but it costs hundreds of dollars[?!?!] just to review this information. That’s outrageous.

“Without insulting [Iwase], he’s a lot better than nothing and nothing is what [Democrats] have right now,” University of Hawaii political science professor Neal Milner said.

Iwase has political experience, but he’s also been out of the public eye for a while, Milner said.

Lingle spent $5.6 million to win her last race. This time, she has raised $2.2 million and expects to raise a total of $6 million.

“What we are going to have to do is the complete opposite and go straight to the grass roots,” Galuteria said.

Democrats hope to raise $3 million to $4 million for the race.

Wha? “Straight to the grassroots” costs $3 million? Whatever. It is interesting, though, that the Dems seem to be planning to raise money at roughly the same rate as the incumbent Lingle (i.e. around $4 million between now and the election).

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SBH to host conference in Waikiki

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 5:46 pm
The Hawaii Reporter carries an announcement of a Small Business Hawaii conference. A few parts of the event stand out:

A debate on the impact of the Akaka Bill on small businesses in Hawaii will take place between 11:30 and noon. Featured will be Sandra Puanani Burgess, who along with husband and attorney Bill Burgess, head the group, “Aloha for All,” and Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee, Rowena Akana. A live Q&A session will be included.


Also speaking will be Pacific Legal Foundation attorney, and architect of Kauai’s “Proposition 13? tax limitation, Robert Thomas, who will discuss tax revolts and eminent domain. Congressman Ed Case (D-2nd) will discuss current federal legislation impacting small business.

Even after limiting the discussion to the small business angle, it seems to me that 30 minutes for a debate and Q&A on the Akaka Bill is not nearly enough time. With a registration fee of $50 (and, uh, a real job on weekdays), I certainly don’t plan to go. However, perhaps the media will attend and report on what these folks have to say.

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Harbin may have taken parody blog seriously

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 7:27 pm
A rather shocking story from KHON reports that Representative Harbin is considering a run for Governor. [blink] …as a Democrat.

A Democrat challenger has stepped forward hoping to unseat appointed state Rep. Bev Harbin this fall. Harbin says she won’t back down, but may move up to challenge the governor.

It’s the latest in a series of unusual political moves for the controversial appointee who refused to step down after Gov. Linda Lingle learned of her criminal record and tax liens.

“I don’t like being in the middle of something and not be stirring up the pot,” Harbin says.

UPDATE: Earlier I mentioned a parody blog seeking to draft Harbin as a candidate for Governor. As ever, there will always be some people incapable of recognizing parody…

However, this now appears to be a ratcheting up of Harbin’s oddity—part of a very strange trend. I say this because I was recently forwarded an email that I think also serves as a tragi-comic example of Harbin’s stunning self-absorbtion (and impressive grammatical ineptitude):

From: Rep. Beverly Harbin
Sent: Wednesday, December 14, 2005 4:54 PM
To: Rep. Calvin Say
Cc: All Reps (Majority)
Subject: Rumors regarding the Speakers office


I have had a couple of calls this week from the press inquiring about a rumor than I was working with certain factions to take a run at the Speaker office. I have of course laughed it off and told them they are way off the mark. I have way to many other issues and battles to fight.

However, the rumors are now concerning me because I am hearing that you and the majority leader are taking this “rumor” seriously and there are thoughts of retribution against my office as a sovereign representative for District 28 by means of with holding of funding and other ways of perceived punishment to me and my staff.

First of all, please rest assured that I am more than content, at this juncture, with my representation of my district. Any thoughts of leadership in any form or manner is not on my radar and I do not intend to become embattled in any leadership squabble. If I ever have such plans I will assure you that you will be the first to know.

However, with that being said, I certain hope that leadership will continue to leave me to do the peoples work in District 28, the small business community and as a member of the majority caucus. If there is a plan of retribution against my ability to function as a representative I would appreciate you advising me at the caucus tomorrow so that we can air this issue out before Christmas and move on. We have a lot of work to do before May.

I look forward to discussing this in the morning with you, the Majority leader and the other members of our caucus.

Bev Harbin

Well, thanks for setting the record straight on that “rumor.” haha!

I do not believe that any member of the press would (or did) seriously approach a newly-appointed representative (especially one with Harbin’s checkered past and political baggage) to confirm what I will charitably describe as a delusional theory. In fact, it’s such a ridiculous idea that I do not even believe this rumor could have existed beyond Harbin’s own mind. Until her comment reported today, that email was one of the weirdest things I’ve heard in a long time, but it’s still early in the 2006 campaign season so we may yet see things even more weird… Heh.

However, to take Harbin at her word for a moment, it could have been more than just a sloppy cliche when, less than a month ago, Harbin wrote she was content “at this juncture” to represent the 28th House district.

Shall we stay tuned during February for Harbin to announce her campaign to unseat Congressman Abercrombie?

Comments (2)
Who is behind the Pacific Legal Foundation on Kauai?

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 9:32 am
I noticed an interesting letter to the editors today in the Garden Island News, so I went back to review the beginnings of the exchange. It began on December 27th, with this letter from Pete Antonson questioning the background of those who supported the Ohana Kauai property tax charter amendment (that the County is fighting in the Courts). Here’s the relevant section:

The OK Charter Amendment is always referred to as “the will of the people” rather than “the meataxe, right wing, stealth, political initiative, imported from California.”

The miniscule, but noisy, right wing of Kaua’i is well represented in OK. If you doubt that for a second, consider that the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) is representing them now.

A founding member of PLF is Ed Meese, Reagan’s disgraced Attorney General. PLF specializes in fighting environmental laws in favor of corporations, particularly those involved with Big Oil, nuclear power, and agribusiness. Major clients are Fluor Corp. and Exxon. Rightwing billionaire Joseph Coors has provided funding for the PLF and several other ultraconservative copycat legal foundations like Northwest Legal Foundation. He not only outsources his legal strategy in a manner that duplicates and diversifies his strategic approach to using the courts but, he can deduct his donations (fees) from the taxes he pays.

Ask why this intensely political legal group is supporting OK’s political initiative. They wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t fit their agenda.

Pacific Legal Foundation responded on January 5th, with a letter from Robert Thomas. Thomas attempts to deflect the claims made by Antonson instead of denying them, and sets about to defend the involvement of PLF:

PLF’s Hawaii Center is a tax-exempt, charitable foundation funded by local Hawaii sources. As such, PLF Hawaii does not engage in political activities, nor does it lobby in the executive or legislative halls of government at any level, but instead, performs its legal work in the courts when it appears that government is exceeding the limits imposed on it by “we the people” in the Constitution.

PLF is representing local people and businesses who are concerned that Kauai officials have manufactured a “shibai” lawsuit in which the County Attorney sued the Mayor and Council to achieve an illogical – and we believe, unlawful – result, rather than accepting the judgment of the people who strongly supported the Ohana Charter Amendment at the ballot box. To top it off, the officials used taxpayer money to hire private lawyers to strike the Amendment down in court. Kauai government officials apparently think “they know better,” and decisions about property taxes are simply too important to be trusted to the people.

PLF Hawaii believes the people of Kauai are informed enough to decide how their property tax system is structured, and that the Hawaii Constitution gives them that right.

This leads us to the letter of January 8th, again from Antonson:

Mr. Thomas, of the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), Hawai’i branch, claims it to be a nonpolitical, locally-funded group, representing “local” folks.

Aw shucks, now, don’t listen to me, pay a visit to their Web site. Under “headquarters,” you will see that they are a national organization based in Sacramento, Calif. Under “cases,” you will see the Kaua’i Charter Amendment case listed next to one from Texas, where PLF is representing an anti-abortionist who drove his van through the front door of a Planned Parenthood Clinic. Under “OpEd,” you can read the right-wing political agenda of the PLF.

If you enter Pacific Legal Foundation in “Google,” you can read about their history since 1973. They are, and have been, a politically-right-wing, legal-advocacy group that undertakes litigation, both directly and as “friends of the court,” in support of attempts to undermine civil rights and regulatory powers. Their main activity has been fighting environmental laws in support of corporate interests in big oil, nuclear power, agribusiness and lumber industries. That once included supporting the use of DDT. The Hawai’i branch is working for Chevron right now in trying to overturn a Hawai’i law that favored their service-station operators. You can also read how the PLF is funded by corporate right-wingers, like Joseph Coors, who then deduct their legal expenses from their taxes. When the right wing frames its arguments, their opposition in the courts is always referred to as “activist judges” or lawyers, whereas their boys are always referred to as well-qualified defenders of the Constitution. In his letter, and on the PLF Web site, Mr. Thomas doesn’t disappoint. The work of the PLF and the charter amendment are well matched. They are both conservative political initiatives posing as apolitical local efforts.

That’s context worth knowing as the case remains pending at the Hawaii Supreme Court. Nice work, Mr. Antonson.

Comments (1)
Tax relief proposals plentiful at council

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 8:58 am
You’ve been reading it here every day recently, but today the Advertiser also points out the obvious in this story about the sudden proliferation of tax relief proposals. However, where the article is superlative is the useful graphic that compares the proposals.

The chart excludes the resolution offered by Councilmembers Marshall and Apo. Thus, by my reckoning the only Councilmembers who have yet to weigh in are Cachola and Garcia. Those two still have plenty of time to draft a plan or to sign on to another proposal before the hearings begin later this month. As the issue heats up their silence becomes more obvious.

Also today, Borreca is finally back at the SB with a column about the obvious, but typically unspoken, political implications of property tax issues.

Comments (0)

Still more new property tax relief proposals emerge

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 12:02 pm
Another day, and three more bills for Honolulu property tax relief emerge. Councilmember Tam has joined the fray, and Councilmembers Dela Cruz and Kobayashi have offered two more bills. The Advertiser story gives a more thorough description of these ideas than the SB piece.

The ideas are all over the map now, but after my persistent complaining about leaving out the renters from any relief, I feel obligated to note that Bill 3 will reward property owners who rent to low-income tenants. Of course, it’s not clear (or even likely, in this high-demand market) that the property tax relief provided to the landlord will be passed on to the tenant in the form of lower rent.

Incidentally, the two papers describe that proposal (Bill 3) differently.


Their Bill 3 would grant an owner who provides low-income housing an exemption from property taxes for the next tax year equal to 20 percent of the gross assessed value of property dedicated as low-income rental. Further, property owners leasing to participants in the Section 8 assistance program could receive an exemption from taxes equal to 100 percent of the value.


Bill 3 proposes exempting from tax 20 percent of a property’s assessed value for owners of low-income rental housing. It also proposes the minimum $100 property tax payment for owners of homes with renters in the Section 8 federal housing assistance program.

$100 or 100% exemption? Oops, the bill clearly says 100%. Sorry, SB, you lose.

The other proposals, Bills 4 and 5, are here and here.

Finally, today there is again zero discussion (or even media queries) about the impact on revenue or if/how City spending would need to change in light of these policies.

Comments (0)
Keep those manapua gifts flowing

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 11:29 am
Hawaii Business magazine has a cover story this month about lobbying. (By the way, notice the cover photo of the infamous urinal, uh, buttonholing tactic, too. haha.) The HB story is a local spin on an interesting project from the Center for Public Integrity. The CPI project gives Hawaii a rating of 54 on a 100-point scale, earning a rank of 36 among states.

The HB article is a decent introduction to some of the present players and tactics of the people lobbying the Legislature, but, with its “those were the bad old days” theme the article glosses over any discussion of the unsavory lobbying tactics and characters that still are part of the scene. Sure, the system is greatly reformed and the reforms make those aspects more rare and harder to discern, but it’s the old “absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence” problem.

That said, I am still comfortable recommending that you read the article and visit the CPI website. Too little is ever mentioned in Hawaii about the influence of lobbyists, in my opinion.

Comments (0)
Affordable housing agreements explained

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 11:04 am
A rather complex Maui News article explains a proposal from developers that could provide much-needed money to low-income rental housing and a program to reintegrate offenders returning to society from prison. It’s a complex article, and on first reading it seems as if the County was being taken advantage of by a developer shirking a responsibility to provide affordable housing. However, it becomes clear that in this particular case the County is actually getting more than they could legally demand from the developer. I think.

A Kihei time-share project and a Wailea luxury condominium-hotel will be allowed to fulfill affordable housing conditions by providing cash and in-kind donations that represent possibly 1 percent of potential revenues from sales.

But Housing Director Alice Lee told County Council members those numbers don?t tell the whole story.

?I wouldn?t want to trivialize what they?re giving,? she said.


The Maui Lu reached its affordable housing agreement with the county two years ago when the guidelines required $20,000 per assessed unit. So developers will contribute about $3 million for affordable housing elsewhere in Kihei. Lee said sales from the final build-out are not considered in determining affordable housing provisions.

When reached by phone after the meeting, the president of the San Diego-based development company said each time share will be selling at between $25,000 to $35,000 a week. That means each of the 400 units would generate between $1.3 million and $1.8 million in sales, generating potential revenues of about $600 million.

?We?re not supposed to look at how much they?re going to generate,? Lee said. ?We?re assessing them based on our guidelines.?

In addition, said Lee, neither the Wailea project nor the Maui Lu needed to get a change in zoning, which normally triggers affordable housing requirements. Both applicants needed only special management area permits. The Wailea group has already secured its SMA from the Maui Planning Commission; the Maui Lu?s request has been held up because of an intervention request that was denied by commissioners, but appealed to 2nd Circuit Court.

?There?s no enabling legislation for an SMA (to require affordable housing components),? said Lee. ?I had to rely on their citizenship, their civic mindedness and their community mindedness. You need to remember that they?re going to be co-developing (with nonprofit organizations) these units for the very low income.

I’m not sure of the logic behind the special management area permitting regulations, but the policy Lee describes provided a pretty big loophole that seems to have killed the hopes for a substantial shot of affordable housing. A win for the renters, but a loss for those who want to buy an affordable unit.

The Wailea contributions will go to Maui Economic Opportunity Inc., which is building two complexes in Central Maui for its BEST program that reintegrates inmates released from prison into society by providing a safe living environment free of drugs and alcohol.

On the upside, I am very optimistic about the BEST program. They gave a presentation at the reintegration conference I attended, and the program looks awesome.

Comments (0)
Kauai legislators talk of gasoline price cap amendments

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 10:39 am
A story in the Garden Island News describes how the gasoline price cap law may be amended during the 2006 legislative session. The paper spoke with Representative Morita (Chair of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee) and Senator Hooser. (BTW, Hooser has mentioned this issue and the meeting with the newspaper recently at his blog, too)

Both Morita and Hooser feel that the gas-cap law is working, Hooser pointing out the difference now between regulated gasoline prices for regular, mid-grade and premium unleaded gasoline versus the much-higher price of unregulated, diesel fuel.

The price of an unleaded regular gallon of gas on Kaua’i was $2.77 and up as of Thursday, and the cost of a gallon of diesel fuel was $3.26 the same day.

Both also agree that refiners are still taking too much of the profit off the top, leaving no profit margin for jobbers such as those at Senter Petroleum on Kaua’i.

Morita and Hooser said the state gas-cap law has a built-in mechanism allowing PUC officials to react to market conditions and ensure that jobbers will get their share of profits under the law, but so far haven’t done so.

“If they perform that function, (jobbers) should get their share of the wholesale profit margin,” Morita said.

The change to the state gas-cap law this session would be intended to ensure jobbers and others get their share of profits, she explained.

The article also includes lengthy comments from a critic of the law. He does not specifically address the amendments proposed by Morita, but instead attacks the entire premise underlying the law and describes the impact of taxes on gasoline prices. In other words, the usual spiel.

There will surely be bills submitted to repeal the law entirely this year, but I have not seen any indication from Senator Menor (or, for that matter, from Representative Morita) that any such bill would ever be advanced out of committee. That said, it’s an open question if there is a majority in the full body of both chambers who still support the law. It’s an election year, and the public is split on this issue.

Hooser’s blog notes that Menor (Chair of the Senate committee that will take up any amendments) was also on Kauai this week to speak on the gasoline price cap, so it’s too bad that Menor was not also present at this meeting with the press.

Comments (0)
Lingle still strong, Dems still without candidate

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 10:00 am
Some astute ovservations from a UH Political Science professor in the SB today.

“As I see this situation right now, it’s either talking (Big Island Mayor) Harry Kim into running or not even having a candidate that’s close to the horizon,” Milner said. “The second is obviously a serious, serious problem – the party going from what was a strong majority party to not even being able to field a gubernatorial candidate.”

Kim, a former Republican, has not said whether he will run. Others considered as potential candidates include former Honolulu Police Chief Lee Donohue and even Galuteria himself.

As Lingle pushes forward with her goals for 2006 – most notably a proposal to return $300 million to taxpayers – not having a candidate poses some problems for the Democratic-controlled Legislature as well.

Even if lawmakers defeat Lingle’s proposals and pass their own tax legislation, “It’s hard to make hay of that issue as a statewide issue in a political campaign if there isn’t a significant statewide political campaigner,” Milner said.

“Political campaigns depend, to a great extent, on what happens in the particular districts, but there are some issues that you try to carry over – that you try to use as a kind of transcending, defining issue – and what you do with tax money is a pretty good one,” he added. “But they’re not going to have anybody carrying that message for them if they don’t have a decent gubernatorial candidate.”

Earlier in the article, Democratic Party chair Brickwood Galuteria said that the party “hopes” to announce a challenger to Lingle before January 18th, when the legislature convenes. No kidding? Heh. Galuteria’s comments about the grass roots and voter turnout may be his only positive spin message left.

Returning to Milner’s comment about having a standard-bearer; I think it almost does not mater who that person is, so long as there is one. At this point any Democratic candidate will start out as “the underdog,” and that means the Lingle campaign will have to be careful to balance her undeniable tactical advantages against an urge to (mis)underestimate the opponent.

Comments (0)
Capitol chandeliers groovy once again

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 8:40 am
If you feel a certain buzz in the air, it’s probably afterglow (pun intended) from the news reported in this SB story.

Just as described earlier, those two funky chandeliers hovering in the House and Senate chambers have been repaired to function as the artist intended.

“I never saw them do that when we used to come to opening day. I didn’t even know they did that,” John Kahoonei, a night custodian with the Department of Accounting and General Services, said yesterday afternoon as he watched the Moon change colors. “But we were watching them set it up last night. It was beautiful; I say it is very nice.”

The final adjustments to the lights’ timing sequences were made this week by Otto Piene, the kinetic sculptor who created the two pieces.

The multicolored displays will be turned off and the sculptures used as lights during legislative sessions, according to Pat Mau-Shimizu, House clerk.

Aw, c’mon. I hope that her comment does not mean that we’ll have to wait until May to see the artistry. Showing off the chandeliers could make for a fun moment during the Opening Day speeches! My best case scenario would be if the multi-colored lights were functioning every day except for the mid-day legislative sessions. In a darkened chamber at night it could be very spectacular, as Mr. Kahoonei attests.

Comments (1)

Petitioners want property tax rate reduction

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 5:59 pm
The SB reports on some Windward residents that have begun collecting signatures via a petition campaign to pressure the Honolulu City Council to reduce the property tax rate.

[An organizer of the petitioners] said reducing the tax rate – currently $3.75 per $1,000 in valuation for residential properties – is “the only equitable way to do it on the first move. Then they (the City Council) should take the time to come up with a better method and maybe cut out the investors.”

[He] said the group is trying to get at least 5,000 signatures by Jan. 23 and will be circulating the petition islandwide.

Peculiar that they are in favor of rushing to do an “equitable” rate reduction and to then expect a “better” follow-up amendment to exclude certain beneficiaries. The time line for passing a tax rate reduction can’t be rushed any more than “a better method,” so why bother going through the effort/time twice? You can probably think of the answer to that… Heh.

Councilmember Marshall, who represents that area, supports lowering the rates. The Mayor’s response to her was the usual “tell me where to cut spending” rhetoric. It does seem a bit strange that none of the other property tax relief proposals announced so far have described any spending cuts, or indeed even the necessity or possibility of spending cuts. The Mayor is working on a plan, too, and it will be interesting to see how (if?) his proposal would cut spending.

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Kauai representative plans to retire

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:51 pm
The Garden Island News reports that Representative Ezra Kanoho will retire after the 2006 legislative session, his 20th year in the House.

This will be a session of mixed feelings, he said. And, if he waited until he finished all the work he’d like to at the state Legislature, he’d be there many more terms. “There will forever be things to be done,” he said.

There is critical work to be done in his final session, specifically to protect important agricultural and open-space lands, and ocean resources, he explained.

And as chair of the House Water, Land and Ocean Resources Committee, he is in a position to influence important legislation, he said.

The article goes on to list the legislation that he plans to focus on as Chair of the Committee on Water, Land & Ocean Resources. These major issues include:

Increasing the portion of the conveyance tax set aside to preserve public lands.
Incentives to keep “important agricultural lands” in agricultural use.
Establishing marine reserves around the state.
Other issues Kanoho will be working on during the upcoming session include affordable housing, ensuring a safe drinking-water supply for the future, the issue of luxury estates on agricultural lands, and the re-defining of shoreline areas to ensure beach access and prevent the building of homes too close to the shore, he said.

That’s an ambitious agenda, and, with his retirement announced in advance, perhaps Kanoho will be able to leverage his reserves of good will among his colleagues (and a dash of farewell charm) to advance those issues. Or, perhaps he will be ignored as a lame duck. Sigh.

I will be sad to see him go. He’s a truly kind (and often quietly effective) gentleman in this age of partisan bickering and acrimony.

Comments (1)
Hawaiian groups may try to resolve dispute outside of judicial system

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:50 pm
A way to possibly resolve the dispute over Hawaiian artifacts may lead to an agreement that would provide for the return of the artifacts and the release of a Hui Malama leader currently imprisoned for contempt. The SB has an article, and the Advertiser has a piece, too.

The leader of Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai’i Nei remains in prison after a federal judge advised the sides involved in a dispute over 83 priceless cultural objects to participate in the Hawaiian problem-solving pro-cess of ho’oponopono or another kind of alternative resolution.


The judge assigned U.S. Magistrate Kevin Chang to preside over the alternative resolution process. Ezra said the process will go on a “dual track” with the ongoing traditional court case continuing.

“I want to make this case a healing rather than a divisive circumstance for the Hawaiian community,” Ezra said. “A divided Hawaiian community is an ineffective Hawaiian community,” he said, noting that Hawaiians are seeking federal recognition in Congress.

Well, I think calling it a “dual track” is generous. I would expect that, since he is bound by NAGPRA, the only acceptable outcome in the judge’s opinion would be for the artifacts to be surrendered. If the alternative resolution process comes to any different conclusion, then I doubt it would lead to the release of Mr. Ayau. However, that may be too pessimistic, since it was also mentioned that house arrest may be a possibility for Ayau at some time.

In September, Ezra ruled the items needed to be retrieved. Hui Malama appealed his order to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which also ruled against the organization and sent the case back to Ezra. Hui Malama has refused to cooperate.

“We did not file the lawsuit until we absolutely had to,” said La’akea Suganuma, who represents the Royal Academy of Traditional Arts. “Hui Malama would not compromise, and we could not resolve it among ourselves.”

Now, the major players in the dispute appear ready to give Ezra’s proposal a chance.

“We welcome the court’s decision to find an alternative dispute resolution” under Hawaiian tradition, Suganuma said.

William Aila, interim spokesman for Hui Malama, said they are pleased that the court recognizes there are alternate methods for resolving disputes, including bringing Hawaiians together to the table with minimal court intervention.

Hui Malama intends to be part of that process, he said: “We look forward to participating and seeing if it can be resolved.

“The key to success in this endeavor is to make sure all 14 claimants are there, otherwise we’ll only have a partial settlement, and the (other) guys may not agree.”

With their leader imprisoned, and much brave/principled talk not necessarily withstanding, the motivation for Hui Malama to negotiate is now arguably stronger than the motivation of the other claimants. If any/enough of the other claimants decline to participate in the alternative process then this goes nowhere and the Courts again take center stage. For the same reasons, however, the other groups may now feel that they have more leverage (and pressure) to negotiate with Hui Malama.

Trying and failing is better than not trying, and it’s certainly much more encouraging than simply letting the contempt charge (and imprisonment) linger indefinitely.

However, I note this:

At yesterday’s court proceeding, Ezra denied a request to release Ayau. Ezra asked Ayau if he had changed his mind about giving the court the information.

“No, your honor,” Ayau replied.

Ayau has said that retrieving the items is desecration and a violation of his constitutional right to freedom of religion.

“I’m put into an intolerable position,” Ezra said after hearing Ayau’s response. “A federal judge cannot step back and allow someone to openly defy a court order. The last thing I want is for Mr. Ayau to spend the next months or years in custody … but I have no choice.”

Hui Malama attorney Alan Murakami told Ezra that they “are exploring avenues,” perhaps with the 9th Circuit, to appeal Ayau’s imprisonment.

Should that appeal (presumably using the religious conscience arguments frequrently put forth by Hui Malama) be successful or otherwise have the effect that Ayau is released from prison, then the probability of any alternative dispute resolution would be greatly reduced, if not eliminated.

Comments (0)

Too many cooks stirring the property tax broth?

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 4:56 pm
This flood of Oahu property tax “solutions” is beginning to seem almost comical.

Today it is Honolulu Councilmember Gary Okino offering a bill for property tax relief. (described in the Advertiser and SB) Okino’s bill is, of course, an alternative to previous bills and ideas from Councilmembers Dela Cruz, Djou, and Kobayashi. On that note, the Mayor and Councilmember Dela Cruz each have op-eds in the Advertiser discussing their own proposals. Whew!

This embarrassment of effort is preferable to having no alternatives, but at some point it becomes unlikely for any common ground to be reached if every Councilmember has their own sacred cow…

But, if this is how it’s gonna be, then I suppose the pressure is now on Councilmember Djou to defend his idea from attacks like these:

From Okino:

Okino said his proposal would work over a tax-rate change because a rate change would not benefit only owner-occupied homes.

“Investors and the out-of-staters who come here – those are the people who are actually raising the assessments – they would have that equal break with the homeowners,” Okino said.

“If we do that, then we can give less of a benefit to the homeowners. So, I’d rather take everything off of the speculators and give it to our homeowners, who really actually deserve the break at this point,” he added.

…and from Dela Cruz:

We fully expect that these proposals will be scrutinized for the fiscal impact on city revenue collections and we are confident that all of these measures can provide relief to those who most deserve relief. Any across-the-board remedy, such as a rollback of tax rates, will give the same measure of relief to the buyers of high-end properties as those long-term residents on fixed incomes.

We believe these homeowners, along with many middle-class families who are already having a hard time making ends meet, are those who need the most help.

Well, maybe. Many of the middle-class, the “fixed income,” and those who “need the most help” are renters. Nevertheless, those who rent (myself included) should logically expect these higher property tax assessments to inevitably result in rent increases as landlords are likely to pass on that expense—especially since a reduction of the property taxes imposed on rental property seems very unlikely to be included in whatever bill ultimately emerges.

Maybe it’s impossible to avoid increasing rents due to higher property taxes without discussing either rent control or a plan such as Djou’s, but to simply ignore it and to instead talk of excluding the “investors” to reserve the succor for the benefit of “the little guy” is not exactly telling the whole story.

Comments (0)
Ethics commission dismisses complaint against Senator

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 4:54 pm
A conclusion to an ethics complaint is the topic of this Advertiser story. The incident occurred during the 2005 legislative session, and I posted about it at the time.

The Hawai’i State Ethics Commission has dismissed a complaint against state Sen. Clayton Hee that alleged he misused his office by sending out fundraising tickets to a nominee for the University of Hawai’i Board of Regents shortly before the nominee appeared before Hee’s committee for a confirmation hearing.

The commission decided in November to dismiss the complaint for insufficient evidence, but the decision was not released publicly until yesterday after Hee referred to the ruling Tuesday in official Senate correspondence.

I took a look through the law, mostly because that implied secrecy sounded more than a bit odd to me. As I interpret the law, there is no requirement for the Commission to “publicly release” anything about a dismissed complaint. By not acting within 30 days of the complaint being filed, the Commission’s inaction, in and of itself, is the legal equivalent of denying the complaint.

It shall render advisory opinions upon the request of any legislator, employee, or delegate to the constitutional convention, or person formerly holding such office or employment as to whether the facts and circumstances of a particular case constitute or will constitute a violation of the code of ethics. If no advisory opinion is rendered within thirty days after the request is filed with the commission, it shall be deemed that an advisory opinion was rendered and that the facts and circumstances of that particular case do not constitute a violation of the code of ethics.

This policy makes some sense, since the tacit dismissal would not create another media story (and further drag the accused through the mud) in the way a more overt dismissal procedure would. However, while an overt dismissal would remind the public of the allegations it would also serve to publicly affirm that the charges were not upheld. On some cases that might be more important, but if that is the case the accused can always draft their own press release, I suppose…

Comments (0)
Mayor needs to be prompt with his street performer compromise

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 4:53 pm
Both of the Honolulu dailies editorialize about the street performers and Mayor Hannemann’s intentions to veto Bill 71 and offer a compromise. The Advertiser editorial includes these suggestions:

Hannemann’s compromise involves the imposition of a license fee on those seeking an audience, and this sounds workable. Similar systems are in place in other jurisdictions, such as San Francisco, which has found a way to balance the desire for a lively street scene with the need for public order.

In Honolulu, it would be smart to set the fee at a higher than token amount to help pay for staff time to handle this chore. The suggested $20 to $25 fee sounds too skimpy.

The city also would have to schedule street performers to appear on a rotating basis in one of six sought-after sites. This could keep the crowds to a more manageable size, less likely to spill into the street and pose a safety hazard.

At the heart of the plan is the idea of sharing available space for performers, rather than an effort to muzzle them at specific times.

Within the bounds of allowing for free expression, the licensing scheme might also offer an opportunity for the city to encourage street performances or activities that create a Hawaiian “sense of place,” such as lei vendors.

Frankly, I don’t agree that issuing six permits twice a year is going to be a big administrative burden for the City. Although the cynic in me notes that opponents could simply buy up all the permits and do absolutely nothing as a “performance” for 6 months…

The editors’ suggestion that the permitting process should “encourage” activities that create a Hawaiian “sense of place,” however, is more problematic. Whatever compromise plan the Mayor ultimately offers, he would be wise to steer well clear of this idea because content-based preferences would almost certainly not withstand legal challenges.

Meanwhile, on the SB editorial page the editors aired this procedural opinion:

The City Council approved Djou’s proposal by a 7-2 vote. Four votes are needed to override the veto. The mayor’s proposed compromise deserves a hearing before the Council prior to a veto override vote, not afterward, as Djou suggests.

Street performers are popular worldwide, and Hannemann says his approach is similar to that taken by some mainland cities. The Council should be fully informed about the modest alternative to drastic action that would surely result in a court battle.

In order for the Mayor’s compromise to be heard before the veto override, he would obviously need to first complete drafting his bill, file it with the Council, and get it onto an agenda. The Council only has 30 days to override his veto, so they are not at liberty to simply wait around for Hannemann—no matter how good his compromise may be.

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Hawaii inmate’s death in Kentucky to be probed

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:46 pm
Lots of follow-up to the prisoner death story (see my post from yesterday) in the Honolulu media. Print stories in the Advertiser ; television reports from KITV and KHON; and a blog post at Dissappeared News, too. I’m happy to see all this attention, but I wonder if it will lead to any improvement.

[Hawaii Director of Public Safety] Lopez said Hawai’i prison officials have no reason at this point to think that medical treatment at the Otter Creek prison is inadequate. [DPS spokesman] Gaede said the Public Safety Department had not received any such reports.

“We have not had any complaints about it, nothing at all, and we didn’t even get complaints about Sarah’s stomach condition until this weekend,” Gaede said.

Otter Creek records provided to Hawai’i officials yesterday show only that Ah Mau was treated with castor oil for constipation, but there is no record of her returning for follow-up treatment, Gaede said.

Hawai’i officials are concerned about communications with the Kentucky prison, Gaede said. Otter Creek staff notified Hawai’i officials that Ah Mau had been hospitalized, and later that she had been placed on life support, but Hawai’i officials didn’t know she died until hearing the news from her sister, he said.

“There’s some sort of chink in the communications there,” Gaede said.

In response to that, Kat Brady sent this by email:

Frank Lopez says this is the first he learned about health problems at the prison. That is an outright lie. I was patched into a phone call with [Lopez] and Sen. Chun-Oakland regarding Otter Creek’s mis-diagnosis of Rowena Robinson and he also knew that the women have been plagued with vomiting and diarrhea since they got there in October – I suspect the water but am still checking into that.

On the CCA end, the television reports suggest that the private prison operator is up to something sinister, including the possibility that the inmate’s death was not caused by a heart attack, but perhaps by an infectious disease.

The women inmates in Kentucky have been told not to discuss the death with anyone outside of the prison. To someone in the free world, following that order might sound ridiculous. For an inmate, however, disobeying such an order from those who control every facet of her life could have some significant consequences. These women have every right to be concerned for their health and welfare, and to impose this gag rule is wrong. If ever there was a scenario to demonstrate the full (tragic pun included) meaning of the adage “sunshine is the best disinfectant,” this would seem to be it.

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Repubs assail legislators who “pressure” UH president

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:44 pm
I’m not sure who wrote the headline for this Advertiser article, but I don’t think it is accurate to say the “lawmakers deny pressuring UH’s McClain.” The legislators openly admit to the conduct, however they don’t consider their behavior to be misconduct. There is a subtle but important difference.

In letters to Senate and House leaders, Senate Minority Leader Fred Hemmings, R-25th (Kailua, Waimanalo, Hawai’i Kai), and House Minority Leader Lynn Finnegan, R-32nd (’Aliamanu, Airport, Mapunapuna), requested internal investigations over McClain’s treatment before he testified at a briefing on the university’s budget in December.

McClain suggested at the briefing before state Sen. Clayton Hee, D-23rd (Kane’ohe, Kahuku) and state Rep. Tommy Waters, D-51st (Waimanalo, Lanikai), the chairmen of the higher education committees, that the university’s accreditation could be jeopardized because of micromanagement from the Legislature. Three days before the briefing, Hee and Waters had questioned McClain at a private meeting about his decision not to transfer an assistant professor’s position from UH-Manoa to UH-West O’ahu as the Legislature had ordered.

McClain later told The Advertiser he received several data requests from the Legislature before the briefing and said he felt “burdened” by the lawmakers. Hee and Waters have said they were exercising their proper oversight role as committee chairmen and made no attempt to pressure McClain.

You have got to be kidding me. For the sake of their (joint and severable) credibility, I certainly hope Finnegan, Hemmings, and McClain have more substantive allegations (and proof) than what is described here. If legislators confronting defiant executive branch officials is to be considered misconduct, then I think it’s time for us to give up on the Separation of Powers concept.

However, that’s not to say that McClain does not have another, perhaps more legitimate, option to challenge the faculty transfer that seems to have been the catalyst of this row. In Article X, Section 6 of the State Constitution, there is this clause:

The board [of Regents] shall also have exclusive jurisdiction over the internal structure, management, and operation of the university. This section shall not limit the power of the legislature to enact laws of statewide concern. The legislature shall have the exclusive jurisdiction to identify laws of statewide concern.

I do not know which piece of legislation ordered that particular professor to be transferred, but if that Act wasn’t explicitly identified by the legislature as a law “of statewide concern,” then it would certainly seem to be interfering in the internal structure, management, and operation of the university. In other words, challenge the Constitutionality of the transfer in the Courts instead of submitting these all-but-futile requests for internal legislative investigations.

Under Senate and House rules, the leadership has the discretion to handle investigation requests administratively ? such as by talking to the lawmakers involved ? or they can appoint special committees to investigate whether there was any misconduct. The committees can recommend the charges be dismissed or urge that the lawmakers involved be censured, suspended or expelled. The full Senate or House would have to vote on any punishment.

Based on what we know now, there is absolutely no way that I foresee a special committee to investigate this in the House, and the only thing that gives me even the slightest hesitation about holding a similar opinion concerning the likelihood of a special committee in the Senate is the lingering leadership uncertainty in that chamber that also involves Senator Hee in a high-profile role.

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Council to begin hunt for tax relief

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 6:06 pm
An article in the Advertiser and a story in the SB provide another chapter in the sudden rush to lower Honolulu property taxes. The latest news in these reports is that Councilmember Djou is planning to introduce a Proposition 13-style proposal. It is not yet available on Docushare, unfortunately.

“I plan to introduce a bill that will limit the amount that property taxes may increase to no more than the greater of 10 percent per year or 1 1/2 times of inflation,” Djou said.


But Djou’s proposal has not been received well by Mayor Mufi Hannemann and other Council members who are offering their own property tax reduction measures.

“If you’re going to cap the property tax rate, that means we have to curtail spending and curtail services,” Hannemann said. “And I’d like Councilman Djou and others to be very specific on what programs should we now cut back on.”

Hannemann said his administration has been cutting spending since he took office but there are fixed costs it cannot cut.

And Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz said an across-the-board cap on property taxes would benefit investors who are responsible for Oahu’s escalating property values.

“And that will mean less relief for our local families,” Dela Cruz said. “We really need to target relief for our local families and our middle-income families and those on fixed incomes.”

Council Budget Committee Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi said: “Investors should pay. They’re driving the cost of housing up.”

Not exactly here nor there, but I cringe every time I see politicians and the media use the term “fixed income.” As if anyone truly has an unlimited income… If you mean “low-income retired people,” then say that. Sheesh.

More to the point, it would be good to know exactly how many Oahu homeowners are so-called “investors.” Except for Djou’s plan, which is across-the-board, the lack of any reliable data is going to make it difficult to determine what the impact on revenues for any of these proposals may be. i.e. How may we fairly compare the various offerings from Djou, the Mayor, and Dela Cruz / Kobayashi?

I’m also hoping to hear more from Councilmember Kobayashi about her cryptic offhand rent control comment…

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Street performer ban faces veto

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 5:56 pm
Mayor Hannemann will veto the legislation that aimed for an evening ban on street performers along Kalakaua Avenue. The Advertiser has a story here, and the SB has a piece here.

[Mayor] Hannemann said in his discussions with the ACLU, it was clear to him that the city would have been sued if Bill 71 became law.

“We can’t keep paying these legal fees every time we get challenged for something,” said Hannemann, who added that he believes the city stood a good chance of losing in court.

[Councilmember] Djou, who is a lawyer, said a legal challenge from ACLU would be without merit and that he’s disappointed the mayor gave in to threat and intimidation.

“I don’t think the ACLU, merely by threatening lawsuits, should direct or discourage otherwise good public policy,” he said.

No argument here, however, it is an open question if Bill 71 is “good public policy.” In my opinion, it is not. The Mayor, the ACLU, and two Councilmembers have also made clear that they find this bill to be bad public policy.

Hannemann said his administration is still working out the details of his proposal. But he intends to require performers to purchase a permit to perform in Waikiki, specifically along a stretch of Kalakaua Avenue targeted by Bill 71.

Under Hannemann’s proposal, the city Department of Transportation Services would designate six locations along Kalakaua between Lewers Street and Uluniu Avenue. Street performers would need a permit to perform at these spots between 7 to 10 p.m. daily.

A permit, good for half a year, would cost $20-$25. The locations would be assigned on a rotating basis.

Djou said he would study Hannemann’s proposal but he does not believe it has merit. Still, he said, it deserves a hearing, which it will get after the Council votes on overriding the mayor’s veto.

The council has 30 days after the mayor rejects a piece of legislation to override a veto. Hannemann needs the support of four Council members to sustain his veto.

The City Council approved Bill 71 last month by 7-2 vote. Many Waikiki residents, businesses and police support the ban because they said the performers pose a safety hazard by clogging busy sidewalks.

According to a comment left by Jon Mitchell of Residents of Oahu and Artists Against Restrictions (ROAAR), a petition in opposition to Bill 71 has 2,000 signatures already, so there is clearly not unanimous public support for the restrictions on Waikiki street performers.

I will quickly add, however, that broad public support for limiting speech will always be much easier to achieve than widespread support for protecting free speech. Of course, and to our good fortune, questions of civil rights do not hinge on the majority opinion, nor are they bound by legislative designations of “good public policy.”

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Official says First Hawaiian paid too little for stadium deal

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:53 pm
PBN has a short story on comments made by Marcia Klompus of the Aloha Stadium Authority.

Marcia Klompus, who was appointed by Gov. Linda Lingle to the stadium’s nine-member policymaking board in July, said the 50,000-seat stadium is losing money on the three-year deal with the state’s largest bank. The bank is paying $80,000 a year through 2008 for the right to be the only bank whose advertising and automatic teller machines are allowed in the stadium.

Klompus, who also is Lingle’s director of scheduling, said any bank with exclusive rights to advertise financial services for a mass audience at one of Hawaii’s main draws should be paying at least $500,000 annually.


The reaction to the bank’s contract reflects concerns about advertising revenue at the stadium. That figure is projected to fall 6.2 percent to $301,890 next year from $321,890 this year.

Only Pepsi Bottling Co. is paying more than First Hawaiian Bank to advertise at the stadium. Pepsi pays $107,888 a year through 2008 to be the only advertiser and vendor of soft drinks.

First Hawaiian’s contract prohibits all other banks and credit unions from advertising or even placing an automated teller machine at the stadium.

Since her appointment five months ago, Klompus has been the most assertive member of the board, speaking out in favor of everything from an alcohol ban in the stadium’s parking lot to a new Web site for the stadium to more events to boost attendance revenue.

She was the only board member to speak out on First Hawaiian Bank’s contract, criticizing it as a “bonanza” for the bank and urging the board to amend the contract so that the ATM service is not part of the deal.

“That’s quite a package that they are getting for a minimum amount of money,” she said.

Tony Guerrero, vice chairman of First Hawaiian Bank, served as chairman of the stadium authority until June 30, when his term expired. He was not reappointed to the nine-member board by Gov. Linda Lingle.

The article does not say when the contract was signed, but, judging from the context provided, I would assume it was approved under Guerrero’s chairmanship. Was there any scrutiny (from the board or the media) given to the terms of the agreement with FHB? At the very least, I hope that Guerrero recused himself from that vote in light of his obvious conflict of interest.

Due to the staggered terms of the members of the Stadium Authority, there are still 3 Cayetano-era appointees on the board. However, if the contract began relatively recently, then at least three of the board members would have been Lingle appointees. Did anyone, Cayetano or Lingle-era, see anything wrong with it?

The power of “yes,” indeed… Heh.

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State to probe death of Hawai’i prisoner

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 7:23 pm
Very sad and troubling news from the private prison in Kentucky where a Hawaii inmate has died from a suspected heart attack. Both Honolulu dialies carry a brief wire story ( Advertiser here and SB here).

Unfortunately, this wire service report may only be the tip of an iceberg. I was sent two reports by Kat Brady of the Community Alliance on Prisons. One report is about Ah Mau and another is from December 2005 and involves an inmate named Robinson. Admittedly, the reports give limited information from several thousand miles away, but they deserve the benefit of the doubt. I trust Kat Brady implicitly, and, while prisoners can be manipulative, it’s obscene for anyone to suggest that prisoners are willing to die to game the system…

Otter Creek prison certainly appears to be an unhealthy place for Hawaii inmates. The management is a disgrace, and Director Lopez of the Hawaii Department of Public Safety had better get a handle on this quickly before another Hawaii inmate pays with her life to pad the bottom line of Corrections Corporation of America.

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Lingle opponent of the week

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 7:20 pm
Today I was sent a link for this new blog that advocates Jeff Mikulina for Governor. I don’t think he has enough name recognition (especially outside of Oahu); I’m sure he has zero money; and, with his Sierra Club background and pony tail, he would be extremely easy for the right to caricature.

That said, with no other opponent(s) to Lingle in the contest, why not? Keep in mind that Mikulina would not necessarily have to run as a Democrat. At this point, even if he were to become a declared Green Party candidate his campaign would get a lot of (free) media attention simply because the media (and the, uh, more wonky parts of the electorate, ahem) are dying for a horse race to watch. If nothing else, a Mikulina run could make for some interesting issues gaining some wider public debate.

Then, at some point, the “real” nominee could emerge and end his 15 minutes of fame. Or not.

If anyone knows of other “draft” campaigns, please sound off.

Comments (1)
Costs and benefits of transit system were MIA at scoping events

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 7:04 pm
HOT lane fan and rail opponent Cliff Slater has an op-ed today in the Advertiser. You can probably guess the topic…

I don’t agree with his underlying premise that cost-benefit analysis is the be-all and end-all when making public policy decisions, but this segment of his critique is valid.

… [O]ur reaction was at the city’s scoping meeting. Where are the benefits? Where are the costs? Where are the numbers? Response: “We don’t have them yet.”

Us: “Huh?”

For example, they had eliminated the HOT lanes idea on grounds of cost but denied they had developed any costs. Go figure.

Essentially, this response from both city and state agencies and their consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff is the first of two in the well-known consultant’s two-phase response: the first phase when it is just too early to give the public all the facts, and the second phase when it is too late to stop the project.

This way of dealing with the public is a variant of the mushroom strategy. Keep them in the dark, cover at regular intervals with bull excrement and anticipate a bumper crop of … anemic voters.

Personally, I have no problem with cost-benefit data being made available, but calculating those data for the myriad of plans currently on the table (and, to be fair, for any plans that emerge from the scoping meetings) would take quite a long time. HOT lanes have been iced out, no question about it. That must chafe him to no end…

Whatever. As his growing cynicism (and my cynicism regarding his cynicism, haha) reflects, nobody of influence in this question listens to Slater anyway. Heh.

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Councilmember urges quick negotiations over Waimea value

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 8:39 am
The SB has an op-ed by Honolulu Councilmember Romy Cachola today. Cachola’s piece is, in part, essentially an open letter to the current owner of the Waimea valley:

For the record, since 2001, the city has been negotiating and trying to resolve this matter, and has already spent millions of dollars to take possession of and maintain Waimea Valley.

To prevent further cost to the city and to quickly resolve matters, I suggest that the landowner, Attractions Hawaii, give the city its best and final offer for the valley. Once such an offer is received, the Audubon Society, OHA and other stakeholders should come to the table and in good faith discuss acceptance of the offer. If no acceptance or agreement is reached, the only alternative is to go to trial.

At the trial, the jury will likely consider various viewpoints, including those of Department of Land and Natural Resources director Peter Young, who, when interviewed, said, “With the overwhelming opposition that’s been expressed, it would be difficult for the Land Board to even consider issuing a permit for any use in the back of the valley.”

Young’s statement underscores the true worth and value of Waimea Valley, which is zoned conservation land.

Based on the above, we should be willing to resolve this issue once and for all, and if we cannot, then let’s place our faith, hope and trust in a jury to come up with a fair price for Waimea Valley.

Will Attractions Hawaii take the bait? Since the Mayor has supplanted the Council in the formal negotiations, I suppose “negotiating” via the media channels is all that is left for Cachola try.

This is also as good a time as any to note that the Mayor’s initial suggestion to accept, and the Council’s “Pearl Harbor” vote to reject, the settlement offer both occurred before it became known that the City would be collecting a flood of property tax revenue based on a big jump in assessed values islandwide. If Audobon, OHA, et al. had been aware of that, I wonder if they would have been (or remain?) so eager to jump in with their checkbooks open to help the city… Heh.

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Arsonists are not prosecuted for brush fires

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 8:18 am
It’s a slow news day, so I took a closer look at the claims made by “the authorities” (i.e. the Honolulu Prosecutor) in an Advertiser article about the complete lack of prosecution for Oahu brushfires.

The shortfall may lie in Hawai’i’s lack of an arson law, authorities say. Maliciously starting a grass fire ? endangering firefighters, keeping residents from their homes and causing those with breathing disorders to become ill ? is not sufficient for prosecution. Under Hawai’i law, prosecutors say they must show that someone has suffered a loss of property to go after firebugs.

“They’re charged as criminal property damage,” said Honolulu City and County Prosecutor Peter Carlisle. “And there has been a general issue … that setting a brushfire might not qualify as damage to property.

“Will juries think that scorched earth changes the value of a property?”

Because prosecutors were afraid the answer would be no, Carlisle said, not one adult ? last summer or in the institutional memory of his office ? has been prosecuted in state courts for starting brushfires.

“Maybe we could bring the property owner in to testify that because of the burned grass, the property is harder to sell?” Carlisle mused. “The only way to know is to litigate it.”

He said his office would make a point of trying to do that in the future. Meanwhile, he and other public officials said they would support new arson legislation to make prosecution of brushfire cases easier.

The Criminal Property Damage statutes are here: First degree, Second degree, Third degree, and Fourth degree.

Carlisle is being uncharacteristically pusillanimous, in my (non-lawyer) opinion, and should indeed “make a point of trying to [prosecute these cases] in the future.

If you look at the case notes (which are appended to the Fourth degree link above), you’ll see that arson was found to be an “archaic” term. As such, fire was instead incorporated into the statutory definition of “widely dangerous means” that may cause property damage.

More fundamentally, I think Carlisle misinterprets all these statutes insofar as he believes they require the property damage to meet a certain monetary threshold and to encompass certain acts. The statues clearly say or. If the defendant “puts another person in danger of death or bodily injury” in the course of damaging property (i.e. firefighters, neighboring residents, etc. ), that alone is sufficient to charge the defendant with First degree criminal property damage. It is not necessary that the property damage also exceed $20,000.

If the defendant damages the property of another “using widely dangerous means” (i.e. fire), that alone is sufficient to charge the defendant with Second degree criminal property damage (or Third degree, depending upon “state of mind”). It is not necessary that the property damage also exceed a certain monetary amount.

My father is a retired deputy fire chief, so I suppose it’s possible that I take this a little more personally than the average person. The alleged arsonists should be held to account, and Carlisle’s explanation for why they are not being prosecuted is, well, lame.

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Water board bids to buy Army operation

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 7:32 am
A curious article in the PBN notes that the Honolulu Board of Water Supply is negotiating to buy the Army’s [chlorinated] water system on Oahu (serving Tripler AMC, Schofield Barracks, and Fort Shafter).

Acquiring the Army’s water systems would be attractive since it would give the agency more control of the island’s water supply and a reliable base of customers in military housing. The agency has about $110 million in annual revenue.

“There are business reasons for adding the Army as a customer,” said Donna Kiyosaki, deputy manager and chief engineer for the Board of Water Supply. “This would enhance our revenue stream, thus enabling us to spread our cost of service to a larger pool of customers.”

For the Army, the deal would enable it to shed an operation that diverts money and personnel from its military mission.

Of course, adding more customes would enhance the revenue stream, but it would also add operating expenses. Those expenses could be significant if the Army infrastructure is in the same poor condition as that which the Board already owns.

I’m also wondering if there are any plans to merge this Army water system (with or without its present chlorination) to the municipal system. Last, by selling and giving up control of this system the Army may have to answer to the Board when it comes time for them to expand their presence. Not that I would expect the Board to deny them, but if these two systems were merged and other developers beat the Army to the tap, then it could become a very interesting battle.

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Looking forward

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 10:10 am
The SB has a relatively vanilla editorial message, but the Advertiser has several pieces today (a series of brief articles and an editorial) that describe what they call the “burning [public] questions” and “key [legislative] issues” for 2006.

In an election year, it is inevitable that folks at the state Capitol will be focused on more than the work at hand.

The 2006 legislative session will be overshadowed by thoughts of the upcoming election and how to seize the early advantage. But in the long run, re-election hopes rest inevitably on the good they do for the taxpayers and voters of this state.

Ah, if only that were true. Re-election in Hawaii is based largely on incumbency, fundraising, sign-waving, and avoidance of personal scandal. Legislators are rarely held individually accountable by their constituents for the successes or failures of a legislative session. At the Executive level, it’s hard to say how that historical trend applies to a Republican governor with no specific opponent, but I will assume it as my default position.

Game on!

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Hannemann seeks homeowner tax cut

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 9:38 am
The Honolulu Mayor has revised his stance on property taxes in an obvious response to public and political pressures. The Advertiser and the SB both carry accounts (found here and here).

Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann made three proposals yesterday to tackle the issue of soaring property taxes for homeowners:

A one-time $40 million tax cut for homeowners next year.
A new classification that will lower the property tax rate for owner-occupants in the future.
A new mayor’s tax policy committee made up of business leaders, private-sector economists and tax experts that will work with the City Council on tax policy.
To say that Hannemann “made” these proposals is a bit of a stretch, since the Mayor told the Advertiser that he won’t release the details until he submits his budget in two months time.

[Hannemann] offered no specifics about which homeowners might qualify for the proposed tax cut.

However, if the tax break is limited to Honolulu’s approximately 135,000 owner occupants ? and excludes investors or part-time residents ? the owner occupants would get an average $300 in relief this year if the overall tax cut is $40 million.

City officials have said they have no way of knowing how many of the total 273,000 Honolulu property owners qualify for exemptions.

The present owner-occupant exemption on property tax assessments is $40,000. According to city budget officials, a $300 one-time tax credit would be the equivalent to receiving an additional $75,000 homeowners’ exemption.

“I’m not going to lay out any specific details on how this $40 million is going to be parceled out, or how we determine the methodology by which we go about distributing this,” the mayor said. “I want to work with the City Council. They are just as concerned as I am about this issue.”

A cynic might suggest that by working with the legislators the Mayor will ensure that he doesn’t make a proposal only to have it quickly debated, derided and/or exceeded by the Council, the media, and the public. Rose colored lenses; this is all about “reaching out for what’s best for everyone.” Whatever spin you like, perhaps it is already too late for that strategy now, as the sharks have already begun to circle around the tax relief chum Hannemann has dribbled into the waters.

City Councilman Charles Djou also said he would like to see a long-term solution, either by increasing the homeowner exemption to $100,000 or lowering the tax rate.

“A one-time thing is good, but not good enough,” Djou said. “It’s a difference between first down and a touchdown. What the mayor is suggesting is a first down. I would hope the mayor would be more aggressive.”

Hannemann maintains that he will not lower the property tax rate, the single largest source of income to the city. Keeping the tax rate unchanged will help improve the city’s bond rating, giving it greater power to borrow, at lower interest rates.

Hard to square that final comment against his announced proposal to create a new classification of property with a lower tax rate. Shrug. ??

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Kakaako redevelopment debate heads to Lege

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 9:08 am
Commendable reporting by Stewart Yerton of the SB led to this excellent story about the Kakaako Makai redevelopment, the opposition to the residential component proposed by A&B, and what comes next. Outstanding.

In essence, the project’s future hinges on whether lawmakers will accept this trade-off: the creation of new parks and public amenities in exchange for approximately six acres of land, which A&B would be required to buy. Put another way, instead of paying cash in the form of taxes to clean up and redevelop the 36.5 acre area, the taxpayers would give up land, and A&B would foot the bill for both the land and the development.

Spot on. Too often the focus remains on the nuts-and-bolts of a policy and the “essence” is not spelled out. Yerton describes the essence of the debate out front, then plows into the political wrangling.

Michael Kliks, a community activist who is coordinating the opposition, acknowledged that the HCDA has openly discussed the project’s residential component for years. Kliks said he has long objected to the proposal; however, Kliks said it is only now that other citizens have begun to mobilize.

Kliks said the activists hope to make Gov. Linda Lingle burn significant political capital if her influence is needed to quell legislative opposition during the session, which begins Jan. 18. Although the HCDA is largely autonomous, answering directly to an appointed board, lawmakers have the power to adopt laws controlling it.

“We’re going to make it as expensive for her as we can,” Kliks said of Lingle. “We’re going to make her burn as many bridges as possible if this thing goes through.”

Wow. He’s laying his cards on the table, but such frank bravado may backfire for Kliks. That said, the Governor is already beginning to backpedal from her (previously low-profile, bordering on stealth) support of the HCDA plan. Lingle now thinks that “on balance” this is a good idea, but that the Legislature should perhaps be involved to approve sales of state land in cases like this.

The article also speaks to a lingering question I had posed here. Specifically: is the A&B proposal being attacked for including a residential component that was a requirement of the RFP? The answer is “yes and no.”

In one strong rebuke, the Ala Moana/Kakaako Neighborhood Board in November passed a resolution asking the governor and the Legislature to halt the project until there had been a “full review of the adequacy of HCDA’s process of using community input prior to issuing” requests for proposals from developers.

Agendas and minutes of HCDA public board meetings show that the agency openly discussed the sale of private condos as far back as October 2002, when the authority adopted a business plan outlining its vision for the project. Also, while opponents have objected to the 200-foot height of the proposed condo towers, HCDA records show that the height was allowed as far back as 1990.

Daniel Dinell, executive director for the HCDA, acknowledged that the A&B proposal strays from the 2002 business plan in some ways. For example, the plan calls for just 300 to 400 residential units. Furthermore, he acknowledged, language in the plan implies that there would not be high-rise condo towers. Finally, the request for proposals from developers itself envisions just 300 condo units.

By contrast, A&B’s original plan called for 937 condos, but a plan revised with public input now calls for 635.

Dinell said the business plan and RFP were meant to be “directional and not prescriptive.” This approach, he said, was necessary to obtain the best ideas for a large-scale mixed-use development that was meant to create public benefits.

From there, the article has critical comments from Senator Fukunaga regarding the internal operations of HCDA and then briefly addresses the environmental remediation that will be needed for anything to happen on the Kakaako property. (I still find it odd that the environmental cleanup questions are lingering while everything else rushes forward, but whatever.) Last, there is a useful timeline appended to the article that encapsulates the issue from 2002 to the present.

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Maui News is the place for letters

Filed under:
HI Media
— Doug @ 8:30 am
The Maui News toots their own horn a bit in this editorial about their policy for letters to the editor, but the boast is well-deserved. Since beginning this blog (one year anniversary on January 4!) I have been following the Hawaii print media (well, those with online editions anyway) rather closely. The Maui News letters to the editor are exceptional; I am impressed with the breadth and depth of letters they carry. The letters section of the Maui News is noticably and consistently better than any other local paper.

I don’t know why other newspapers do not have such a lively letters page—maybe it reflects their readership, maybe it’s an editorial decision, maybe success only breeds success. Whatever the reason, I hope to see it become the norm statewide.

On that note, I encourage more comments here on the blog and thank all of you have contributed your feedback. I know that my readers have valuable insights into many of the things I write about, and I would love to hear from more of them. If you want to remain anonymous, that’s okay, and, please, don’t think you need to be a “good writer” or that you must craft a clever/witty comment. Just say it!

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Happy Birthday, Mom!

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— Doug @ 8:20 am
I know that my mother reads this blog from time to time – which is why I never curse, haha. She is a New Years baby, and I hope she is enjoying her birthday.

Can’t honestly say that I wish I were in Wisconsin to celebrate with you, though. However, I will be there in May—when the Madison weather is (usually) nice.

Aloha nui!

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