Poinography!

January 10, 2009

Poinography March 2006 archive

Filed under: — Doug @ 1:52 pm

Poinography!

3/31/2006

Trash hauling to begin on Big Island, sez paper

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:32 pm
The Kona-based editors at the West Hawaii Today are upset about what they see as an impending “insult” to their community.

In late January Mayor Harry Kim told a West Hawaii audience his administration will not haul Hilo trash to West Hawaii. Not so. The county will haul Hilo trash to Kona as soon as two weeks from now, perhaps four.

This week Terin Gloor, an engineer speaking for Environmental Management Director Barbara Bell and four County Council members, verified that barring an 11th-hour action, the trucks will roll.

Officially at that point, West Hawaii can lay claim to providing more than 70 percent of the county’s real property tax base – and getting Hilo’s waste in return.

Okay, they may have a legitimate beef if the Kim administration has been lying to them (I haven’t been following it closely), but the other part of their argument is shaky.

Imagine if this type of thing happened in Honolulu—waste created in Leeward communities trucked to a (nonexistent) landfill near, for a comparable example, Waikiki or Kahala. That would have some folks howling, to say the least. The vast distances in Hawaii County make it hard to make that comparison, however.

What goes unsaid in the editors’ argument is that there is probably a very good correlation between property tax collections and the amount of waste generated; the West Side probably creates around 70% of the island’s waste. If there is only one landfill (?) then hauling waste long distances is a necessary evil, but if there must be hauling then the logical solution is that an area creating 70% of the waste is sent the remaining 30%. What would be unfair is to send 70% of the waste generated in one area to some other site (which would mean Hilo, in this case). Finding a “neutral” site, i.e. a landfill in neither community, would make even less sense—in that case, all the waste would be shipped.

That said, assuming that the single vote mentioned in the editorial is indeed the 2006 election barometer that the editors make it out to be, the only Councilmember who seems to have “betrayed” his own constituents is Pilago. The other West Side members voted to send more waste to Hilo.

Before Aaron Steene flames me, it also seems incredible that there is no other good site for a landfill on the Hilo side. What’s up with that?!

Comments (3)
Judge dismisses lawsuit by PR firm

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 6:28 pm
I’m a little disappointed in the Advertiser story about a lawsuit against the Hannemann administration that has been dismissed. The Mayor’s press release is quite a stretch, but the Advertiser seems to take it at face value.

Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann today praised the decision by Circuit Court Judge Eden Elizabeth Hifo, who, yesterday, dismissed in its entirety the lawsuit against the city brought by Communications Pacific and its president Kitty Lagareta.

?I?m pleased the Court found in the City?s favor,? Hannemann said. ?We felt all along that the City acted completely aboveboard in its actions awarding its transit consultant contract, and now Judge Hifo has validated our position.?

Lagareta?s firm was listed as one of several subconsultants in the contract the city awarded to Parsons Brinkerhoff Quade and Douglas, Inc. The Court ruled that CommPac?s complaint failed to comply with the State Procurement Code.

?It is unfortunate that Miss Lagareta chose to politicize the transit issue by running first to the state Procurement Policy Board and then to the courts,? Hannemann continued. ?She and her attorney have now lost twice.?

Uh, neither Judge Hifo nor the Procurement Policy Board have actually weighed the evidence. The “losses” for Lagareta have been procedural, not substantive.

According to a written transcript of her ruling, Hifo said she granted the motion to dismiss and said her decision sets the stage so “wiser and more collective minds than a single judge can actually give us the answer.”

Hannemann took the decision as a victory. “We felt all along that the city acted completely aboveboard in its actions awarding its transit consultant contract, and now Judge Hifo has validated our position,” he said in a written statement.

But Lagareta said the judge did not rule on whether the city acted properly in swapping subcontractors after the selection process was triggered.

“Nobody has said anybody did anything right or wrong at this point,” Lagareta said. “I think it’s a little early to claim victory.”

Hannemann disagreed and said he’s pleased that a cloud hanging over his administration was removed by the dismissal. “People are frankly growing tired of these political games,” Hannemann said.

Lagareta said she looks forward to hearing the outcome of a federal investigation into these allegations. Last month, the FBI’s Honolulu division interviewed at least one person and sought records in connection with a subcontract that was part of the larger, $9.7 million design deal for mass transit on O’ahu.

Separately, the inspector general’s office of the U.S. Department of Transportation has opened a review into how the subcontract was awarded, according to a DOT spokesman in Washington.

I am not a lawyer, but Hifo’s ruling seems to be almost urging Lagareta to appeal her decision to dismiss the suit. I would sure like to read the entire transcript of Hifo’s decision to see if it provides any more insight as to why she ruled the way she did. I get the impression that Mayor Hannemann was/is desperate for anything he could portray as a win—the federal investigations are the much more ominous “cloud[s] hanging over his administration.”

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DOE starts Project Aloha

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:27 pm
Upon reading this West Hawaii Today article I was quickly reminded of the last example mentioned in this post I did during Sunshine Week.

The public’s perception of the state Department of Education could use a little improvement. DOE officials acknowledge this and want to change it with the implementation of customer service training and surveys for all DOE employees, according to a department official.

Susan Kondo, volunteer coordinator for “Project Aloha,” said she was recently hired to work in the DOE and was concerned about the department’s negative image. As a former bank employee, Kondo said she believed that implementing customer service principles may help improve the face of the DOE.

The first step in “Project Aloha” will survey DOE employees for feedback on the current level of customer service, he said. The DOE has not set a date for when this survey will take place, but Knudsen estimated that it would probably be in the next few months.

Offices and schools may also be reviewed by “mystery shoppers” and “secret callers.” Schools found to do well in customer service may be rewarded with some sort of small gift, said Knudsen.

The “Project Aloha” group has already drafted a 12-question survey to have employees assess themselves on whether they are courteous, welcoming and knowledgeable over the phone as well as in person. [DOE official] said the results of the survey will not be released and is not a “scientific” survey but informal.

Okay, the DOE may be working on improving “Aloha,” but that last comment suggests that they are still dropping the ball on Sunshine Law compliance. The employee survey results would be subject to disclosure—whether informal or scientific.

Asked if a survey of customers would give a more accurate look at the level of customer service offered by the DOE, Knudsen responded that such a survey may come at a later time.

He said the project is small at this time and may not continue or grow because there is currently no funding.

According to Superintendent Pat Hamamoto’s March update to the Board of Education, “The project focuses on the importance of courtesy and professionalism, and aims to enable all DOE employees and the people we serve to learn and work in a caring and safe environment. It also helps fulfill BOE Policy #1110-8, Public Service & User Friendly Schools.”

“The target audience includes both internal and external customers – fellow employees, students parents, community members, school volunteers and other partners, and the general public.”

Let me go out on a limb and predict that the survey will reveal that customer service is exceptionally good—according to DOE staff who are self-assessing. Those results will then obviate the need for any follow-up survey of customers. Heh.

Comments (0)
3/30/2006

Questions linger on Lingle’s China trip

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:20 pm
The Advertiser is still on top of the situation regarding the Lingle administration trade missions to Asia.

Procurement questions surfaced yesterday during a Senate confirmation hearing for the position of administrator of the Procurement Office. Members of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Government Operations asked nominee Aaron Fujioka whether his office is looking into concerns about possible violations of procurement law by DBEDT.

Fujioka, who has been working as the procurement office’s administrator since last fall, said he is in the process of gathering information about how DBEDT organized the 10-day trip.

“I wouldn’t characterize it as an investigation,” he said. “At this point, we are seeking information. We’re trying to make a determination at this point (on) whether procurement (law) is applicable.”

DBEDT asked private companies to donate money for the trip to cover extras such as the travel expenses and honorariums for local entertainers who accompanied the governor. The donations were sent to the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council, which paid vendors based on instructions from DBEDT.

Fujioka said it too early to tell whether DBEDT violated state procurement law.

——–

The attorney general has said said Lingle aides did not violate criminal law. Attorney General Mark Bennett added that it is the responsibility of the state Procurement Office and other agencies to determine if DBEDT violated rules in a manner that doesn’t rise to a criminal level.

DBEDT Director Ted Liu yesterday said through a spokesman that the procurement office last year cleared the use of the council for the trade mission. He added that there has been no determination of a procurement law violation made against DBEDT.

Wha? Last year Fujioka’s office “cleared” the use of PAAC, but now Fujioka’s office is “trying to make a determination” if that 2005 determination was correct? Translation: what was done is okay unless/until Mr. Fujioka changes his mind. More cynical translation: this not-an-investigation is over as soon as the Senate confirms Mr. Fujioka to three more years at his post. …assuming that the “determination” is truly ongoing. The “clearance” was needed to be nominated, the “determination” is needed to be confirmed.

As I posted on Kuhio Day, this procurement pseudo-intrigue is the less important issue with respect to the trade missions. HCR 38, the concurrent resolution I mentioned earlier, is scheduled to be heard on Monday, April 3. That resolution could result in the more important issue, i.e. the ethics of the solicitation process, being scrutinized by the State Auditor. There’s even a (remote) chance that aggressive questioning at the hearing could yield fruit. If that resolution fails to pass, then I intend to proceed with more of my own UIPA requests. I think the whole thing smells. I hope the resolution passes.

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Three in Hawai’i delegation won’t divulge earmarks

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:15 pm
An interesting article from Congress in the Advertiser today that contrasts Representative Case and the rest of the Hawaii Congressional delegation:

Even while supporting more transparency in the controversial process known as “earmarking,” three members of Hawai’i’s congressional delegation declined to reveal their requests this year for such funding.

Earmarks are federal funds dedicated to projects in a lawmaker’s home state and programs popular with local interests.

The state’s two senators ? Daniel K. Inouye and Daniel Akaka, both of them Democrats ? voted for a bill yesterday that would require earmarks to be more public and easier to strip out of legislation.

The bill, approved 90-8, would also toughen lobbying rules.

Both senators, as well as Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai’i, who backs House proposals to stiffen earmarking rules, declined to make public the earmarks they are seeking this year.

Only Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawai’i, shared his requests, which, if granted, would cost taxpayers more than $1 billion.

The obvious subtext of this article is an implication of hypocrisy. However, until the bill becomes law, the legislators who disclose their earmarks (like Representative Case) have given up some of the leverage that helps to see that their requests will be funded. Constituents may applaud Case’s openness, but I think they like pork earmarks even more than they like openness. As the article points out, Hawaii gets much more out of the federal government than we pay in.

How many legislators from other “net gain” states have revealed their earmarks? I don’t know the answer, but my guess would be “few.”

Some thoughts about what this means for Case: Case is the challenger and he needs to differentiate himself from Senator Akaka whenever he can. Also, if Case’s disclosure is found to be a prelude for a budget that does not contain his earmarks, Case’s mistake will not be apparent until after the Democratic primary election (if anyone notices at all). Case’s immediate political future hangs on the outcome of the Democratic primary, and this earmark disclosure could help him in the primary (small kine, anyway). If Case wins the primary, then it’s unlikely a Republican would ever attack him in the general election campaign for revealing his earmarks before he was compelled.

If the bill passes (especially if the requirement to disclose earmarks applies to the budget being drafted this year) then Case looks great. Disclosure is a no-brainer for him.

Comments (0)
Trailer parks considered as affordable housing relief

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Honolulu Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:14 pm
The House has heard a few resolutions concerning trailer parks and manufactured homes, according to an Advertiser story.

Janice Takahashi, chief planner for the Housing and Community Development Corp. of Hawai’i, said the agency was interested in exploring options but warned that trailer parks might not be the solution.

“Trailer parks are not a magic bullet. They do require some infrastructure,” she said. “We don’t know what the costs are.”

In addition, counties might have to change their zoning regulations to allow trailer parks.

Both HCDCH and the state Department of Hawaiian Homelands also raised concerns about the safety of these homes in the event of a natural disaster.

But Rep. Helene Hale, D-4th (Puna), asked, “Trailer houses on the Mainland are very nice places, really. Why would they be less safe?”

Rep. Cindy Evans, D-7th (N. Kona, S. Kohala), who comes from Illinois, said trailer parks there were the next-cheapest option to renting. The prices stay low because the trailers sit on small lots and less infrastructure is required.

“It was a comfortable lifestyle, but it wasn’t glamorous by any means,” she said. “It was very simple.”

Very nice, but not glamorous? Hmmm. What about the 800# gorilla in the room? Namely, classism. This is what people think of (or worse) when you say “trailer park.” I suspect people would welcome a prison next door before they would agree to a trailer park next door.

Remember, trailer parks are proven hurricane magnets. On the other hand, they say that trailer parks drive down real estate values… Bring ‘em on! haha.

But, keep in mind, these are resolutions. If the ideas advance, the most likely outcome is that some reluctant bureaucrat will produce a study and it will go on the shelf with the others. Don’t start browsing quite yet.

All kidding aside, some of the claims made in the resolutions are dubious:

WHEREAS, development of land parcels for single- and multi-family dwellings requires substantial site preparation work, including streets, curbs and gutters, utility installations, and dedication of offsite infrastructure including parks and schools, all of which may cost as much as $200,000 per lot without consideration of the cost of constructing the homes themselves; and

WHEREAS, in other localities, trailer parks provide an intermediate level of housing between rentals and condominium or home ownership, for households of low and moderate incomes; and

WHEREAS, the cost of site preparation for a trailer park is substantially less than that for residential developments, requiring only the provision of utility connections to each “pad” within a parcel of land, rather than the subdivision of real property; and

No matter what kind of home you put on a lot, it will require streets, curbs, gutters, utilities, parks and schools. Those needs don’t just go away because the home is cheap. Since trailers tend to be on smaller lots, increasing density, the need for parks and schools is actually greater than what is associated with more typical sprawl.

Comments (2)
Maui GOP convenes, former Dem to challenge Souki

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:12 pm
Maui Republicans held their annual convention, and the Maui News has an account of what happened. Candidates for the Legislature and the two Republican candidates for (the non-partisan) Mayoral race are all mentioned.

Wailuku insurance agency owner Tom Cerizo announced his plans to run for the state House, and former party Chairwoman Kay Ghean asked for support as she campaigns for the West Maui legislative seat.

“I?m a person committed to the Republican Party, committed to Linda Lingle,” Cerizo said. “My guns will be aimed at the state Legislature.”

Cerizo is a convert to the GOP. In 2002, he ran as a Democrat for the Central Maui 4th Senatorial District seat won by Democrat Shan Tsutsui.

The convention, held at the Dunes at Maui Lani, featured short speeches from local candidates, as well as a talk by House Minority Leader Lynn Finnegan.

Party leaders said they were focused on re-electing Gov. Linda Lingle and building up a larger contingent at the Legislature, after having lost seats two years ago.

“We are here to serve the public and get Republicans back in office! Yes!” crowed Adele Rugg, head of the Maui League of Republican Women.

Newcomers like Cerizo and Ghean got a warm welcome as contenders for seats now held by Democrats. Cerizo would face longtime Rep. Joe Souki in Wailuku, while Ghean would challenge freshman Rep. Kam Tanaka in Lahaina.

Interesting “conversion” by Cerizo. I would sure like to hear what he has to say by way of explanation. Senator Tsutsui is not up for re-election this year, and beating Representative Souki in a primary race would have been tough—but I wonder if Cerizo has any ideological reasons for the change. I mentioned Ghean in an earlier post.

Maui?s Republicans were also looking ahead to this fall?s mayoral race, which already has a crowded field of at least seven announced candidates, two of them Republicans.

“It?s gonna be very exciting,” said Virginia Gutierrez of Upcountry.

She said she felt the race would be “tight” with Republican Maui County Council Member Charmaine Tavares challenging fellow Republican Mayor Alan Arakawa for re-election, but she was siding with Arakawa.

“I?m going to go ahead and give him my vote,” she said.

Allen Shishido also said he liked Arakawa, who he felt had been “loyal” to the Republican Party by regularly attending events and supporting other GOP candidates. He wasn?t concerned about two Republican candidates splitting the vote.

“There?s always that fear, but when you get strong candidates, I think it?s good. You?ll get more people coming out,” he said.

Maui County Chairwoman Maria Weber said that even though the race was officially nonpartisan, the party would support the Republican candidate for mayor.

She said she thought long and hard about what the party would do if two GOP candidates made it through the primary to face each other for the general election.

“We would have to support both,” she said. “Not endorse, support.”

Nah, I doubt it. The more likely scenario in that (very possible) situation would be for the Maui GOP to focus their effort on the Governor contest and downticket races and ignore the mayoral contest altogether.

Comments (1)
3/29/2006

Dick Armey to visit Hawaii, join forces with Grass Root Institute and Hawaii Reporter

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 6:19 pm
I will be interested to see what becomes of the new alliance announced in this Hawaii Reporter post.

FreedomWorks Chairman and Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and FreedomWorks President & CEO Matt Kibbe are traveling to Hawaii this week to formally launch a new partnership with Hawaii’s most prominent [i.e. only] free-market think tank, the Grassroot Institute. Both organizations have a common purpose in promoting individual liberty and smaller government, and both groups see many synergies moving forward.

The Grassroot Institute’s in-depth knowledge [sic!] of policies unique to the Aloha State coupled with FreedomWorks expertise in the area of grassroots mobilization and citizen action will make a powerful coupling in issue battles over potential tax hikes, excess government regulation and education reform. During elections, FreedomWorks will also seek to employ research done by the Grassroot Institute to illustrate the differences between pro-free market candidates and big-government advocates.

One can only wonder how much money this alliance will bring to GIH and Hawaii Reporter. According to this wikipedia entry, FreedomWorks was formed out of Citizens for Sound Economy, which had some big-money donors that would belie the “grassroot” claim.

Comments (3)
Sticks, carrots, and corporate structure

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:19 pm
A very acerbic editorial from the Advertiser today that excoriates HB 3118, a bill that would establish a new form of “Responsible Business” Corporation and provide a tax incentive for businesses organized in that manner.

To qualify, such a company would have to allow employees to nominate and elect at least 20 percent of the company directors, who would represent the workforce.

Another one-fifth of the board would advocate for the “public interest,” though it’s anything but clear what could fall under that category.

The final requirement for the incentive (a tax break) would be production of a yearly report detailing how the company benefited people other than its shareholders, if the company is publicly traded.

The proposal is, at best, silly and unproductive, and at worst, a loophole through which more business-paid tax revenue could leak needlessly.

“Silly and unproductive” is an assertion, not an argument. Has this form of corporate structure been shown to fail? Where? What is “silly” about it? Corporations chartered under existing laws that act (as designed and intended) solely to improve the return on shareholder capital are the main cause for the “race to the bottom” in wages and benefits. What sounds more “silly” to me is the alternative the editors propose:

The better role for government here is not to hand out candy to its model children in this paternalistic fashion. It’s to create laws that draw the parameters of ethical behavior and establish the consequences for failure to comply. And it’s to police these laws and see that justice is done.

Although many responsible companies discover that upholding the general welfare is also good business, it’s the duty of government, not corporations, to serve the public interest.

Ethics is not the problem this bill seeks to address. Corporations may be (and many are) “ethical” according to existing laws and still act in socially irresponsible ways. The editors would prefer a “stick” approach, instead of the tax relief “carrot.” I think that’s a fantasy.

Let’s say that legislators decide that 20% of corporate directors should represent the employees and another 20% should represent the “public interest.” The editors would prefer that legislators make a law such that all companies not in accord with those “parameters” should be punished. That type of “stick” would cause a major upheaval among existing Hawaii corporations, forcing them to juggle their boardmembers or face a penalty (of what nature?). Capital would be even more tempted to flee the state, since capital has (or should have) zero concern for the public interest (that is, according to its apostle). The Hawaii economy is not ready for that shock. The “carrot” alternative, a tax incentive for companies that organize in a certain manner, is much more reasonable. A relative handful of companies (and the capitalists who are comfortable with sacrificing some portion of their return on investment) would be rewarded and, mirabile dictu, the “public interest” may even be served.

It’s certainly an idea no more silly than “trickle down” economics…

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Grassy area near HPD Headquarters set aside for homeless

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 6:13 pm
The City has found a place for the people who had been staying overnight at Ala Moana Park to sleep while the park is “cleaned.” The SB and Advertiser both have similar articles.

Saying the city wants to be “a part of the solution,” Mayor Mufi Hannemann announced yesterday that another area would be opened to accommodate dozens of homeless forced to leave Ala Moana Beach Park.

However, the grassy knoll above the Honolulu Police Department’s Alapa’i Street parking structure ? commonly known as Sister Roberta Park ? will not open until tonight, to give the city time to move in portable toilets.

——–

The mayor said he would open the HPD grassy area “on a short-term, interim basis” since the homeless “obviously have no other place to go.” The area will be available between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. starting tonight, he said.

Hannemann stressed that the use of the park is a temporary fix and that he is looking toward state government and the governor to lead the way to a permanent solution.

“If we are going to make a meaningful impact statewide (on the homeless problem), the state must lead. The state has the resources; we don’t. We are willing to be a part of the solution,” he said.

——–

Sister Roberta Park is not an official city park, said Hannemann, which allows him to open the area legally to the homeless.

Hmmmm. The State Capitol has a much larger lawn, if you know what I mean… and what could provide better motivation for the Lege and Governor to resolve the problem than people without homes watching on from every direction?

Comments (0)
3/28/2006

People displaced from park march to City Hall

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 6:07 pm
As mentioned yesterday, the homeless were driven from Ala Moana Park last night and some of them spent the night at Honolulu Hale. Four were arrested when they refused to move off of a sidewalk just after midnight.

There is a piece in the SB that is full of comments from the homeless people displaced:

Steve Brooks spent the weekend and yesterday packing up.

“I’m breaking camp now,” said Brooks, who has been living in the park since June after losing his job. “Actually, it’s not too much of an effort for me. When they first gave us notice, which was two days ago, I broke down some of my stuff and took it somewhere else to some people I know.”

But Brooks, 50, said he is not worried about where he will go. He is more concerned about people like his friend Jenny Brannock, a 59-year-old paraplegic who has been living in Ala Moana Park for about seven months after she could no longer afford rent that skyrocketed to $1,500 and who was on a long waiting list for affordable housing.

“I can understand them wanting to close (the park) down to fix it up, but why don’t they have some social workers coming down and helping people like her?” Brooks said, pointing to Brannock.

Brannock started crying when she asked where she would be sleeping when the park closed each night.

“It’s hurting a lot of people, not only me,” she said, sitting in a wheelchair with her feet propped up on a picnic table bench. “Don’t have anywhere to go tonight.”

Brian Ellyson said he will find some place to move during the six-hour park closure and then head back to Ala Moana when the park opens at 4 a.m.

The mood of people in the park since learning about closure was “unhappiness until we found out about the rally,” he said. “Now everyone is kind of excited about that.”

Ronald Perron, 51, said, “I’m going to camp out at City Hall, and then (Tuesday) I’ll probably collect some cans and bottles.”

Perron, Ocampo and others said they believe the homeless are actually being displaced because of the Honolulu Centennial Festival on Magic Island this weekend.

“He said he was going to help the homeless. He just ain’t helping the homeless,” Perron said of the mayor. “We’re just going to be overtaking the bus stops, and the mayor don’t realize there are just too many of us. We’ve got to go somewhere and this was the best bet.”

That’s not the worst quote for Mayor Hannemann. Check out this KITV report from a woman claiming to be the Mayor’s cousin:

One homeless woman who camps at the park said she’s Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s cousin.

Leinati Matautia, 40, took advantage of the afternoon sun to dry out some of her clothing and towels.

“I know he’s probably going to be embarrassed that his cousin, whom I am, is on the news, and I’m homeless and I’m speaking on behalf of all the homeless people. He’ll probably blow me off, like another piece of paper,” Matautia said.

The mayor’s staff and his brother said she is not a relative.

“She’s not related in any way,” said Gus Hannemann, the mayor’s brother.

Jeff Coelho, the city customer services director, said, “None of the family knows her as a cousin – she is not related.”

Matautia said her father and the mayor’s father were second cousins, but that could not be verified.

She and her friend rented a car and filled it with their belongings because they could no longer spend the night at Ala Moana Beach Park.

Geneaology has always been a bit of a mystery to me, but children of second cousins are not cousins. Or are they? Whether true or false, it’s an embarrassing situation for the Mayor.

The Advertiser has extensive coverage of the park closure. Two articles, here and here, a Lee Cataluna column and an editorial.

For years, homeless people have been periodically displaced by sweeps or closures at beaches, parks or other public property as officials say they must address sanitation, public safety and/or public access issues.

The popularity of Ala Moana Beach Park with tourists and residents, and its proximity to Ala Moana Center and a new lineup of luxury condominiums draws particular attention to the homeless there.

City spokesman Bill Brennan said the decision to close the park at night was a reaction to two things ? complaints from nearby residents and state plans to evict homeless people and criminals on Thursday from under H-1 overpasses near the airport, as reported in Wednesday’s Advertiser.

“We didn’t want that criminal element infiltrating Ala Moana Beach Park,” Brennan said. “So in an attempt to make it safer for all users we decided to try this closure temporarily … But I think reading about the evictions under Nimitz Highway this week pushed this up.”

Sounds very much like, “we had to destroy the village to save it.” …and with Ala Moana Park unavailable the criminal element will migrate where? I believe that the proximity to the luxury condominiums is the more likely motivation for clearing Ala Moana Park.

Lee Cataluna’s mean-spirited “it’s about time”-themed column offers this weak conclusion:

To be sure, there are many pitiful souls living under the trees in Ala Moana Beach Park, people who lost their footing in the precarious world of gainful employment and self-reliance. Those of us with houses and jobs, albeit overpriced and underpaid, probably can’t imagine what it’s like to live under a tarp.

But not every homeless person has the same story of cruel fate and few options. Some may have a history of bad choices. Some make a deliberate choice to live off the radar and on the beach. Some started out far away and found that there are a lot worse places to be homeless than Honolulu.

Our community holds very deep, very conflicted, beliefs about personal responsibility and manifest destiny. We expect people to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps; we love stories of people who triumphed over hardship and made a good life for themselves; we tell kids they can do anything they want if they just work hard enough.

But we pass out exemptions to a large group of people and we feel incredibly guilty saying, “Uh, I live in a house, but I’d like to use that nice beach, too.”

[blink] As a community, we hold very deep, very conflicted, beliefs about manifest destiny? Wha?

Uh, maybe so, but I don’t recall any recent polling about manifest destiny. Heh. Anyway, I fail to see what our beliefs about westward expansion, American exceptionalism, and the spread of democracy have to do with homeless people being cleared from a public park…

The other expectation, what Cataluna refers to as a belief in “personal responsibility,” has become a smokescreen for the failure of the economy to reliably reward “personal responsibility” with adequate and affordable shelter. There are those that are shiftless and irresponsible, there’s no denying that. However, it’s much easier to blame those who work and are still left behind for their own perceived failings than it is to ensure that all those that work are paid a living wage and are able to live a dignified existence. i.e. The people that Cataluna represents would rather assume that the majority of the homeless are irresponsible and undeserving of our help. It’s the latest version of the Reagan-era “Welfare Queen” mythos.

Politicians (and very many voters) seem to prefer a system that punishes those who are deserving instead of a system that has any potential to be exploited by some (typically exaggerated or unmeasured) amount of those who are undeserving.

Comments (3)
Lege employees on private sector payrolls

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:50 pm
At long last, the story about legislative staffers who are on corporate payrolls is in the PBN. It took them several weeks to gather information, and, frankly, the article is not likely to make a difference.

For at least 30 years, private companies, unions and even state agencies have placed interns in legislative offices, where they answer phones, perform research and sometimes even write legislation.

While there are fewer corporate interns working at the Capitol today, their hiring is still unregulated, with each legislator deciding whether to use an intern and determining what kind of work they do.

“One individual cannot dictate the vote of all 51 members,” said House Speaker Calvin Say, a Democrat who has used private-sector interns from the tourism and banking industries. “Most lawmakers would not allow any interns or volunteers to dictate public policy.”

But some lobbyists and advocates for government transparency say the interns give their employers a special advantage.

“They’re worse than lobbyists because they’re closer,” said George Fox, executive director of Citizen Voice, an advocacy group that is critical of the intern arrangements. “It’s a more insidious way of squirming into the Legislature and getting influence, more than campaign contributions. They’ve got access – access is everything.”

Interesting that the story does not mention any of these people working in the Senate. Are there none, or did the Senate simply stonewall their request for that information?

Ethics aside (and I don’t think this practice is ethically defensible, no matter what the law allows), legislators offered this deal would be fools to pass it up. The salaries legislators are able to offer for session employees are modest, and that affects the quality and quantity of applicants. Most highly skilled people are understandably reluctant to work for low pay in a 4-month temporary position. [cough, perhaps excepting yours truly and a small cadre of others] Thus, there is a great deal of churning through session employees with mediocre skills and/or little familiarity with the legislative process. When a law firm offers up an attorney, or a corporate “executive” shows up willing to work for free, that offer is unlikely to be refused. Taking on such employees from the private sector displaces a portion of the monthly payroll expense and thereby allows the legislator to hire one less taxpayer-funded person and/or to offer more generous (but capped) salaries to his or her remaining session staff.

According to the state ethics commission, the Legislature can accept executive interns as long as they aren’t working on bills related to their companies. But some lobbying groups say no one is keeping track of whether that rule is enforced.

“In my view, lobbyists should stay outside in the lobbies,” said Larry Geller, president of Kokua Council, an advocacy group for senior citizens who has been critical of the practice on his Web log, www.disappearednews.com. “If legislative offices have become infested with lobbyists posing as interns and if those legislators kill bills which benefit the public then we the public ought to do something to end this questionable practice.”

No state agency interns

But in recent years, conflict of interest issues prompted state agencies to prohibit the practice.

Gov. Linda Lingle’s office stopped loaning interns in January 2003 because of “the appearance that the distinct roles of the executive and legislative branches might be compromised.”

The University of Hawaii implemented the same policy last year after one of its employees on loan to a state senator became embroiled in a fund-raising dispute.

University of Hawaii regent Kitty Lagareta said the policy change had less to do with that specific situation than with ensuring that the university’s agenda is properly represented at the Capitol.

“We think they tend to have overriding influence,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s a good use of the university dollars either, to pay somebody’s salary who may not be representing the interests of the organization.”

Um, perhaps Lagaretta was a little more frank than she had intended… her response implies that if a loaned employee from a state agency stuck to the agency position then it would be good policy to pay his or her salary with agency funds. That is probably what the corporate lenders of employees to the Legislature (privately) believe, too.

Comments (1)
Candidates for Maui mayor are conveniently avoiding decisions

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 5:49 pm
The Maui News very often has some interesting letters to the editor, like this one:

Candidates for mayor are conveniently avoiding decisions

I laughed after reading ?Panel nominees spark disagreement? (The Maui News, March 20). I think it was more than a coincidence that the two council members running for mayor were conveniently ?excused? from the somewhat controversial council meeting voting on the mayor?s nominees for county boards and commissions.

I surely hope that we as taxpayers will not continue to have such council members eyeing on a higher office ?excuse? themselves in order to avoid making hard decisions.

We need leaders who are able to attend council meetings when scheduled and to be able to make tough decisions. If this is indicative of how they will treat their tenure as mayor, then voters beware!

Rob Morris
Kahului

Their excused votes may only be a coincidence, and I think Morris is a bit unfair to imply that the two mayoral candidates did not attend the meeting. Here’s how that March 20 article described the voting:

Most of the nearly 70 nominees to county boards, commissions and committees sailed through the Maui County Council on Friday, but two sparked a little disagreement before squeaking by.

After the full council voted unanimously to approve the nominees, Council Member Jo Anne Johnson introduced a motion to separate two for discussion, in this case William Kamai and Randall Endo, nominees to the county Board of Variances and Appeals.

As for Endo, Maui Land & Pineapple Co.?s vice president for community development, ?it wasn?t because of his character, but simply because we felt it was inappropriate for him to be employed by Maui?s biggest company,? Johnson said after the session.

In the end, Johnson and Council Members Danny Mateo and Michelle Anderson voted against Endo, with the remaining four council members voting in favor (Dain Kane and Charmaine Tavares were excused).

Nevertheless, Morris’ point is well-taken and I agree it is still worth keeping an eye on this to see if Kane and Tavares being excused from controversial votes becomes (or is) a trend.

Comments (0)
Immigration bills may split Akaka and Case

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:49 pm
As an Advertiser article today notes, there is another contrast being drawn between Ed Case and Dan Akaka with respect to immigration policy.

Local advocates for immigrants are applauding a bill approved yesterday by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that would make it harder for illegal immigrants to enter the country while offering help to the millions already in the United States.

The legislation is markedly different from a House immigration reform bill passed late last year that cracks down on illegal immigration without provisions to help those already in the country classified as undocumented alien workers, essentially immigrants who do not have valid written authorization to be in the U.S.

Members of the Hawai’i chapter of American Immigration Lawyers Association also took the opportunity to chastise U.S. Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawai’i, for supporting the harsher House version of the bill.

The Senate version is more like the so-called “guest worker program” supported by President Bush.

Case, in response, said that while he supports a comprehensive approach to immigration reform, he does not agree with the bill that moved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

——–

Case is challenging U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai’i, for one of the state’s two senate posts. Akaka spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said her boss is expected to support the Senate bill.

So, here we have another substantive difference between the two contenders in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate; there is more to this race than just seniority.

Comments (0)
Aukaka lost on the reef

Filed under:
General
— Doug @ 5:48 pm
Totally unrelated to politics, but the boat wreck described in this story from the Advertiser really stunned me this past weekend. The Aukaka occasionally tied up at the dock abutting the house where I rent a room on Kaneohe Bay. She was a good old boat, all wood. The owner (and his family) are very close friends of mine—essentially my calabash ohana.

Very sad news.

Comments (0)
3/27/2006

Ask the right questions – DBEDT trade mission documents

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 12:42 pm
Well, I’m a bit embarrased to admit it, but I may have to do another UIPA request to DBEDT. I received what I asked for, but I did not ask for all that I should have.

I made a foolish, rookie mistake. It was not a complete loss, however. I did obtain some interesting information, which I’ll discuss (at length) after the break.

(more…)

Comments (1)
Superferry forum on Maui will proceed without company, DOT officials

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 12:41 pm
Somehow I overlooked this Maui News article pursuant to the letter to the editor I posted about recently. I wish I had seen it so I could have incorporated it into the same post, dang it.

The main players that were intended to be a part of a public forum this month on the proposed Hawaii Superferry say they weren?t asked to participate until after Thursday?s event was announced in The Maui News on Sunday.

Sidebar: It would sure be helpful if they had used specific dates instead of days of the week. Which Thursday is/was(?) the forum?

It’s pretty clear why the invitations were issued after the press release. The press release was designed to pressure/shame the invitees to attend. That strategy failed, as Hawaii Superferry, Maui Land and Pineapple, and the Hawaii Department of Transportation all sent their regrets.

In a letter to The Maui News, Superferry President and Chief Executive Officer John Garibaldi said the Superferry would not participate because ?several of the organizers are currently involved in legal action against us, and we believe it to be inappropriate and not conducive to an objective discussion.? One of the organizers, the Sierra Club, is involved in a suit that appeals a previous decision regarding the Superferry, but the other co-sponsors of the event, the Pacific Whale Foundation and the Ocean Science Discovery Center, are not.

Ishikawa said his department had been advised by the attorney general?s office not to attend a forum because of the Sierra Club?s involvement in a suit that challenges an environmental assessment issued for Kahului Harbor.

Isaac Hall, the attorney who represents the groups that have sued Superferry and DOT, didn?t understand that logic.

?I?ve never heard of anyone who refused to participate in a public forum on those grounds,? said Hall. ?Just because there?s a lawsuit, doesn?t mean they can?t explain their positions to the public. After all this time, they say they want to participate in public hearings, and they?re just using this as an excuse not to.?

Warren Suzuki of ML&P said he already had a prior commitment on Thursday, but he didn?t rule out attending a forum in the future if given enough notice.

Irony noted: the Pacific Whale Foundation worries about the Superferry injuring whales. However, if a group with the Foundation’s mission accidentally hit a whale, what does that suggest about the likelihood of a for-profit corporation in the highly-competitive transportation business periodically hitting a whale?

Anyway, I am confident that there are many topics that could be discussed at a public forum that would not threaten the outcome of the Sierra Club lawsuit. Nonetheless, instead of getting some variant of their message to the people, the only message sent is that Hawaii Superferry, et al are not open to explaining the project to the skeptical public—except in some bogus “advisory board” context.

Superferry has started to assemble a Maui advisory board to help it ?advance the dialogue,? according to Garibaldi?s letter. Garibaldi did not return calls to The Maui News, but someone from a public relations firm contacted the newspaper on his behalf. That person, who did not want to be identified, said she could not speak on the record.

The company has declined to make public the names of the advisory board, but it said it will release the names in the next week or two when the group is complete.

Hall said the advisory group doesn?t take the place of open forums with the public.

?They think it?s sufficient for them to deal with committees in private, but it?s not,? said Hall.

Okay, in my opinion the Sierra Club involvement in the organization of the forum is worth sacrificing, since their active participation appears to be the only shred of cover for the invitees to hang their refusals to attend on. Why not try again with a neutral organizer issuing the invitations and the press releases? I doubt the invitees would change their tune, but it would force them to come up with some other (lame) excuse.

Comments (0)
Homeless staying overnight at Ala Moana Park will be displaced tonight

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 12:41 pm
Several stories over the weekend about the latest effort to disperse homeless people living in public parks. Tonight the displaced will be the people living at Ala Moana Park. A few of the Honolulu television stations mentioned it (KITV and KHON), albeit in their usual time-constrained depth.

I am a bit surprised that the Advertiser story from Friday more or less riffs on the City’s press release and doesn’t mention the impact on the homeless at all. ??

The SB, however, scoops the rest by actually sending a team to the park to learn how the homeless intend to react.

The homeless and service providers plan to march out of the park together at 10 p.m. and continue on to Honolulu Hale. If the rain is coming down hard, they might shorten their march and sleep at a spot of green somewhere along the way.

The Rev. Bob Nakata of Kahaluu United Methodist Church, who has called for a moratorium on homeless sweeps in parks, said he and about a dozen other pastors from around the island will also gather at the concession stand tonight.

He said they will monitor the park’s closure and ensure it remains peaceable. He does not plan to participate in the protest.

“I don’t plan to get arrested,” he said with a chuckle.

That’s too bad, because the media would certainly take much more interest in the plight of these people if some political, community and/or religious leader(s) like Nakata were swept up and arrested with the homeless if they actually encamp at Honolulu Hale. Especially if it is pouring down rain at the time…

I also took note that advocates are registering the homeless to vote. That’s a good long-term strategy, but it won’t help them tonight. Anyway, how is it determined which district they reside in if the homeless keep being shooed from place to place?

As I type this, the rain is dismal. Think about spending the night outdoors in this weather, with little prospect for relief. It would be awful. For that matter, how much park maintenance would get accomplished in this weather?

Comments (1)
3/26/2006

I got Sunshine on a cloudy day

Filed under:
General
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 7:08 pm
My fat package of stuff from DBEDT has arrived in response to my Sunshine Week UIPA request!

I’m bushed after this busy weekend of sailing, but I’ll get cracking on looking at the documents on Kuhio Day (tomorrow).

Comments (1)
Numbers may show how the gas cap works – but we can’t see the numbers

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 7:07 pm
Former Governor Ben Cayetano in an Advertiser op-ed takes the House to the woodshed today for proposing to suspend the gasoline price cap law and instead set up a “transparency” program.

As an alternative, Say and former Speaker Joe Souki have joined Gov. Lingle and House Republicans in proposing a so-called “transparency law.” The proposed law sounds good, but upon closer analysis, it turns out to be shibai.

The proposed bill does not promote transparency. Under it, only the PUC is entitled to see the information provided by the oil companies. The public, the media, legislators, the governor and everyone not part of the PUC are left totally in the dark.

So secretive is the process that even if the PUC staff found wrongdoing by the oil companies, they could not make the information public. The public will get less information than it’s already receiving about the oil companies’ pricing practices.

On that same theme, the SB editorial has a less strident critique:

The House bill, which would deactivate and then repeal the caps, contains important provisions requiring oil companies to disclose their various expenses. Menor contends that the provisions are flawed because important information would be kept from the public and even from the Public Utilities Commission.

On the opposite page, Melissa Pavlicek, a lobbyist for the Western States Petroleum Association, praises the House for deciding to monitor and analyze the petroleum market. Legislators should find a way to force the companies to disclose meaningful information without infringing on their proprietary rights.

I was pretty disappointed to discover last week that all the detailed data provided to the PUC by the oil companies is under a “protective order.”

The reasoning behind the order goes like this: the information from any one oil company, if made public, would allow their competition [sic!] to know too much about their operations. There had better be a better explanation than that, because the protective order completely knocks the knees out from under the program if the public has to take the PUC and the oil companies on faith that they are not gouging Hawaii consumers. What exactly do they have to hide? They buy the raw material at the same price, and they all sell at roughly the same price.

I don’t understand this “proprietary rights” argument.

Comments (0)
If anyone is liable for Kaloko, all Pfingers point the same direction

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 7:07 pm
The SB has an interesting piece today that describes the strained relationship between James Pflueger and residents of Kauai’s North shore. Except for what seems (to me) to be one big mistake, I liked the piece.

While engineers have inspected the Ka Loko Dam and the state attorney general is investigating, no one has determined that Pflueger is liable for the dam break that left three dead and four missing and presumed dead.

The state may also be liable, since Department of Land and Natural Resources Director Peter Young has said that Ka Loko was supposed to be inspected every five years, like every other dam in the state. But no inspection was ever done.

I am not a lawyer, but the state is almost certainly not “liable,” even if the disaster is found to their fault. I’ve been down that dead end before.

Comments (0)
Kauai GOP chair to run for House seat vacated by Kanoho

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 7:07 pm
I am not familiar with Kauai politics very much, but noted this Garden Island News announcement:

As chairman of the Kaua’i Republican Party since 2002, Ron Agor, architect and Land Board member, has worked behind the scenes to build the power of the party and to extend the political might of Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.

He also took pride in grooming Republican candidates on Kaua’i to expand the party’s power.

No more.

——–

Agor decided he no longer wanted to be the behind-the-scenes power broker for the Kaua’i Republican Party after [Kauai County Council Vice-Chair James] Tokioka and councilman Jay Furfaro, a Princeville resort executive, switched parties to join the Hawai’i Democratic Party.

“We knew that Ezra was going to retire either in 2004 or 2006, and our long-range plan was to have one of our guys run for his seat,” Agor said.

Both Tokioka and Furfaro are capable political leaders, Agor said, but it was Tokioka who took the leap first, publicly announcing his bid for Kanoho’s seat.

But with both Furfaro and Tokioka having left the Republican Party fold, and no other Republican Party candidates on the horizon who could be immediately groomed to challenge for the 15h District seat, Agor decided he could fill the void.

Hmmm. Behind-the-scenes power broker? I’d like to know more about that. The article talks about the Republican Mayor and former Mayor, and a member of the UH Board of Regents from Kauai. How big a factor was Agor in those folks coming to power? I dunno.

Comments (0)
3/25/2006

Two days before the mast

Filed under:
General
Sailing
— Doug @ 5:41 am
Today and tomorrow I’ll be racing to and from Ko Olina. Usually it is a really great sail under spinnaker from Makapuu, but without the tradewinds and with all the weird weather of late I’m not so sure what to expect this time. I’ll be spending the night at the harbor before racing to Waikiki on Sunday.

Tomorrow I won’t be online until the evening.

My apologies to RHD.

Comments (1)
Tax cheats who pay up – the real source of our budget surplus

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:41 am
A good Advertiser article about the success the Department of Taxation has been having in collecting delinquent taxes. It mentions the impact these collections have on the notoriously inaccurate Council on Revenues forecasts and, in turn, on the state budget surplus.

Hawai’i’s buoyant economy also helped fuel delinquent payments as more people had money to pay debts.

The collections also are proving to be a surprise for the state Council of Revenues, a seven-member group whose forecasts are used by legislators to determine how much money is available for programs. In January, the council told the Legislature that revenues were growing faster than expected and revised its forecast up by $84 million.

“We should all be so lucky to have something come in higher than you thought,” said Paul Brewbaker, head of the Council of Revenues and chief economist for Bank of Hawaii.

All of it begs a few questions:

If all this extra revenue is due to collecting taxes that were delinquent is it accurate to say the “bouyant economy also helped to fuel delinquent payments” when the way we measure the strength of the economy is through … tax collections? Which is the chicken, which is the egg? This is not a criticsim only of the Advertiser or DOTAX; legislators are also fond of automatically tying increased tax revenues to claims of a strong economy.
Are these people prosecuted, or are any charges dismissed as part of the deal when they pay up? What are the additional penalties, if any, that DOTAX is imposing? My point is: why pay taxes on time if the only thing you need to worry about is that some day you may be allowed to pay what you owe (with interest). On the other hand, there is a chance you could remain undetected. Very little deterrence effect (if there is any) is described in this particular article.
We are trying to hit areas where we think there’s been under compliance,” said Kurt Kawafuchi, department director. That includes people working on a cash basis, such as those in the construction business, flea markets or in bars. “Word is getting out on the street that we’re trying to be more vigilant.”

Really? Funny that Kawafuchi should mention that… DOTAX needs to have a talk to this proud “rich mainlander” on Maui. “You’re welcome,” indeed, Mr. Leigh. On second thought, nevermind. He’s no employer, he’s just a deep-pocket customer.

Comments (0)
Forum to discuss Superferry a surprise to Hawaii Superferry

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 5:40 am
I loved the title of this letter to the Maui News editors so much that I didn’t change a word of it.

When we read The Maui News March 19, we were surprised to learn that a public forum to discuss Hawaii Superferry had been scheduled and that representatives from Hawaii Superferry, Maui Land & Pineapple Co. and the Department of Transportation had been invited.

We do not plan to participate in this forum as several of the organizers are currently involved in legal action against us and we believe it inappropriate and not conducive to an objective discussion.

We have been holding meetings with interested members of the public both on Maui and Kauai, Hawaii and Oahu. We have been listening carefully to the full range of concerns expressed, and are incorporating practical responses to those concerns in our plans.

Most recently, to advance the dialogue, we have established community advisory boards for Maui, Kauai and the Big Island.

Our Maui Advisory Board, made up of respected Maui residents whose interests, concerns and expertise range from harbor recreation and invasive species to business and agriculture, held its first meeting on March 15.

This board is already providing us with insights to be as responsive to community needs as possible. The Maui Advisory Board has expressed an interest in being an active, working conduit to the community to ensure we continue the dialogue with a wide range of Maui residents.

We want the people of Maui to know that we are actively seeking your input, and our outreach to you will be planned so that truly objective dialogue can continue.

John L. Garibaldi
President and Chief Executive Officer
Hawaii Superferry
Honolulu

Is it possible that somebody actually followed my advice?!

Um, did I miss the media coverage of the March 15 “Advisory Board” meeting, or was there no public notice that it would occur? Judge for yourself if you think Superferry is really interested in communicating with the public on anything other than its own terms.

Comments (0)
3/24/2006

Menor calls for cap to be suspended — but at the ready

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 7:21 pm
An unexpected new approach to the gasoline price cap law from Senator Menor is advancing in the Senate. Lots of coverage on the story this morning. One of the worst is this PBN piece that not only reveals their unfamiliarity with the legislative process, but also contains factual errors.

The unexpected vote appears to advance, with modifications, a bill (HB 3115) to suspend the gas cap this summer in in favor of making oil companies disclose their costs and prices. But the bill is not the same as the House version and the difference could be critical.

Appears to advance? The vote advances the bill. Period.

The unusual rules of the Hawaii Legislature allow committee chairmen broad power to kill even popular bills, but Menor recently agreed to give a hearing to the bill the House passed, and on Thursday he voted for a modified version of it.

The modification, which could determine what happens to the final version of the bill, puts the cap on indefinite suspension with a mechanism for reinstating it. The House version called for a six-month suspension followed by automatic repeal.

Actually, the House version of the bill called for an 18-month suspension followed by repeal. The latest House position (found in SB 3186 HD1) now calls for a suspension of the price caps until a repeal on January 1, 2011.

Still, the PBN piece is better than this pathetic KHON attempt:

In a surprising turn of events, Senator Menor approved the House bill that would suspend the gas cap law, with amendments.

Must have had some gripping footage of silliness, weather, or violence that foreclosed any chance of explaining those amendments… this is why I don’t watch television. KHON is the best news station? Whatever.

Moving to the dailies, and this Advertiser report which has the most thorough coverage (with only one error):

Rather than repeal the cap, Menor’s amendments to House Bill 3115 would suspend it. Under the measure, the Public Utilities Commission would continue to monitor wholesale gasoline prices. If those prices exceed a revised price cap level for two straight weeks, the cap would kick in for a two-week period before being automatically suspended again.

Under the changes proposed by Menor, Hawai’i’s wholesale price cap this week would be about 10 cents lower, at $2 a gallon, excluding taxes and a retail margin, according to Advertiser calculations. The cap currently is set at $2.10 a gallon for regular unleaded gasoline on O’ahu. The price cap, which is adjusted weekly, has been on the rise since mid-February in response to an increase in Mainland gasoline prices.

“I propose that we suspend the maximum wholesale price cap indefinitely, while leaving the mechanisms in place to ensure oil companies do not again raise prices artificially high,” Menor said.

In the House, lawmakers yesterday passed a bill that would compel the state to stop enforcing the cap on July 1, and repeal the cap at the end of 2011.

Going great, until that last sentence. The House would repeal the cap January 1, 2011.

The SB rounds out the bunch. Their story has some interesting comments from the two legislators who will be leading the negotiations during conference committee meetings:

Although Menor (D, Mililani) said he believes the law is working, he offered the proposal as a compromise to House members, who have supported a suspension and repeal of the nation’s only state controls on gasoline prices.

“Despite the support I have obtained in getting a pro-consumer piece of legislation through the Senate and over to the House,” Menor said, “I recognize that as we head into an election, many of my colleagues, especially in the House, lack the will and the desire to move forward with a measure that takes on the petroleum industry and all its resources.”

Key House members said they still needed to examine the details of Menor’s proposal before committing to support it, but said they were encouraged with the senator’s move away from his previous stance.

“Just that we’re actually discussing a suspension of the gas cap is an encouraging movement,” said House Energy Chairwoman Hermina Morita (D, Hanalei- Kapaa).

“I think the one thing for sure is we really need a better understanding of this market to make any kind of regulatory oversight occur,” she added.

Intereting strategy, to taunt the House members and describe them as being afraid of the petroleum industry. I wonder if Representative Morita was aware of Senator Menor’s comment when she was asked for her comment… Heh.

Comparing the latest House and Senate approaches to this topic, the difference between a 4.5-year suspension and an indefinite suspension is purely symbolic—future legislators could change the repeal date. Thus, the substantive difference is Menor’s preference to hold the threat of a gasoline price cap over the industry during the period of suspension and industry “transparency.”

Oh, by the way, I have now seen the study referred to yesterday. Like I expected, it demonstrates that the gasoline price cap formula implemented by the PUC to carry out the law would not have consistently saved consumers money had it been applied since 2003. The legislators that asked for the PUC study should make another request for the PUC to re-run the figures assuming the amended formula contained in the latest legislation. Also, I also learned that the figures I had been griping about repeatedly will never be released because they are sealed under a protective order. Nice.

Comments (0)
LIDAR geeks to examine Kaloko reservoir

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 7:18 pm
I’m not blogging about every new development in the dam disaster investigation on Kauai, but today the news about the spillway, or lack thereof, at Kaloko is particularly interesting. First, from an Advertiser article:

State and federal crews will use sophisticated radar surveying equipment today to accurately map the entire Kaloko Reservoir ? including the crucial area that has been described as its spillway.

The spillway ? and whether it has been altered ? has emerged as a central issue into the investigation of the failure of the 450-million-gallon reservoir. At least seven people were believed killed March 14 in the flood caused by the 200-foot-wide breach of Kaloko’s earthen dam. Since an earthen dam can quickly erode and fail if water flows over it, a wide, hard-surfaced spillway is built lower than the dam to automatically let water flow out during floods.

A key part of the investigation being conducted by the state attorney general’s office is whether the spillway or other parts of Kaloko have been altered. Subpoenas issued to numerous north shore Kaua’i individuals ask them to provide any documents dealing with such alterations.

Bill McCorriston, attorney for Jimmy Pflueger, one of the reservoir’s owners, has said no alterations had been made and that the spillway is present. State Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Robert Lee said yesterday that the Army Corps of Engineers did not find the spillway.

He said no work is being done at the Kaloko Reservoir because state Attorney General Mark Bennett asked that the site be left “as is.”

The survey, using technology known as LIDAR, was expected to be completed today, said Bob Masuda, deputy director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. He said he did not know whether the survey would answer the question about any alteration to the spillway.

That frames the question in terms of alterations to the spillway at Kaloko. Meanwhile, in the SB report the very presence of a spillway is called into much more doubt:

The head of the state Civil Defense says all 54 of Kauai’s dams have been inspected, and only the breached Ka Loko Dam does not have the key safety feature known as a spillway.

State Adjutant General Robert Lee’s comments yesterday at a media briefing on the Ka Loko tragedy’s aftermath reinforced statements he made Tuesday that inspecting engineers could not locate the Ka Loko dam’s spillway.

Lee’s statement Tuesday was immediately rebuffed by an attorney for dam owner James Pflueger, who said that the Ka Loko spillway is a grassy area that remains intact. Attorney William McCorriston also said that the water level never reached the spillway before the dam broke on March 14.

Asked yesterday about the discrepancy, Lee expressed confidence in his statement on Tuesday.

“The (Army) Corps of Engineers told me it wasn’t there. And I’ve worked with the Corps of Engineers for many years on many projects prior to this, and they have a sound engineering basis,” he said.

Uh, wait a second. The whole purpose of a spillway is to relieve unsafe loads on the dam when the reservoir depth reaches a dangerous level. If, as Pflueger/McCorriston claim, the dam failed before the water ever reached the spillway, then wouldn’t that clearly indicate that the dam was unsound?

On a more meta level, determining the presence or absence of a physical feature of the dam should not be an arguable point. If McCorriston and Pflueger know where the spillway is, why don’t they lead the investigators (or reporters) to the “grassy area?” Sheesh.

On a side topic, the SB also reports that Congressman Abercrombie is suggesting that Hawaii Attorney General Mark Bennett should hand the investigation over to the U.S. Attorney for Hawaii.

I looked around online to see if Congressman Abercrombie released a statement, but did not find anything. (The Kaloko reservoir is in Case’s district, by the way, not Abercrombie’s, although there is the Nuuanu reservoir in Abercrombie’s turf. The dam inspection problem is statewide, but not the focus of Bennett’s probe.) I posted about the potential for conflicts of interest earlier, and, at least for now, I’m comfortable with Bennett’s leading role in the investigation.

In that earlier post I also speculated that the Governor’s prompt arrival on Kauai and high profile participation in the emergency response had a salutary (side-?) effect to deflect any immediate political repercussions—until/if it comes to light that the Lingle administration dropped the ball with respect to dam safety vigilance. Her supporters are already working that angle, with a letter to the SB spinning for Lingle on that theme:

Lingle stepped up after dam tragedy

I’ve been paying close attention to the daily unfolding events of the Ka Loko Dam tragedy and I must say, though some might think it brought to light certain deficiencies of “government,” I think it highlighted the efficiencies of the current administration.

I was impressed to read how quickly and effectively the governor took control of the situation. She wasted no time in signing an emergency proclamation, coordinating efforts with her various department heads, reaching out to the Kauai community in a town hall meeting and getting engineers on the ground to inspect every one of Kauai’s reservoir dams.

Her honesty and openness about the situation has been refreshing, compared to the “blame game” that so many politicians engage in. And she has remained focused on real priorities, like helping those who have suffered from the flooding, repairing damaged roads and infrastructure and working to prevent future dam breaches.

Instead of pointing fingers, I want to give a hand to Governor Lingle for showing true leadership.

Lillian Rulon
Kailua

Okay. Clap now, Ms. Rulon, because the more we know the less it seems Governor Lingle’s people did anything worth cheering about before the disaster.

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Reviews of book about Massie were soft-pedaled here

Filed under:
HI State Politics
HI Media
— Doug @ 7:16 pm
I noticed this New York Review of Books article in the March 23, 2006, issue. I subscribe, but unfortunately non-subscribers can’t read the whole thing online. I was quite struck by the NYRB article (although I have yet to read the book). Although there is recurring interest in the “Massie Affair” from time to time, the appearance of the Stannard book last year was the first I had heard of this part of Hawaii history. The book is titled “Honor Killing: How the Infamous ‘Massie Affair’ Transformed Hawai’i”

I vaguely remember reading the local reviews of Stannard’s book a year ago, so I went back to find them. In doing so, I noticed that those earlier reviewers did not mention the role of the Honolulu Advertiser in this case:

From the Advertiser review (where they have an amusingly mis-captioned photo, by the way):

Stannard argues convincingly that the Massie case happened as it did because it happened where it did. Hawai’i’s classist and racist (and he would say colonial) power structure was the perfect setting for an indulged and arguably deranged woman’s self-serving lie to find willing support from government, military and business forces caught up in racial prejudice, political maneuvering and place-saving. The result was one of the most effective miscarriages of justice in American history.

From the SB review:

Walter F. Dillingham used his political and economic clout to subvert the judicial process during both trials; he also ensured that the conclusions of the Pinkerton report – that determined no rape took place – would not be made public.

Compare that polite ambiguity, “business forces,” to the piece from NYRB:

Raymond S. Coll, the vehemently racist editor of Honolulu’s Advertiser, the voice of Hawaii’s ruling corporate interests, published an editorial during the trial in which he said, “Even among the cannibals of New Guinea or the aboriginal blacks of Northern Australia womanhood is safer than in this enlightened American territory…” He called for the recruitment of a “small army of special deputy sheriffs” to control the lurking bands made up of colored races: Hawaiian, Asian, and “half-breed.” Coll’s daily exhortations in this vein on his editorial page had their effect on the reporting of the mainland papers.

——–

Among island residents, the man who brought most pressure to bear upon officials, press moguls, and business executives was Walter Dillingham, one of the land-holding corporate Big Five that ruled Hawaiian business and politics from the middle of the nineteenth century until the end of World War II. Besides lobbying US officials in person, he maintained other lobbyists in Washington. The notes for the twenty-fifth reunion of his Harvard class describe Walter Dillingham as being to Hawaii what J. Piermont Morgan was to New York. Dillingham once testified before Congress that “God had made the white race to rule and the colored to be ruled.”

Dilingham, as a matter of course, shared his contempt for the lesser breeds with his friend Lorrin Thurston, the publisher of the Honolulu Advertiser, who had done what he could to stamp out the Hawaiian language, and in the 1890s had used his influence as a propagandist to bring about the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. Dillingham had exploded with rage when he learned that the five young defendants had somehow managed to retain for their trial “the best attorneys in the islands,” even though prvately, Stannard writes, “he and ‘many whites, as well as Hawaiians’” doubted that the men arrested were guilty. This, he said later, was because three of the men were Hawaiians, a “peace loving people” whose “sex relations have been more social than brutal… Court records here show that they have been particularly free from the stigma of rape.” He may also have known quite early that official medical reports denied that Thalia Massie had been raped at all. Still, he also said later that he thought the authorities should have “forced a conviction.”

Neither the lcoal papers nor those on the mainland gave a coherent account of the incontrovertible demonstration that the defendants simply could not have done the things of which they had been accused.

Not a proud moment in the history of the Advertiser, nor for the reputation of Dillingham.

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3/23/2006

Who should answer to state sunshine law?

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:54 pm
Plenty of people with things to say about the Sunshine Law today, specifically its applicability to the Legislature. First, this email from Senator Ihara (edited to make links active and to correct typos):

To Open Government Supporters: I understand that Larry Geller is preparing a web-based petition that urges the House to stop inviting public testimony (through hearing notices) on bill versions (proposed HD1) that are not available to the public (except by picking up at chair’s office). For now, though, check out his blog.

Also, today’s Honolulu Advertiser editorial asks: “Why should legislators be exempted from the sunshine law and play by their own set of rules?”

I think the call for the legislature to follow the sunshine law resonates with the public because its own rules provide insufficient recognition of citizen rights to participate in the legislative process, for example legislative rules:

1. allow for inadequate public access to bill drafts up for hearing,
2. allow weekends and holidays to be counted in the 48-hour notice requirement,
3. allow committee chairs to hijack (gut and replace) any bill to they want for their own purposes, and
4. allow misleading information in official records (eg SB1061 did not have a public hearing) and excludes official legislative actions (proposed HD1 for SB1061 does not exist in official records, and it had a public hearing).

I support citizen efforts to bring sunshine to the legislature.

LES IHARA, JR.
——————–

Next, an excerpt from the Advertiser editorial:

For nearly 30 years, the Legislature has exempted itself from the sunshine law. Lawmakers say that they subscribe to their own open-meetings policy and that the short legislative session requires the flexibility their policy provides to get the public’s business done in a more efficient manner.

But efficiency should not come at the expense of the public’s right to know. The Legislature has chronically resisted any effort to be put under the same law it has applied to other government officials. Lawmakers even refused to pass a bill that would have held them accountable simply by incorporating their own rules into the sunshine law.

That attitude has left voters asking the big question: Why should legislators be exempted from the sunshine law and play by their own set of rules?

Now Luke has left the door open for meaningful change. Will our lawmakers rise to meet that challenge? It’s time our elected leaders understand that they are accountable to voters, and that preserving openness in government is one of their fundamental responsibilities. Taxpayers are watching.

Are the taxpayers really watching? I don’t think taxpayers understand or care very much about the difference between sunshine by rule versus sunshine by statute, if they care at all. I would be very surprised if any incumbent is held to account for sunshine shortcomings and is subsequently voted out on that single issue.

That said, the reforms that Ihara lists are really not asking for that much, they don’t seem to be the complete application of the Sunshine Law that the Advertiser urges (often and loudly).

I am frustrated by the House’s failure to post proposed drafts on the public website. The Senate does that routinely, I can think of no worthy excuse for not doing that in the House.

Gutting of bills is a necessary evil in a bicameral legislative body where committee chairs have the discretion to set their own hearing agenda. If one half of the legislature passes a bill (typically overwhelmingly or unanimously) after public testimony and votes involving the entire chamber, it should not be possible for a single obstructionist committee chair in the other half of the legislature to kill the bill by inaction. It happens routinely, though. The gutting of bills strategy has saved very many worthy bills from that fate; thereby forcing the topic to conference committee debate. The procedure is abused, however, when the material inserted into a bill has never been the topic of any public hearing and has not already met the approval of at least one half of the legislature. That type of gutting substitutes the intent of one half of the legislature for the intent of a single committee chair (from the other half of the legislature); it should not be allowed.

The timing of hearings and providing adequate public notice is another thorny problem. Take a look at the bills considered by the Honolulu City Council in 2005. There are eighty-three. The County Councils are unicameral, so a bill requires just three readings. Meanwhile, at the Legislature the House and Senate introduced thousands of bills and eventually passed two-hundred-fifty Acts. Each bill in a bicameral body (such as the Legislature) requires at least six readings (and, by extension, at least two public hearings) before it may be submitted for the Governor to consider for enactment. The County Councils meet year-round on a (relatively) leisurely schedule. The Legislature is in session not quite four months—sixty “legislative days.” The County Councils may introduce new legislation at any time, and (as far as I know) there are no deadlines in their process where a bill may die if it has not complied. The Legislature may only introduce bills up to a few weeks after they begin the session, and there are several major deadlines that each bill must meet or die. There’s really no fair comparison between the other legislative bodies subject to the Sunshine Law and the Legislature, in my opinion.

So, what to do?

Here’s what I think: The Lege should be full-time all year. The only hard-and-fast legislative deadline should be at the end of a biennial election period. With those changes in place, it would be proper for the Lege to submit to the Sunshine Law. It would take several Constitutional amendments to put these changes in place, so at the same time the Sunshine Law requirement could be beefed up to allow less meddling by future legislatures.

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Another gasoline price cap study

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:53 pm
The SB has a scoop today about a new report by the Public Utilities Commission prepared “at the request of legislators” concerning the gasoline price caps.

The PUC study looked at price data from Jan. 20, 2003, through Jan. 29, 2006, to determine the impact of the price controls.

“It appears that if (price caps) had been in place during the pre-cap period, the Hawaii retail gasoline prices would have been more volatile than they actually were during that period,” PUC Chairman Carlito Caliboso wrote in a summary of the report.

The study found that had the gas cap been in place from January 2003 through Sept. 1, 2005, it would have added about a nickel per gallon on Oahu.

As if “volatile” is a worse fate than “steadily trending upward.” Heh.

I’m trying to get a copy of this report, we’ll see how that goes… You may recall an earlier study that DBEDT provided to the Legislature which was prospective instead of retrospective.

Senator Menor disputes the specific cost figures in this PUC study, but I think there is a more fundamental criticism that was overlooked by the article (and by Menor). To be of some use at this point of the debate, this report would need to apply Senator Menor’s “it will save 16 cents per gallon” idea to the same historical data. [Menor’s bill is about to die in the House, by the way.] To simply compare historical prices without caps to simulated prices calculated in accordance with a price cap formula that Menor would prefer to amend does not help to answer any policy questions.

Senator Menor is not happy with how the cap has been implemented by the PUC, and this PUC report actually reinforces Menor’s case for amending the formula. The study shows that the price cap formula currently being applied by the PUC does not save consumers much/any money!

Also, for the fifth time, I am still waiting to see the data the PUC has received from the refiners as they consider whether to adjust the formula. If it supported their position, wouldn’t they release it? Hmmm.

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Waiting for Liu

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:50 pm
UPDATE:

It’s been more than one week, and I have seen no response to my UIPA request. DBEDT has to act (or deny my request) within ten days from when they receive it.

Stay tuned…

Comments (0)
3/22/2006

Transgendered employee treading in a legal grey area

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:39 pm
A County employee from the Big Island has asked for a leave of absence to undergo gender reassignment surgery. The Hawaii Tribune-Herald has the same story as in the West Hawaii Today.

Corporation Counsel was approached by heads of the affected department in this case for guidance on how to ensure the employee would not be discriminated against by other employees, by the department and by the county, [Corporation Counsel staffer] Gonzales said.

Topics including potential medical issues, privacy concerns, co-worker and public reaction, and proper bathroom use had to be addressed (for the record, an employee can use the appropriate bathroom to the gender they present themselves as, Gonzales said.)

“The department wanted to make sure that when dealing with this person, they weren’t violating their civil rights. We had to do a lot of research on the laws,” Gonzales said. “Luckily, there is quite a bit of case law set forth on how to deal with this issue.”

In that regard, the employee was lucky to be employed in Hawaii. There is no federal law that protects workplace discrimination based on gender identity and it is legal in 44 states to fire someone based on their gender identity, according to the Foundation. Courts in Hawaii, along with Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York have interpreted existing state law to offer some protection to transgender individuals.

Hawaii’s nondiscrimination law prohibits discrimination based on sex in public accommodations, housing, private and public employment and access to services receiving state financial assistance.

Last year, a bill passed through the Legislature that would specifically ban employment discrimination based on gender identity or expression, but was vetoed by Gov. Linda Lingle. The Legislature is trying to pass another bill to improve public access for transgenders to public services and facilities in the state.

The Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, however, has held that the word “sex” encompasses transsexual status in the law, according to John Ishihara, lead counsel for the commission.

“If a workplace fails to conform to a person’s chosen identity, the commission views that as sex discrimination,” Ishihara said. “There is movement in the legislation. There are four or five other states moving progressively on this issue as well. Hawaii has always been on the forefront of civil rights.”

Since the law has been interpreted by the Commission to encompass transsexual status, the Governor’s veto of the law makes little sense. Here is her reasoning:

While the primary focus of the legislation is in regard to individuals who may have a gender identity and expression that “is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s gender at birth,” the broad definition in the bill also appears to cover those who have personal expressions of the gender of their birth that may be inappropriate to business and professional environments. This bill appears to support an individual’s “civil right” to express their gender identity in any manner that they wish, thereby calling into question the ability of businesses and related organizations to manage these situations by establishing and enforcing basic conduct standards.

It is unfortunate that efforts were not made to work with members of the employment community to address the practical problems they would face should such a bill become law.

The Civil Rights Commission currently interprets “sex” to cover the potential abuses related to the treatment of individuals who have gender identities or expression different from their sex at birth. The proposed inclusion of the broader definition of “gender identity or expression” in statute opens employment areas to open-ended and unintended legal claims.

So, Governor Lingle would rather have the Commission rule on gender identity or expression issues without any legislative guidance. The HCRC rules certainly don’t have a definition better than what was in the bill she vetoed, indeed, the HCRC rules don’t clarify it all. I don’t get it. Having no established definition does not make it any less likely for open-ended lawsuits.

Furthermore, behavior that is considered “inappropriate to business and professional environments” is an equally broad avenue for possible discrimination by employers and thus the employers’ opinions would be equally likely to lead to “open-ended and unintended legal claims”—from transgendered employees.

Uh, where it gets even more confusing is when I discovered that the First Circuit Court ruled that that the HCRC interpretation was incorrect (from page four of the PDF, emphasis mine):

Finally, the Court finds that the unlawful discriminatory practice because of “sex” contained in Hawaii employment discrimination law, at HRS Chapter 378, does not prohibit discrimination which is directed to person’s status as transgender or transsexual.

The HCRC appealed to the Hawaii Supreme Court, and the Court’s 2004 opinion is of no help in clearing up the uncertainty:

After the circuit court determined that HCRC did not have jurisdiction to hear the Executive Director’s Petition, the circuit court should have declined to rule on the remaining two questions (i.e., whether the Petition satisfied HCRC’s administrative rules and whether Hawai?i law prohibits discrimination against the classes of individuals enumerated in the Petition). We therefore vacate that portion of the circuit court’s order addressing those two issues, and we express no opinion regarding the merits of the Executive Director’s Petition.

After all that background, I have no idea if this employee in Kona is entitled to protection, or not. Still, the employee is going to be accomodated by the County, so I guess all is well that ends well. It will take either another attempt at legislation to make this clear, or a lawsuit to challenge the actions of an employer who discriminates on this basis. Lingle declined her chance to enact the former, so maybe she prefers to wait for the latter?

Comments (1)
Akaka bill as a risky campaign issue

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:39 pm
I like this Dave Shapiro column about the campaign implications of the Akaka Bill.

If the Akaka bill hasn’t passed by election time, it will be a challenge for Akaka to credibly argue that Case, who supports the measure, would have done any worse in moving the legislation.

As a practical matter, if the Hawaiian recognition bill doesn’t pass this year, its chances become increasingly dim in a new Congress no matter who is senator.

The process would have to start over with new hearings, possibly new committee leadership and the start of a presidential election cycle that always distracts Congress from less-pressing legislation.

The opposition has only grown as time has passed ? aided in no small part by Akaka’s poor choice of words in a national interview that gave adversaries ammunition to claim his bill could lead to Hawai’i’s secession from the union.

Locally, some support for this bill among Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians alike has turned to indifference or worse as the matter has dragged on and the Akaka bill has been endlessly amended.

So before Akaka tries to turn the election on this issue, he needs to consider the very real risk that it won’t necessarily turn things his way.

All good points with respect to what a failure to pass the legislation this year could mean. I would only remind you of what I wrote earlier: if the Akaka Bill (somehow) passes before the Democratic primary, then it would leave Akaka with nothing to run on except the seniority/loyalty theme. Thin gruel, that. Better that Akaka diversifies his campaign themes to encompass other issues.

Of course, if it actually looked like the Akaka Bill were going to pass and leave him in that fix, then I suppose that an Akaka ally in the Senate (i.e. any member of the Senate Minority Caucus) could put an anonymous “hold” on the bill to strategically stall its advance. Cynical, much?

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Gabbard opts to run for state Senate

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:39 pm
Both Honolulu dailies have stories about Mike Gabbard. He has announced that he will run for State Senate against Brian Kanno. Advertiser piece is here and the SB article is here.

Kanno, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, has represented the district since 1992. He has pulled papers to run for re-election but has not formally announced his plans. He could not be reached yesterday.

Gabbard represented the Leeward side on the City Council for two years and is known as an energetic campaigner. He has also developed a base among religious conservatives for his opposition to gay marriage.

Kanno has been one of the strongest advocates for organized labor at the Legislature and is supported by unions that are the leading grass-roots force within the Democratic Party of Hawai’i.

Democrats outnumber Republicans in the Senate 20 to 5 and are expected to keep their majority after elections this year. But several races could be competitive. Kanno was considered vulnerable after he narrowly won re-election in 2000 but he rebounded with a strong showing in 2002.

Some Republicans think he might face some fallout from voters over his support last year for a Norwegian Cruise Line worker fired for sexual harassment. The Hawai’i State Ethics Commission has been looking into Kanno’s activities related to Norwegian.

Gabbard, who lost a congressional bid to Case in 2004, said he seriously thought about another congressional campaign but was encouraged by the support he received from people regarding the Senate.

State Sen. Bob Hogue and Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle have expressed interest in the Republican primary in Case’s 2nd Congressional District. If Hogue were to run, he would have to give up his Windward seat in the Senate since he is up for re-election this year, creating an open seat that would likely be heavily targeted by both political parties.

That’s the contest encapsulated nicely, except for that part about the Ethics Commission “looking into Kanno’s activities related to Norwegian [Cruise Lines].” As I wrote earlier about the Ethics Commission (with respect to allegations against Senator Hee), if there was something pending then we would have known about it long ago. As I understand it, if there is no news within 30 days of the complaint then it means no violation has been found. The Advertiser piece implies that no news means the EC is still investigating. Maybe DePledge has a source within the EC to confirm that, but otherwise I think that story has no legs. Gabbard is certain to feature it in his campaign, whatever the case.

All this assumes that Kanno actually files his nomination papers to run again, but I expect it to be a tough race between the two men.

Almost on this topic: Mike’s daughter, Tulsi Gabbard Tamayo, probably won’t be running for office this year—I’ve heard that she was awarded a White House fellowship. She’ll be a strong candidate if she returns to Hawaii after that experience and chooses to run again. But wait, a Democrat winning a fellowship in the G.W. Bush White House? Well, if Representative Harbin is a “Democrat,” then why not? Heh.

Representative Cabanilla should be looking over her shoulder…

Comments (1)
3/21/2006

Frustrated fundraisers and corporate donors would like to lift limit on PACs

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:59 pm
Another good article in the Advertiser today, this time about a Senate Bill that seeks to remove a major piece of campaign finance reform just enacted last year.

Some state lawmakers are trying to repeal a new provision of the campaign-finance law that severely restricts corporate money in elections.

Corporate officers since 1997 had been able to use unlimited amounts of money from their treasuries for political action committees that could donate to candidates. But changes in the law that took effect in January limit corporations to using $1,000 in corporate money for PACs during the primary and $1,000 for the general election.

The state Campaign Spending Commission has defended the restriction as necessary to limit the influence of corporate money on politics. Some lawmakers, however, said the change was inadvertent and want it repealed before it has an effect on upcoming elections.

Inadvertent, they say? That implies it was a mistake. Which means they need to explain the faults of the law they just passed last year. They try. The bill is SB 2922. This is the preamble of that bill:

In 2005, in an effort to promote transparency in the political campaign contribution process, the legislature enacted Act 203, Session Laws of Hawaii 2005, which established sweeping reforms to the State’s campaign spending laws. The legislature finds that there is a need to clarify the intent of some of the amendments made under Act 203 to enhance its effectiveness. Specifically, Act 203 restricted the ability of a corporation or company to use funds from its own treasury to fund the corporation or company’s noncandidate committee. This Act clarifies that a corporation or company is not limited with regard to contributions or expenditures made to the corporation or company’s noncandidate committee. This Act also reestablishes an expenditure ceiling for prosecuting attorney candidates who participate in the publicly funded campaign program.

The purpose of this Act is to clarify the amendments made to the State’s campaign spending laws under Act 203, Session Laws of Hawaii 2005. To fully achieve this objective and minimize, if not avoid any confusion Act 203’s amendments may have generated, Section 2 of this Act is given retroactive effect to Act 203’s retroactive date of January 1, 2006.

A need to “clarify the intent” to “enhance its effectiveness” and “to avoid any confusion?!” Oh, puh-leeze. The relevant language is in Section 7 of the Act:

(b) No person or any other entity shall make contributions to a noncandidate committee, in an aggregate amount greater than $1,000 in an election[; except that in the case of a corporation or company using funds from its own treasury, there shall be no limit on contributions or expenditures to the corporation or company noncandidate committee].

Act 203 was perfectly clear, did much to implement campaign finance reforms and was not at all confusing. The politicians who receive large PAC contributions simply don’t like the fact that the money flow has been squeezed shut. Likewise, the donors don’t like having their access shut off after just $2,000—it makes it impossible for them to have greater influence than the more-restricted individual donors, that’ll never do.

SB 2922 passed the Senate without opposition and is now before the House. Does the Lingle administration support the bill? The Hawaii GOP does, judging by Sam Aiona’s comments, but so far there is only the testimony from PAC donors in support. No legislator wants his or her fingerprints on this bill, nor does the Governor—they only want the money. Tsk, tsk.

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Post-work benefits must be dealt with – yes, dear

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Honolulu Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:57 pm
Today the Advertiser editorial page continues to warn readers of the coming change in accounting standards that will require governments to set aside money for future benefits due to government employees. I commented on this topic earlier in response to an op-ed.

In Hawai’i, where government workers are entitled to generous lifetime health benefits after retirement for themselves and their dependents, this adds up to billions of dollars. If that accounting obligation is not properly recognized, the state or county bond rating will suffer.

In a small effort to bring the situation under control, new government employees receive less generous retirement benefits than those who came before. They must now work 25 years to qualify for full benefits rather than 10 years, as in the past. And workers hired after June 2001 will no longer see their dependents covered by health benefits when they retire.

But that is hardly enough. The state and the counties will have to begin setting more aside for future benefits, taking dollars away from current needs, as well as further restricting the benefit package for new hires and even current retirees.

None of this will be popular, or easy.

For too many years we have operated on the theory that this is tomorrow’s problem. Well, tomorrow is now upon us. The prudent, but painful, choice is to begin setting aside the money we owe today, and rethink the cost and size of government.

Who are these people? The Government Accountability Standards Board has the future of taxpayers (and government employees) from every state in the nation in the palm of their hand. For what? To make investors “reassured” and to protect bond ratings.

Hmmm. This is a pretty major abdication of government authority to an obscure unelected board appointed by some mucky-muck trustees from big accounting and investment firms.

I fail to see how when this is the standard accounting procedure for all governments it could serve to clarify bond ratings. What I foresee is this policy forcing every government to hurriedly slash retiree benefits, just to keep an investor somewhere content enough to buy their bonds. Maybe that’s a worthy goal (I don’t think so) but it should have been a debate that governments had for themselves, not something imposed by functionaries of “the free market.”

Oh well, it’s essentially a done deal and it sounds like everyone is gonna snap a salute and carry out the order… Sorry, retirees, get ready for us young folks to pull the rug out from under you.

Comments (2)
Maui Community College to become a 4-year campus via County funding?

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:44 pm
I noticed a Maui News editorial noting that in his proposed 2007 budget Mayor Arakawa includes a $2 million request for jumpstarting a four-year university on Maui based on the existing community college.

A central outcome of the Economic Summit that the County Office of Economic Development hosted in 2003 was the need to diversify our economy by attracting high quality investment. The summit concluded that such investors would be more likely to give due consideration to Maui County if we improved the quality of life through educational opportunities for children, high quality medical facilities and services, and strong social services and amenities, both for our existing residents and to attract investment. The assumption is: if the quality of life in our County is considerably higher than other locations, and if we have a plan to produce the type of workforce investors require, then the type of investment we hope for will follow. Our administration has taken pains to promote the quality of life factors mentioned above, and in this budget we are proposing an investment of $2 million to promote the creation of a strong four-year college program at Maui Community College. This investment would demonstrate Maui County?s intent to grow its workforce and could be leveraged by the college to attract matching, private donations. The creation of a four-year program will allow our residents, who have completed two-year degree programs at
MCC and want to continue their education, to obtain their baccalaureate degrees at home. This investment means to assure that the workforce we develop will come from our residents who already call Maui home.

It’s an interesting idea, but I don’t fully understand how this would fit into plans for the existing UH system. The law clearly allows that the Board of Regents could accept and spend this money from Maui County. However, the Maui News editors are concerned that the County will have no oversight once the money is disbursed.

A major problem with the county putting money into a state institution is accountability and oversight. Just donating money to the university system would be akin to throwing it into a dark hole. The university system is large, complex and, as a whole, an operation where it is difficult to track nonspecific funds. Any county funds going into MCC should include a mechanism that allows the county administration to keep track of what is being spent where.

It sounds a lot like a big benefactor making a gift with special directions for its disbursement (e.g. set up a endowed chair, fund a research institution, etc.). I think a form of oversight is possible. If the County wants “oversight” then they should arrange the gift to be parceled up, with each portion distributed only after certain conditions/objectives are met.

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3/20/2006

Again with the unfair smears at Hawaii Reporter

Filed under:
HI State Politics
HI Media
— Doug @ 6:29 pm
A crowing Andrew Walden submitted a piece to Hawaii Reporter lauding the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold a law that will deny federal funds to colleges and universities that deny campus access to military recruiters.

Yawn. Whatever. Score a loss for the “leftist-controlled elite law schools” who oppose the “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy that excludes openly GLBT individuals from serving in the military.

Hawaii Reporter then provides Mr. Walden a platform to continue its smear campaign against a worker at the Legislature who, according to an obscure “gay magazine” that Walden cites, was instrumental in one of the earliest successful efforts to bar recruiters from a college campus in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Hawaii residents will recognize Rouse as the convicted child molester who is now employed in the Hawaii State Legislature. In a case that went all the way to the Philippine Supreme Court and led to Rouse spending 8 years in a Philippine prison, he was convicted of child endangerment of a 15-year-old Philippine boy after police found Rouse with the victim in a hotel room and the victim says Rouse hired him as a prostitute for just over 200 pesos or $3. Despite the conviction, Rouse is now employed as a committee clerk by the chair of the Senate Health Committee, Roz Baker (D-Maui).

The Hawaii Reporter prints Walden’s article slander without remark, even though that paragraph does not tell the entire story and despite the fact that the Hawaii Reporter has read (and linked to) the document that does tell the entire story. Rouse’s prosecution, conviction, sentencing and repeatedly denied appeals were obvious travesties of justice, according to the U.N. Human Rights Commission. The “victim” was never proven to be 15 years old, and, in fact, the “victim” recanted his statement and alleged prosecutorial misconduct. Nevertheless, as noted, Rouse spent eight years imprisoned in the Phillipines. Walden continues with this cynical distortion:

Observers note that the military is the world?s most effective gay rights organization, having destroyed dictatorial anti-gay regimes in many countries including Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

…so we must deny gay rights in our country to provide hope for them abroad? I disagree. However perhaps Walden would support our military doing something about the anti-gay, dysfunctional justice system in the Phillipines…

I urge you (and Mr. Walden) to read my previous post on the occasion of the last smear, and to follow the link to the U.N. report exhonerating Rouse. Not that I’d ever expect a retraction from the Hawaii Reporter or any apology from Walden to Rouse for this.

Comments (3)
Legislators consider allowing psychologists to prescribe drugs

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:22 pm
My hat is off to the Advertiser for this very thorough summary of the legislation advancing that would give limited authority for psychologists to prescribe medication. I had no idea that so much intrigue is involved behind the scenes.

While few dispute that access to psychiatric care is scarce in rural and many urban areas of the state, some believe psychologists are conveniently using access as an excuse to expand their scope of practice without taking the necessary medical training.

“That’s like giving an airplane mechanic, who spent many years learning how to repair an airplane, a pilot’s license,” said psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Akaka, medical director of the Diamond Head Community Mental Health Center.

——–

Jill Oliveira, a licensed clinical psychologist, usually spends three days a week on Moloka’i, helping doctors with patients who have emotional or mental health needs.

Like in many rural areas of Hawai’i, people on Moloka’i have limited access to psychiatric care and often rely on primary-care physicians or psychologists for help with stress, depression, anxiety or more severe mental disorders. But, unlike psychiatrists and other doctors, psychologists such as Oliveira are not allowed to prescribe medication for patients because they lack medical education and training.

“I’ve been working on Moloka’i for four years and the access to quality psychiatric care has not changed,” Oliveira said, “so I’m dedicated to make something different.”

——–

Each side has marshalled experts. Opposing the bill are the American Psychiatric Association, the Hawai’i Psychiatric Medical Association, the state Department of Health and the Board of Medical Examiners. The American Psychological Association, the Hawai’i Primary Care Association, and medical directors at community health centers favor the bill.

Several lawmakers said influential lobbyists and advisers have been able to to keep the issue in play at the state Capitol.

Alex Santiago, a former state lawmaker and state Democratic Party chairman, and Patrick DeLeon, chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawai’i, side with psychologists. Santiago, former chairman of the House Health Committee, said he regrets not prodding psychiatrists to cover more rural areas years ago. DeLeon, the former president of the American Psychological Association, has been a leading national advocate for prescriptive authority.

Bob Toyofuku, one of the state’s top lobbyists and a veteran Democratic insider, and Lydia Hemmings, wife of state Senate Minority Leader Fred Hemmings, R-25th (Kailua, Waimanalo, Hawai’i Kai), are working with the psychiatrists. Lydia Hemmings is executive director of the Hawai’i Psychiatric Medical Association.

——–

Oliveira, the psychologist, supervises Native Hawaiian psychology trainees at Tripler Army Medical Center and works with Na Pu’uwai Native Hawaiian Health Care System and also with the Moloka’i ‘Ohana Community Health Center. She said psychologists who complete the training and get prescription rights under the bill would work with primary care physicians at health centers and clinics.

“Basically to maintain the status quo of no treatment, particularly in these rural areas, is a significant patient safety issue,” she said.

As part of its safety net for the poor, the state provides psychiatric care for young people through the Department of Education and for adults through the Department of Health’s community mental health centers.

But psychiatrists say the training for psychologists called for in the House bill is no substitute for the coursework and clinical requirements for doctors, which includes medical school, an internship and residency. The Hawai’i Medical Association and others have urged psychologists interested in prescriptive authority to take the two-year program for advanced practice registered nurses at the University of Hawai’i-Manoa.

“It should be laughable,” Akaka, the psychiatrist and nephew of U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai’i, said of the training comparisons. “I mean this thing shouldn’t have even come up.”

I find it fascinating that there is an implied split between U.S. Senators Inouye and Akaka (or, more accurately, between their surrogates). If I had to handicap the two lobbying teams, my money would be on Toyofuku and Hemmings (and Akaka). Toyofuku is unquestionably an A-league lobbyist; I’m not sure that Santiago is even B-league. Adding Ms. Hemmings to cover the Republican side of the aisle and the Akaka wildcard? Makes for a team that should be hard to beat.

However, HB 2589 is still alive after a rough trip through the House. Go figure.

Comments (3)
Waiver spat, Day 2

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:17 pm
Following up on the Friday “speech” where Representative Meyer, the House Minority Floor Leader, announced her intention to oppose all requests for waivers of the 48-hour public notice requirement. This was put to the test today.

First, Representative Luke rose to request a waiver of the 48-hour public notice requirement to hold decisionmaking on SB 965 tomorrow (i.e. March 21). Meyer quickly rose to ask for an explanation from Luke. Luke promptly withdrew her waiver request and sat down with a cheshire grin. Then Meyer rose on a (mis-used, as usual) Point of Personal Privilege, and wondered if Luke’s request had been a trick. Representative Takamine then rose to ask for a waiver to hear the Governor’s emergency legislation to fund the response to the Kauai dam disaster. At that, Republican Cynthia Thielen quickly asked for a recess. Obviously, the Republicans did not want to go on record opposing a prompt hearing for that bill.

After recess, Representative Thielen candidly acknowledged the utility of the waiver process, noted that the Speaker requires those asking for waivers to fully describe each measure as part of the request, and then Thielen asked that Representative Luke repeat her request. After the Speaker approved Takamine’s request, Luke repated her request, and it was so ordered by the Speaker.

Then, just before adjurning, Representative Halford rose to say that he had not supported Meyer’s statement on Friday. Halford and Thielen make it clear that the strategy as put forth by Meyer was not well-received among the Republican caucus. Good parliamentary fun.

Comments (1)
Bill seeks Internet sales tax

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:12 pm
It may not be as hot of a “third rail” as retirement benefits, but very few politicians would like to be out in front on the internet sales tax issue, as reported in the Advertiser today.

State lawmakers are looking to collect an estimated $100 million or more in unpaid taxes on Internet purchases by Hawai’i residents each year.

State officials are concerned that they are missing out on a growing source of revenue as people increasingly shop online. Hawai’i residents already are required to pay a 4 percent use tax on out-of-state goods purchased via the Internet or catalogs, though many residents do not know about the tax rule or comply with it.

Last week a House committee pushed ahead Senate Bill 2222 which would urge businesses in participating states to collect taxes from Hawai’i Internet shoppers. Hawai’i businesses that sell goods online in turn would collect taxes from out-of-state buyers.

So far 13 states have come together under what’s called the Streamlined Sales Tax effort. Senate Bill 2222 would substantially alter Hawai’i’s complex general excise tax to make it more similar to taxes in other cooperating states.

I didn’t know about the requirement to pay use tax. (Honest! haha) I would be very interested to know how many suckers online shoppers from Hawaii have paid the 4% use tax and how much revenue that tax brings in each year.

I’m an unusually wonky person, but even I can’t get the motivation to plow through this 100+ page bill. Man, it is dense!

Comments (0)
3/19/2006

House Republicans to stand behind public notice

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:34 pm
The Advertiser “staff” seem to have confused a press release for a floor speech in this article. I heard Representative Meyer get up during the announcements part at the end of the Friday floor session and begin a statement that the Republicans would be opposing requests for waivers of the 48-hour rule (routinely granted) for public notice to hear legislation. Representative Marcus Oshiro rose (twice) to call her “announcement” out of order and so Meyer clumsily paraphrased the prepared remarks she had been attempting to read.

In a speech on the House floor, Meyer, R-47th (Ha’iku, Kahalu’u, La’ie), said that 48 hours is already a short time frame to let the public know when a meeting would be held and that waiving the notice period gives the public no notice at all.

The Republicans went further to suggest that the House actually extend the notice period from 48 to 72 hours, giving the public an extra day to prepare.

In lieu of that, they suggest adopting a policy that would give a longer period to review of the budget bill.

“It is extremely important that we move to strengthen the trust relationship between the public and government,” Meyer said.

“The critical balance of access to information and the ability to move forward in government will create a more meaningful and fruitful democracy.”

Um, I don’t recall any such suggestion of a 72-hour notice nor did she utter that high-sounding rhetoric about fruitful democracy. A press release does not equal “a speech on the House floor.” Whatever.

As for the longer period to review the budget, I didn’t hear Meyer mentioning that either, although it is probably tied to their concern about the prospect of the budget (and other bills) passing early in expectation of overturning vetoes without a special session.

By the way, I have vague recollections of a year when the House Republicans announced that their caucus meetings would be open to the public—thereby approaching the type of openness which is imposed by the Sunshine Law on all other deliberative bodies. I’m surprised they didn’t include that gimmick as part of Friday’s little stunt, too. That would require some actual sacrifice on their part, though.

Comments (0)
Lobbyist opposes publicly financed campaigns – duh

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:34 pm
From the SB letters to the Editor:

‘Special’ interests are constituents, too

Your Feb. 13 editorial calling for the public funding of elections is politically naive. Where does it say that “the public” is the only constituency out there? When you resort to public funding then even the “public” doesn’t matter because it is not performance-based.

There are more constituencies out there than just the “public.” Automobile drivers are constituents, library users are constituents, employees are constituents and business owners are constituents, and as “special” interest groups they are all left out of the picture with public funding.

When you place all the funding in the hands of the public, you deprive all the other constituencies from being involved and making a difference. Can you imagine how strongly an individual might feel if they see their tax money going toward the funding of a candidate with whom they strongly disagree?

The more proper way to handle this is disclosure. If people are aware that a candidate received a lot of financial backing from a certain interest group, then they need to take that into consideration when they vote. But to deny the existence of all the other constituencies, we feel, is just political naivete.

Tim Lyons
President, The Legislative Center
Honolulu

The Legislative Center, despite it’s quasi-official sounding name and deceptively official-looking letterhead, is Mr. Lyon’s lobbying firm. He represents (PDF) the following special interests.

Mr. Tim L. Lyons TLC–The Legislative Center

Anheuser Busch Companies, Inc.
Coalition of Care Home Administrators
Hawaii Business League
Hawaii Flooring Association
Hawaii Pest Control Association
Hawaii Society of Certified Public Accountants
Ocean Tourism Coalition
Pacific Insulation Contractors Association
Roofing Contractors Association of Hawaii
Subcontractors Ass’n of Hawaii

Lyons raises the canard about “depriving all the other constituencies from being involved.” Public campaign financing will not be a mandatory system. Candidates that choose to solicit/accept campaign contributions from special interests will not be forced to participate.

As for those voters who will be upset about tax dollars going to support candidates they oppose, I’m willing to accept the likelihood of that—with the knowledge that the special interests that I oppose will be unable to dominate the agenda the way they do now.

I have no idea what Lyons refers to with his “performance-based” comment. I think he is trying to argue that campaign contributions naturally flow to the best-performing candidates. As if the public good and the good of the special interests are always congruent. That is rarely the case.

Comments (7)
Gold star for Evans; detention for Whalen

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 3:56 pm
The Hawaii County newspapers have reviewed the voting attendance records of the Big Island delegation to the Legislature and today provide us the story and a table of the data. The West Hawaii Today article is here, and the Hawaii Tribune-Herald story is here. Best attendance record goes to Representative Evans, who made it to 97.3%(!) of the votes examined. Worst to Senator Whalen, who made it just under half of the votes examined.

Sen. Paul Whalen had the worst record of the 10-member Big Island legislative delegation, being absent for 51.5 percent of his committee votes. But Whalen, R-Kona, Kohala, said he’s more effective – as a minority party member – to discuss bills with committee chairmen before the hearing and influence the legislation that way.

“I have an excellent track record of being effective,” Whalen said. “I don’t do it by jumping up and down and making grandiose speeches. I do it by working with the chairmen.”

Pretty hard to show if his boast is true, but I have major doubts that a Republican has much/any sway over amendments made to legislation. In any case, his actions provide a clear example of how the Sunshine Law does not apply to the Legislature. If Whalen is to be taken at his word, half of his legislative modus operandi (actually it could be more than half, since the story only considered the bills that made it past First Crossover—many other bills died before then) is to operate outside of his constituents’ (re)view.

It’s not just Whalen. According to the article the whole Big Island delegation meets weekly. I’m assuming these meetings are held without any public notice, minutes, or input:

Herkes said Big Island lawmakers meet every Thursday morning to keep up on the issues, often inviting speakers to make presentations.

This article took a bit of initiative and tedious work to gather the data. Well done.

However, to pick a nit:

There are no rules requiring lawmakers to attend committees or even floor sessions.

Not true.

Comments (0)
3/18/2006

State got dam complaint 3 weeks before it burst

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 11:12 am
So far, the most politically significant story about the disaster at the Kaloko dam is this Advertiser piece. It’s evidence of an early warning that was mishandled by the Lingle administration.

In a telephone message on the Sierra Club’s Bluewater Hotline late on Feb. 21, a Kaua’i resident said she was concerned there was a breach at Kaloko dam above her property because a 50-foot wall of muddy water had careened past her house, destroying a bridge, said Melody Heidel, Sierra Club’s conservation organizer.

The environmental group notified the state’s departments of Health and Land and Natural Resources on Feb. 22.

“We received a message yesterday from a Kaua’i resident that the Kaloko Reservoir had been breached,” Heidel wrote in an e-mail addressed to DLNR’s “info” address and to Gary Ueunten at the state Department of Health’s Clean Water office on Kaua’i. “The resident is concerned that their home is in trouble,” she wrote.

Heidel said she never received a response from DLNR, which is responsible for overseeing dams.

Ueunten remained in communication with her.

Isn’t that nice? I’m remembering (but not finding) a piece that said the DLNR dam inspector was on vacation recently. Maybe somebody should have been checking that email inbox?

Moving on, check out this damning letter to the Advertiser editors:

LAPSE IN RESOURCE REPORTS

FLOOD TRAGEDY SHOWS RISK OF FAILING TO KEEP GOOD DATA

In 2001 I was hired to do the annual report for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. There had been a lapse of nearly four years since the previous one had been done and the Cayetano administration, to make up for that gap, prudently wanted one done before it left office.

To my surprise I found that prior to 1994, the report had been done since territorial days for 100 consecutive years. In looking at the old reports, I saw that the work that had been done in those territorial and early statehood days had been performed with pride and a sense of mission.

Doing the report is a tedious process that requires the updating of information on everything from fire roads to the activities of the Commission on Water Resource Management, which oversees dams.

By doing this kind of work every year, it forces all the divisions and agencies within the department to update their numbers as well as their efforts.

In the old days, updated accurate data was considered important in the making of public policy and in keeping the public safe.

When the Lingle administration took office, they showed little interest in updating the report I had just completed. I wrote letters to Peter Young, the DLNR director, about redoing the annual reports, as well as an op-ed in the paper.

Even with the coming of the bird flu crisis no one showed much interest in the task of gathering and keeping accurate data.

Old data is published on their Web site. Much of the department’s time seems to be consumed by public relations activities: press releases, Web site development, public functions, nature education in public schools, and so on.

Now the worst has happened. In a heavy flood, dams that were not inspected broke. People have died. The people of 100 years ago who set up these systems did it for a reason. Natural resources never stop. They need to be monitored and understood. This is the only protection we have.

Michael Markrich
Honolulu

If this annual report actually required dams to be re-inepected every year, then Markrich is right to criticize the failure to keep up the work. However, I’m not so sure that an annual report goes into that much detail; the 2005 effort (although that PDF is not titled as an “annual report”) certainly does not give any indication of dams being inspected. I was unable to find Markrich’s op-ed piece. If anyone can link me to it or has a copy, please leave a comment. Also, I don’t see the “old data” on the DLNR website that Markrich mentions.

Finally, in the media clamor to know if criminal charges are forthcoming, I took note of this story from KITV:

The attorney general’s investigation into the collapse of the Ka Loko Dam could include criminal prosecution, officials said. The main issue is whether landowner Jimmy Pflueger illegally modified the reservoir.

——–

The central question is why did Ka Loko Dam fail after 100 years? Was it just too much water? Or was something done by Pflueger that could have contributed?

Pflueger admitted workers did grading work around the reservoir without permits in the 1990s, but he denied that could have caused the dam to fail.

The state may have a hard time disputing that. Not only did the state not inspect Ka Loko Reservoir every five years as the law requires, it may not have any pictures from before Pflueger to see if it was altered.

Good point. I would think, however, that if Pflueger also has inadequate records of monitoring, maintaining, and/or inspecting the dam, that such a lack of evidence of due dilligence would at least imply some negligence on the landowner’s part, no?

Comments (1)
Thom, Pendleton tapped for labor board

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 11:11 am
PBN has a story based on one of the Governor’s press releases that notes she has named two people to the Labor Appeals Board. I don’t see these nominees among the Governor’s Messages yet. Probably on Monday, because I’m assuming they’ll need Senate confirmation.

To replace Randy Iwase (who has stepped down to challenge Lingle for Governor) she has nominated Roland Thom. Thom appears to be very qualified, never mind a bit of resume padding: “Director” of Labor and Industrial Relations? Heh. Thom was a business partner with one of Jeremy Harris’ biggest fundraisers, the late Peter Char.

The other nominee is David Pendleton. Pendleton is a very friendly man who, before the latest redistricting and his defeat, used to represent me in the House. Also, he is a man of rare talent, just kidding! [Google is great!]

Interesting that PBN did not stress Pendleton’s workers’ compensation background in a 2005 piece which described him differently after his defeat in 2004 led to an appointment to Lingle’s policy staff.

Oh, did you notice that the Governor’s press release announcing his policy staff appointment and the 2005 PBN article are very similar? PBN simply publishes Klompus’ press releases with basically zero editing. I’ll keep that in mind.

Comments (0)
Dismantling reservoirs may not fly

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 11:10 am
A few more nuggets today on one of the questions I had yesterday about the knee-jerk rush to dismantle dams. Starting with this article from the Advertiser’s business section:

Like others farmers, David Whatmore, the owner of Hula Daze Farm, can buy more expensive water from the county. But the county’s fith-inch valve cannot compare in volume or pressure to the 3-inch valve the farmers use to get water from Kaloko.

“Without this ag water from Kaloko, it’ll be impossible to farm profitably here,” said Whatmore, who grows tangerines, grapefruit, mango, avocado, star fruit and coconuts on eight acres of land fed by Kaloko Reservoir.

“I’m hoping that we’ll get some recognition of the importance of this water to our agriculture here and the importance of agriculture to our local culture. It’s partly for selfish reasons, but also for unselfish reasons. Instead of growing homes out here and making a lot of money, I’m growing trees.”

State Sen. Gary Hooser, (D-7th, Kaua’i, Ni’ihau), plans to attend today’s meeting and said, “Clearly dams like Kaloko need to be inspected and maintained and managed appropriately.”

Since Tuesday, Hooser has heard from three different groups of constituents:

“The people that live in luxury homes want to preserve the amenity of a water feature for the beauty and aesthetics of it. I’m hearing people concerned about environmental issues who want to put water back in the streams where it started. And I’m hearing farmers who want to preserve their irrigation water. I certainly think there’s room to balance all three of those needs.”

In general, Hooser said, “I want to support farming. We live in a rural community and I want to help keep the country country. To me that means supporting farming. For reservoirs and dams in general, we need to acknowledge their importance to the agricultural industry and treat them as a resource.”

Hmmm. Perhaps “balance” is not the right way to characterize his position, then, since the “put water back in the streams” voices apparently lose out completely to the agricultural and luxury homes voices in favor of the amenity, aesthetics, and utility associated with the reservoirs and dams.

Moving on to a story from the news section of the Advertiser:

The safest dams are those that are regularly maintained by companies that need the water behind them, said Alan Kennett, president of Kaua’i’s only surviving sugar company, Gay & Robinson. He said his crews immediately divert water away from the reservoirs whenever heavy rains are scheduled, to protect them.

“Water is our lifeblood at the plantation. When you’re using water, you’ve got to maintain the equipment,” he said. “Being an active farming operation, we monitor (the reservoirs) all the time.”

While the Gay and Robinson, Alexander & Baldwin and Grove Farm dams are still being operated by the same companies that do or did grow sugar cane around them, many of the east and north Kaua’i reservoirs have been sold to new owners ? individuals or small groups who often lack dedicated irrigation staffs.

Are those new reservoir owners using the water for agriculture, or, as Mr. Whatmore put it, “growing homes?”

Going back to the first link in this post:

Ray Lovell, spokesman for State Civil Defense, said he has heard of no plan to destroy either Kaloko or nearby Morita Reservoir “at this point. The plan right now is to end the threat to public health and safety. Once (Kaloko) does not have enough water in it to be a threat, I really don’t know what will happen to it at this point.”

Lovell has not been talking to the right people, then. From an Advertiser article yesterday:

Kaua’i Mayor Bryan Baptiste said that after discussions with U.S. Corps of Engineers dam experts and others, he concluded that the Morita dam must ultimately be removed.

This story is slowly coming together, but it won’t be a quick decision if these reservoirs are to be dismantled, I reckon.

Comments (0)
Labor issues at Hilo newspaper are now news in Honolulu

Filed under:
HI Media
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 11:09 am
Not much for me to add about this SB article about the unrest at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald. But, since I posted about this yesterday and was wondering when the other media would pick up the story, I thought I should at least acknowledge it. They have pretty much the same information as was in the Hawaii Reporter piece, except that they tried (unsuccessfully) to reach the publisher and were given a “no comment” by the editor.

Comments (0)
Higarassment alleged at Hawaii County Council

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 11:09 am
The two Hawaii County dailies run the same story about what seems to be yet another picayune power trip involving the County Council. The Hawaii Tribune-Herald aricle is here, the West Hawaii Today version is here.

Council Chairman Stacy Higa was accused of harassment and workplace violence Thursday, bringing police to the County Building to investigate the incident.

Linda Swallow, Puna Councilman Gary Safarik’s secretary, said she filed a harassment complaint against Higa and planned to file a violence in the workplace incident report with the County Clerk today.

Incidentally, send the grammar police to the West Hawaii Today! Here is their lede:

Council Chairman Stacy Higa was accused Thursday of harassment and workplace violence of a secretary, and police came to the County Building to investigate the incident.

Yikes.

Anyway, the incident as described by a witness does not seem very violent or harassing to me. Again, from the gud writerz at WHT:

Barbara Lively, Councilman Bob Jacobson’s secretary, witnessed the incident between Higa and Swallow Thursday afternoon shortly before Safarik – who was not yet at the County Building – called in the 2:15 p.m. terror report to Hawaii County dispatchers.

Lively’s desk is next to Swallow’s at the County Building.

Lively said Safarik had called Swallow from his Puna home earlier Thursday to find out which council members were attending that night’s public hearing on the 2006-07 budgets. Safarik wanted to determine whether there would be a quorum at the public hearing so he didn’t have to attend, she said and Safarik confirmed.

Swallow found Higa in the council breakroom to ask him, and he later confronted Swallow at her desk to inquire why she asked.

After Swallow told him it was a directive from Safarik, Lively heard Higa say, “He is not the chair. I’m the chair. He is not to poll the council members. I will poll the council members. We’ve been having problems with (Safarik) and that it is his not his job to poll.”

Um, …as Higa pinched her okole and punched her in the jaw? THAT would be harassment and workplace violence. The incident described here, however, sounds rather overblown and it seems to me that the reluctance of the responding officer to file a report was not out of line.

But, I was not there, of course.

Play nice, children! Sheesh. Oh, and since it is Sunshine Week, I’ll note that Higa asserts that it is his job, not Safarik’s, to poll council members before public meetings. haha.

Comments (0)
3/17/2006

Dam investigations start

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:20 pm
The State has begun to investigate the failure at Kaloko Dam, according to several accounts. I’ll start with this Advertiser article.

The state attorney general’s office has opened a broad investigation into the collapse of the Kaloko Reservoir dam on Kaua’i that killed two people, left five people missing and swept away their homes.

The attorney general’s office yesterday issued separate subpoenas to the Mary N. Lucas Trust and retired car dealer Jimmy Pflueger, owners of the land on which Kaloko Reservoir sits.

The state’s subpoenas do not say whether the state is pursuing a criminal or civil case but they indicate that the attorney general is looking into whether the landowners conducted any work on the dam that could have contributed to its collapse.

Carroll Taylor, a court-appointed trustee for the Mary Lucas Trust, said the trust is cooperating with the state’s investigation.

Bill McCorriston, Pflueger’s attorney, said his client also is cooperating with the state investigation. He said Pflueger made accommodations to allow the state’s investigators to visit and inspect the Kaua’i property yesterday.

——–

Attorney General Mark Bennett said the investigation aims to gather evidence to determine what caused the breach of the Kaloko dam. He said the state is putting a lot of resources behind the effort, and has hired experts from the University of Hawai’i and the Mainland, who are reviewing the Kaua’i flood damage.

Bennett said he hopes to get a preliminary briefing today. He declined comment when asked whether the investigation could turn into a criminal probe.

“We are going to do everything possible to determine the cause,” he said.

“Could it turn into a criminal probe?” Well, of course it could! What a pointless question (and it was equally pointless to decline comment). Q: Could the sun come up tomorrow morning? A: No comment. Sheesh.

Next, from a breathless Hawaii Reporter post:

No matter how much integrity the state attorney general has, it is unfair to put him in the position of having to investigate his state peers to determine if the agencies he is supposed to protect from litigation, are somehow liable for the Kauai disaster.

Uh, I was thinking along similar lines yesterday, but that’s a dead end. Dams are covered under HRS Chapter 179D. Within that chapter you will find that the State has no liability for any failures to act.

However, Zimmerman raises another, more interesting, point:

In addition, the attorney general is appointed by and answers to Gov. Linda Lingle who received more than $26,000 for her re-election campaign in this season from James Pflueger, his son Alan, and about a half a dozen employees of the Pflueger auto dealerships.

While $26,000 plus is only a small percentage of the $2 million in her campaign fund and the $6 million she hopes to raise, Pflueger has the potential to bring in much more money for the governor, with the help of his numerous managers and employees of his car dealerships. To remove any perception of impropriety, the state should bring in an independent investigator.

Have the Pflueger’s hui contributed to the Kauai County Prosecutor, too?

From another Advertiser report:

Even as the island continued to suffer from the nonstop rain, state authorities said they would investigate what happened Tuesday at Kaloko Reservoir and urged reservoir owners to dismantle their dams.

Gov. Linda Lingle will submit a request to the Legislature today for emergency funding to cover the cost of recovery efforts as a result of storms over the past three weeks, according to a news release from the governor’s office. Lingle will also request emergency funds to hire consultants to determine the structural integrity of dams and reservoirs statewide, as well as to assess potential immediate risks and to recommend long-term plans to ensure dam safety.

Is that really a good idea to dismantle the dams? Do these reservoirs really serve no purpose? Does the risk outweight the benefits? Seems kinda kneejerk. Of course, the owners are only being “urged” to dismantle the dams, so it seems to be more of a symbolic statement…

But wait, according to the SB article, it’s not quite like that:

… the DLNR is preparing a letter to send to all owners of dams and reservoirs reminding them of their responsibility to maintain and inspect their dams and their obligation to have emergency preparedness plans, especially if the dams pose a danger downstream, Young said.

The letter will also ask for updated information about the dams and offer to assist owners in getting permits should they decide to dismantle their dams or reservoirs.

Assistance in getting permits is a pretty reasonable step, falling well short of urging them to dismantle their dams. However, without actually seeing the letter, who knows how strong the language will be?

But at her press conference earlier in the day, Lingle noted obstacles that the state faces in performing a widespread assessment of all public and private dams in the state.

“We have minimal staff that would be available to inspect dams anywhere in the state, certainly not the kind of staff that could do it on a regular basis,” Lingle said.

She has asked for emergency funding for several state departments to help cover the costs of recovery efforts in the past three weeks of rainstorms. She is also asking for emergency funding to hire consultants to help determine the structural integrity of dams and reservoirs, assess risks and recommend long-term plans to ensure dam safety.

Lingle said now is not the time for questions about when, or if, the state inspected the dam.

“We’re dealing with the loss of life right now as opposed to what happened and what was inspected in years past,” Lingle said. “We’re really focused on helping the community to recover right now from this tragedy.

“It’s just not a priority right now to know the last time it was inspected. It certainly is important; it will be a priority … but right now our focus is on protecting the homes that are still in the area.”

Lingle noted that the division charged with carrying out inspections has only one full-time and one part-time staff member. Kauai alone has about 60 private and 13 public dams, she said. Statewide, there are about 140 dams.

“It is an issue that the Legislature and I are going to have give more attention to going forward because there are so many of these reservoirs now located on private property,” she said.

Nice dodge by the Governor with that non-response. It is not as if it is impossible to simultaneously determine the last time an inspection was conducted AND deal with the response to the Tuesday disaster. However, it’s fair to say that Lingle would rather firm up her (so far, untarnished) image of an in-charge leader reacting to a crisis before her administration reveals the (likely) embarrassing truth about the inspection of Kaloko Dam.

If it turns out that the private landowners are responsible for some act or omission that led to the disaster, then I will actually be relieved. The alternative finding, i.e. a natural disaster occurred, is much more troubling to me because I have zero confidence that the State will stay focused on this particular threat for the long term. Government responses to low-likelihood (but foreseeable) disasters have always been reactive and short-lived, and probably always will be so.

Comments (0)
Unrest at Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Filed under:
HI Media
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:20 pm
An interesting post submitted to the Hawaii Reporter by the Hawaii Newspaper Guild about strained labor-management relations at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald.

The major issue, however, is union-busting, said [Guild administrator] Cahill. “This company has declared all-out war on its union employees,” he said. Bargaining talks are currently stalled over the company?s insistence on a new “management rights” clause in the contract that would permit the company to dismantle the union, he said.

“This is a mainland-owned company that?s making lots of money on the Big Island with the help of its union employees, yet it wants to get rid of the union,” Cahill said. “This newspaper?s managers are not as concerned about quality of the paper as they are about sending more profits off the Big Island and back to their owners in Arkansas.”

There have been several recent firings of union activists, according to the Guild. I may have missed the story in some other local media outlet, but until this HR post the only thing I had heard of this was in a recent House Resolution. If this heats up any more I wonder if the other Hawaii print media will cover the issue. The fact that the place I read about this is the Hawaii Reporter, which, to its credit, will print almost anything submitted for publication, and not in any of the newspapers with Guild employees, is rather curious. Maybe the Guild did not try to submit this story/op-ed to other newspapers, or maybe they did and the piece was not accepted. ??

The same owner, Stephens Media Group, also owns the West Hawaii Today. I don’t know if the WHT staff are covered by the same contract terms and having similar disputes with management.

Comments (1)
Senator Slom resolves to require a referendum on Akaka Bill

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:19 pm
The SB reports on two resolutions introduced by two Republicans in the Hawaii Senate in opposition to the Akaka Bill.

Sens. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai) and Gordon Trimble (R, Downtown-Waikiki) have introduced two resolutions in the Legislature, SCR 78 and SR 51, asking Congress to delay voting on the bill until a referendum on it can be held in Hawaii.

——–

The Slom and Trimble resolutions attack the federal legislation, saying it is too broad and poorly defined.

“Key components of the Akaka Bill shock the conscience of all reasonableness in several ways offensive to the citizens of the state of Hawaii,” the resolutions say. “Nothing in the bill guarantees the governing entity will be carried out in a democratic form. The bill fails to guarantee that the Bill of Rights are incorporated into the governing entity.”

Last year, Slom was the only legislator to vote against a resolution supporting the Akaka Bill.

Slom said yesterday he “generally” did not support the Akaka Bill, adding that “it has had more debate in Washington than in Honolulu.”

Hmmmm. Since Senator Slom brought it up (and I’m ignorant on the subject): were the federally-recognized Native American tribes ever proscribed to be governed in a democratic form with the Bill of Rights incorporated therein? Furthermore, are the tribes governed in that manner now?

Anyway, the article neglects to point out that these two particular resolutions will never pass, even if by some unlikely chance they were to be scheduled for a hearing. Oh, and there would need to be an amendment made to the State Constitution in order to have a legally valid referendum, as OHA correctly points out. Of course, no bill is moving that could advance that Constitutional amendment for that reason, and it’s too late to start one this year.

Political farts in a whirlwind.

Comments (2)
3/16/2006

Accountability on the minds of Kilauea residents

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:01 pm
Another flood batch of stories about the dam breached on Kauai. I’ll begin with this Advertiser article and the Governor’s comments:

At a town hall meeting yesterday with Gov. Linda Lingle, many of Kauai’s North Shore residents wanted to know one thing: Who was responsible for the Kaloko Reservoir’s breach.

More than 250 people gathered at the Kilauea Neighborhood Center, eager for information from the governor and other officials in wake of Kaua’i’s worst disaster since Hurricane Iniki.

Without assigning blame, Lingle made it clear that someone would be held responsible.

Just one state employee and a part-time clerk work on inspecting the 60 privately owned reservoirs and dams and the 13 publicly held facilities on Kaua’i, she said. She could not answer when the last time the Kaloko reservoir was inspected.

“Under Hawai’i state law, it is very clear that (for) dams and reservoirs on private property, maintenance is the responsibility of the landowner,” she said, standing near a basketball hoop in the center’s gymnasium.

“Are the 60 (dams) monitored on a full-time basis? They are not. That does not absolve the landowner from maintaining it.”

The state attorney general’s office began gathering information and looking into the dam breach starting yesterday, Lingle said, adding she did not know if the office had opened a formal criminal probe.

Uh, it doesn’t take much additional parsing to extract the Governor’s unspoken message: the landowner (i.e. Pflueger) will be held responsible.

In the SB they have a piece addressing that topic in more detail. It’s still very early and not a lot of facts are known, but I think it’s worth noting that Pflueger already has a public relations firm dealing with the media. I reckon he must be getting lawyered up, too. [On second thought, he just settled that big lawsuit last week, so he probably retained all the help he needs on the legal front.]

Illegal grading work done by James Pflueger on his land near Ka Loko Reservoir before July 2002 and government-approved fixes of the improper work don’t appear to have caused the reservoir dam to break Tuesday, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official said yesterday.

“We’re not aware of any Clean Water Act or other violations that contributed to or resulted in the failure of the dam,” Jeremy Johnstone, an EPA senior environmental engineer, said by telephone from San Francisco.

Johnstone was part of an EPA team that agreed to a landmark $7.8 million settlement of Pflueger’s Clean Water Act violations on his north Kauai County land. The bulk of the settlement involved illegal grading and earth-moving Pflueger admitted to doing makai of Kuhio Highway, but also included remediation work Pflueger did on the southeast side of Ka Loko Reservoir – opposite its dam on the northwestern side.

Another $4.5 million in fines and penalties had already been levied against Pflueger for the mudslide and resulting damage to nearby beaches and reefs.

Pflueger’s lawsuit settlement, which included the Kilauea Neighborhood Association, Limu Coalition of Kauai, Kauai County, and state departments of Health and Attorney General, was announced last week.

“My family and I continue to have deep concern over the loss of life and suffering caused by breach of the dam at Ka Loko Reservoir on Kauai yesterday,” Pflueger said in a statement he issued yesterday through Frank Cho, senior vice president of Communications Pacific.

Pflueger’s statement said that “work that has been reported done on the reservoir – distinct from the dam – was done on the opposite side of the reservoir and was undertaken under the requirements of the consent decree approved by county, state and federal agencies. That work was inspected and approved by the EPA, state and others last week.”

Johnstone was one of those inspecting the work, which was to fix illegal grading on the southeast side of Ka Loko Reservoir that Pflueger had done as far back as 1997, according to a 2002 EPA document.

Hmmm. This raises the question: is it likely that the inspectors from last week (“EPA, state and others”) were going to pursue that line of inquiry agressively if it might reveal that they bungled the inspection? It seems clear that an independent investigation is in order, if such a thing is possible after the fact.

Various reports have described the regular inspections required of dams, with increasing frequency correlated to the (assigned) risk of damage. To begin with, it’s not exactly reassuring to hear that is the sum total of the prevention strategy. Now that a dam has failed only a week after being inspected, it should raise doubts about the efficacy of that policy.

Finally, in the conclusion of the article we learn that it is possible that the dam did not include a spillway. Could the dam have passed (supposed-to-be-regular) inspections if that were true? I dunno. I would hope not.

Don Heacock, an aquatic biologist with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, said yesterday the incident shouldn’t be called an act of God or a natural disaster.

“God doesn’t make reservoirs. Men make reservoirs,” Heacock said. “Men interfered with the natural stream ecosystem.”

In past, Heacock said, “When it rained hard, a water luna (supervisor) would make sure the flow of the reservoir” was not blocked.

Heacock said he recalls being at Ka Loko Reservoir in the 1980s and thought its emergency spillway was immediately to the left or right side of the dam.

“According to (Pflueger’s) attorney, who spoke with engineers that did work with this dam, it is an earthen dam that sits a few feet lower than the rest of the reservoir,” Cho said. “The dam itself is the spillway.”

Kilauea resident Tom Hitch said yesterday that he and Pflueger have battled over the water levels in Ka Loko Reservoir. He said Pflueger wanted the levels higher because it looked better.

Hitch said he operates a pipeline that supplies farmers in the area with water from the reservoir. Hitch said he took over operation of the pipeline (formerly operated by former Kilauea Sugar Co. owner C. Brewer) within the past two years.

When Lincoln Gayagas flew over Ka Loko Reservoir on Tuesday to survey the damage, he couldn’t spot the dam’s spillway.

“Almost every dam will have a spillway,” Gayagas, an emergency operations planner for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said yesterday in a telephone interview from Kauai.

Gayagas said he’s never heard of an earthen dam being built without an overflow spillway lined with concrete or rocks. A spillway going over the top of the dam would erode the dam itself, he said.

“I didn’t see it right there (Tuesday), perhaps because of some of the brush,” he said. “We didn’t get down and walk on the ground around Ka Loko.”

Gayagas said he will look for the spillway when he makes an on-the-ground investigation of the dam today.

Wha? The dam sits a few feet lower than the reservoir? Holding back that special, anti-gravity Kauai water, I guess. Heh.

Suffice it to say that the spillway question is a very important line of inquiry. As to Mr. Hitch’s “higher water levels look better” hearsay, that doesn’t come across as too flattering (or defensible) for Pflueger, either.

Comments (2)
No more Hokulia bailout, but more of the herring

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:01 pm
Hawaii County readers get an update on the Hokulia settlement, a day after the Honolulu media had the story. A Hawaii Tribune-Herald story is available here .

Circuit Judge Ronald Ibarra vacated his September 2003 ruling that halted work at Hokulia. The decision was appealed to the Hawaii Supreme Court, but sent back earlier this month after Ibarra received notice from a third party – former state attorney general Warren Price – that the developer and the plaintiffs had agreed to settle their differences.

Ibarra said he did not take the process of vacating a ruling lightly, but new evidence and news of a settlement convinced him that “justice is best served” by dropping the case.

Not that I’m pleased about my hunch panning out, but that is just as I thought Ibarra had to say for this to happen under Rule 60.

Mayor Harry Kim said it is important to recognize the patience of Kona residents who have been waiting for traffic relief from the Mamalahoa Highway bypass, which has been stalled because of the Hokulia litigation.

“People ask me how I am treated when I come to Kona and I tell them, ‘with the utmost courtesy,’” said Kim. “After all they have been through, how do you thank them for that?”

Despite the settlement, the issue that halted Hokulia – illegal use of agricultural land – has yet to be settled. The state Legislature has two bills that would move the state in that direction, but Robert Kim said he was unsure of the Legislature’s work.

While both bills would grandfather homes on agricultural land – the bill would not affect the court order requiring Hokulia to go to the Land Use Commission for a rural designation – only the Senate version comes with a clarification of what is allowed on agricultural land.

[Plaintiff’s attorney] Robert Kim said he’s skeptical that the Legislature can come up with a solution that has been plaguing the state for the last quarter century.

“But what this does say is, this is no longer a bailout for Hokulia,” said Kim. “This is now, ‘Hey (state Sen.) Russell (Kokubun), what are you guys going to do about this?’”

Medeiros said the plaintiffs were not pressured by the proposed bills in the Legislature, but the Legislature may now be feeling pressure to resolve the conflict caused by people living on farm lands.

It’s the red herring argument, again. There is no such conflict caused by people living on farm lands, in my opinion. There is no reason for these bills to advance. The process to identify important agricultural lands was previously established by the Legislature—now it just needs to be carried out—and followed by the counties.

Comments (2)
Mayor Kim receives odd introduction letter

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:00 pm
A curious little story at the West Hawaii Today regarding a letter of introduction sent to Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim from a member of Congress on behalf of a developer from South Dakota seeking a project in South Kona.

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth, D-South Dakota, said Ted Thoms served as her father’s running mate when he unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1986 and is not only “a longtime family friend” but also “a successful real estate developer based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.”

“Ted informs me that he is working on a project with a local partner to develop property on the South Kona Coast,” Herseth wrote Mayor Harry Kim on Feb. 15. “I believe you will find Ted to be responsible and worthy of your trust and I wanted to drop you this note of introduction.”

Neither Thoms or Herseth could be reached for comment about Herseth’s letter or about the South Kona project Thoms is involved in with a local partner.

Herseth’s letter was written under a “House of Representatives” letterhead, but Herseth’s press secretary Russ Levsen said Tuesday the congresswoman wrote the letter on personal stationary [sic] “at the request of Mr. Thoms, who is a family friend and had asked Rep. Herseth to reach out to another public official in a letter of introduction.”

“Members of Congress do this all the time,” Levsen said.

Managing Director Dixie Kaetsu said it was the first time Kim’s office received a letter “of this nature,” meaning “a letter from a person of supposed stature or influence [Doug: Ha!] sending a recommendation or introduction of a person we don’t know.”

I’m curious how the WHT came to know about this letter, but whatever. Go, go, Sunshine Week?

Now that the word is out, publicity has basically defeated the purpose of the letter. Instead of (or perhaps in addition to) reassuring the Mayor about Thom’s bona fides, those inclined to be suspicious of all developers will suddenly take even more interest in Thom’s “Opihi Hale” project.

Comments (1)
Maui Mayor proposes the direct route on property tax relief

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:00 pm
Reading this story in the SB about Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa and his proposed budget makes for an interesting comparison to Honolulu.

Maui residents faced an average 25 percent increase in real property taxes in fiscal 2007 because of rising land values.

But Mayor Alan Arakawa yesterday proposed lowering property tax rates to offset the higher valuations so homeowners would pay about the same as they did the year before.

The mayor wants to reduce the tax rate to $2.14 cents from $3.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, resulting in a decrease in taxes of $12.5 million to homeowners in Maui County.

Arakawa also has proposed giving tax breaks to property owners who rent to long-term tenants and also wants to reduce the maximum amount taxable to qualified property owners living on small incomes.

The mayor previously announced a proposal to exempt active duty military personnel from paying real property taxes, while they are defending their country.

Even with the Arakawa’s proposed tax breaks, the county is expected to see its revenues from property taxes grow to $200 million from $160 million, county officials estimate.

The county expects a 32.1 percent increase in overall real property tax values and a 7 percent increase in the transient accommodation tax income, Arakawa said.

A large share of the increase in county property revenues is expected to come from a double-digit jump in assessments in most land uses.

County officials anticipate a 36 percent assessment increase for hotel/resort, 53 percent for timeshare units, 31 percent for agricultural, 31 percent for improved residential and 25 percent for homeowners.

So far as I can tell from this article, there are no politicians on Maui concerned about lowering property tax rates. On Oahu, however, there was much to do from the Mayor and some Councilmembers concerned about taking that direct approach, i.e. simply lowering the rate across the board instead of some cutesy formulaic alternative. Lower rates would mean that in the near future Maui politicians may be faced with a need to take the politically dificult step of raising property tax rates should assessed values begin to fall. Interesting contrast between the counties, I think.

Comments (1)
3/15/2006

Sunshine Week, Day 4

Filed under:
HI Media
— Doug @ 6:50 pm
Interesting articles in the Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin about a Sunshine Law experiment conducted by volunteers.

Government agencies are “pretty good” at releasing information under the state open records law. But the public often needs to be persistent, especially since many state and county workers are not well informed about what is required, according to a study conducted by the Society of Professional Journalists Hawai’i Chapter and other public access advocates.

Of 59 record requests sought by volunteers taking part in a freedom of information compliance audit, 43 were met within several days, SPJ President Stirling Morita said.

But only 17 of the requests were fulfilled on the first visit, he said. And many employees asked for the identification of requesters or the reasons for were seeking the information.

Hmmm, that’s a bit more encouraging than yeterday’s less-encouraging tone…

This was the part I found most interesting in the SB piece:

State and County agencies gave a variety of excuses for not providing records immediately, including:

? A staff member said there were no nonbid contracts on Maui in the last six months, only single-source purchases. [DOUG: Those are the same thing!]

? The University of Hawaii requires a written request for legal settlements; two written requests were faxed to the UH general counsel’s office, but no response was received.

? A requester was asked twice to narrow a request for Honolulu nonbid contracts and referred to another staff member. Two messages were left, but no one called back.

? A requester was told an opinion from a deputy attorney general was needed to release a copy of a restaurant inspection unless the requester gave a name. The staff member refused to give his name since the requester also refused; but a supervisor eventually provided the report. [DOUG: It’s amusing, but is it really important/mandatory that a worker give his or her name to a requester?]

? A staff member said she didn’t want a requester to know her name when the requester asked for a Department of Education Kona office personnel list. Afterward in the parking lot, another woman office worker chased the requester’s car shouting, “you sure aren’t getting my name either … just remember that.” [DOUG: I’m quite surprised that the office worker takes secrecy so seriously that she would chase down a car—on foot! haha]

I made my request in writing, I gave my name, and I even told DBEDT why I want the information (because I intend to post excerpts of it here on my blog). I wonder if that will matter.

Waiting.

Comments (0)
Less-qualified than a high-school student

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:49 pm
It’s not updated often, but I knew it would be worth watching. Check out the March 14 post at Representative Harbin’s blog.

My first duty is to represent the people of Honolulu?s Downtown, Chinatown, Iwilei, Keeaumoku-Sheridan, Kakaako and our harbors.

My second duty is to champion the interests of the small-business community in the state legislature ? the primary reason I was appointed to this seat.

Four of the committees to which I have been appointed, without my consent or even my prior awareness, are beyond my experience and expertise: Education (the public schools), Higher Education (the UH system), Energy Environment Protection and Hawaiian Affairs.

I have, therefore, resigned from those committees in order to devote my time and energy to the committees and exigencies that relate to the people I represent and to the areas in which I do have experience and expertise. I have been told that representatives may not resign from committees to which they have been assigned. As of this posting, the issue remains unresolved.

Representing the people of the district she represents (what she calls her “first duty”) would obviously include participating in the consideration of legislation regarding education, higher education, energy, environmental protection, and Hawaiian affairs. She just doesn’t get it. Those things matter to her district.

I regret that my reluctance to serve on committees for which many high-school students are more qualified than I am is perceived ? or portrayed ? as a shirking of duty.

Who knew that she was so modest? Heh. Lest anyone forget, Bev Harbin was selected by Governor Lingle as the best person to fill the seat; she was found to be better than all the other applicants Lingle’s advisors reviewed. Yeah, right.

Seriously, though, a Representative so sure about being unfit to serve her constituents should have never applied. Too late. Now that she has been chosen, I think she should, how you say? “Resign.”

Comments (3)
Hogue will run for U.S. House 2nd District

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:49 pm
State Senator Bob Hogue (who represents my district, by the way) intends to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. If he does so he will lose his seat at the Hawaii Senate. The SB seems to have scored a scoop on the dam-fixated local media, as they are the only source with this story. [I admit the Kauai dam catastrophe deserves a lot of coverage, of course.]

To quote a bumpersticker, “So, where’s Peter?” The Honolulu Prosecutor has hinted that he may enter the Republican primary contest for the seat, and so has Mike Gabbard.

Will there be a contested Republican primary for this race, reducing the crossover primary voting that could boost Ed Case over Dan Akaka and giving Governor Lingle a better shot at U.S. Senate next time, or not? I think so.

Furthermore, who will run for Hawaii Senate to replace Hogue? Veddy interesting…

Comments (1)
Hokuli’a ‘war is over’

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:49 pm
Both Honolulu dailies have storeis about the settlement reached in the Hokulia lawsuit. The Advertiser piece is here and the SB report is here. In a nutshell:

the developer must seek “rural” designation from the LUC for the project, instead of the “urban” designation Judge Ibarra previously had ordered;
the plaintiffs legal fees will be paid;
a Hokulia Foundation will be funded by the developers (to do what?); and
the developer must provide affordable housing, drug treatment, and a bypass road.
In return for the benefits, the plaintiffs agreed not to stand in the way of Oceanside as it complies with a new directive from Ibarra to go to the state Land Use Commission to obtain “rural” designation for Hokulia lands.

In rulings in 2003 and 2004, Ibarra had ordered Hokulia to seek “urban” designation for the lands that are currently classified as agricultural.

Rural designation is seen as being more flexible, since it allows aspects of both urban and agricultural uses.

Obtaining rural designation might come quickly or might take up to two years, said attorney Robert Kim, who represents the plaintiffs.

There is no assurance that the Land Use Commission would grant the designation, in which case the Hokulia lands would remain in agricultural designation but not be subject to further challenges from the plaintiffs.

Since Ibarra’s ruling yesterday cancels prior rulings, it reinstates certain county zoning rights that Oceanside had previously obtained.

I am not a lawyer. I don’t understand what will stop some other plaintiff from stepping forward at the LUC to make the same arguments found in Judge Ibarra’s 2003 ruling. Granted, some of the judge’s findings will no longer apply since the plans for the project are amended in this settlement, but is that enough? We’ll see. First it would take another opponent to step forward and challenge them at the LUC, of course. I would be surprised if the LUC acted to deny the designation change on their own initiative (i.e. with no organized opposition), but I suppose it is not impossible.

It’s also unclear what effect this settlement will have on the lot owners’ lawsuit against the County. The lot owners’ might have to hold off with that lawsuit until it is known if the LUC will approve the “rural” designation. If the LUC does not approve, then I reckon the lot owners would press on with their lawsuit.

Comments (1)
Ghean running for West Maui House seat

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:49 pm
The Lahaina News announces that former Maui County Republican Party Chair Kay Ghean will run against Kameo Tanaka for the House District 10 seat. The link to her web site included in the article does not work.

Ghean is a member of the West Maui Advisory Committee, vice president of the Lahaina Town Action Committee, and secretary of the Kaanapali Operations Association. I couldn’t find much online about the KOA other than their opposition to light pollution legislation. ??

I would think that Ghean will be a strong challenger to Tanaka, since West Maui seemed happy to re-elect Republican Brian Blundell to the Lege for a long time—until his 2004 arrest made him vulnerable.

Comments (2)
Big Isle candidates of all flavors break cover, raise cash

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:48 pm
Two excellent articles in the Hawaii Tribune-Herald by Jason Armstrong about the upcoming election season. One is about the fundraising undertaken by the Hawaii County delegation to the Legislature, and another is about candidates for the HawaiiCounty Council race.

The first piece points out the largest donors and recipients, and gives special notice to the donatons made by tobacco companies (in this year where a secondhand smoke bill is in play).

It also has another interesting blurb about Representative Hale:

At the other end of the fundraising spectrum is Rep. Helene Hale, D-Puna, who collected just $7.02 and spent nothing during the second half of 2005, according to her report.

“I never make any money on fundraisers anyhow because I don’t get a lot of lobbyists or people trying to buy my vote,” Hale said.

Hale, who will turn 88 next week, said she’s trying to groom a “young woman” to replace her and may run again herself if that effort fails.

“I still have a little time. I possibly may (run again),” she said. “I just try to work for the people. Hopefully, that would put me back again.”

Hmmm. Her comment would suggest that my earlier post either made the correct inference that Hale isn’t pleased with those Democrats who have already pulled nomination papers, or it suggests that Lou Ann K. Jones is the “young woman” being groomed to succeed her.

Moving to the piece about the Hawaii County Council:

A Native Hawaiian elder [Kale Gumapac], Hawaii County deputy prosecutor [Michael Roth] and former state deputy attorney general [J Yoshimoto] are among those pondering political bids for one of the nine council seats, according to the latest information from the county’s elections office.

Hamakua Councilman Fred Holschuh and Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann are joined by Hilo businesswoman Paula Helfrich as the only candidates now entered in this year’s council races.

Those three potential candidates are given brief treatment, and sound like interesting folks. A few others are named, too, but without any discussion: William “Bill” Eger, Roger Evans, Emily Naeole and Gerald Silva.

Comments (0)
3/14/2006

Sunshine Week 2006, Day 3

Filed under:
HI State Politics
HI Media
— Doug @ 6:09 pm
Kinda ominous that the day after I drop my Sunshine Law information request into the mail that the Advertiser has a piece today about how slow and cumbersome the process can become if the agency holding the records interprets the law to allow for withholding the documents instead of disclosure. Uh oh.

All I can do is wait and see… within 10 days I should know if DBEDT intends to deny my request—then I can start an appeal.

Meanwhile, there is also an article and an editorial about a Senate Bill now in the House that may be amended to establish a task force about the Sunshine Law.

Advocates for open government persuaded [House Judiciary Chair] Luke to postpone a hearing [Monday] on the task-force bill for a week after complaining they did not have time to review the bill. Public notice for the hearing was given last Friday, but advocates said they could not see a copy of the bill until Luke made it available at her office yesterday morning.

Luke agreed to delay the hearing until March 21.

“It was a concern that a bill about the sunshine law did not have any sunshine,” said William E. Woods-Bateman, the chairman of the Kalihi Valley Neighborhood Board who is active in open-government issues. “You really didn’t have any right and ability to review it.”

Other advocates are concerned that the task force language was swapped into a Senate bill that would bar lobbyists from making political donations to lawmakers during session. Luke explained that the restrictions on lobbyists are still alive in the Senate and would be heard in a Senate and House conference committee if the bills advance.

The task force would be made up of representatives from the county councils, the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the state Board of Education, the University of Hawai’i Board of Regents, the state office that oversees charter schools, appointees from the House and Senate leadership and the governor’s office, and the director of the state Office of Information Practices.

Those “other advocates” would include Larry Geller who has been fuming about this at his blog (here and here).

The late-Friday hearing notice for a Monday hearing is a recurring problem at the Legislature. Especially after First Crossover where bill referrals are often announced on Thursday or Friday. Committees that regularly meet on Monday can either give public notice on Friday for the Monday hearing (providing little time for the public to react, although it technically complies with the 48-hour notice rules), or those Committees can “waste” that Monday hearing date and put out a heavy hearing schedule for Wednesday (which leaves them no time if a decision needs to be deferred on a bill with multiple referrals). Inserting a “proposed draft” bill onto a Friday agenda for a Monday hearing is pretty hard to defend (although if they put the proposed drafts on the internett it could be marginally better). I’m at a loss as to why Luke took that route. She set herself up for Geller and for this, from the Advertiser:

Shifting the context of a bill and scheduling it at the last minute for a hearing is precisely the kind of action the sunshine law seeks to prevent.

If legislators are truly interested in openeness they should do the right thing and approve a bill now on hold that would put the Legislature under the sunshine law.

Why should these elected leaders be exempt from the sunshine law and answer to their own set of rules?

Taxpayers deserve more, they deserve an answer.

Sigh. Keep on banging that drum; see if you get that answer. The public outcry for this just isn’t there. The fact that the Lege is even willing to entertain/study the lamentations of those who are subject to the SL is telling.

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Another try for red light cameras

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:56 pm
The SB has a story about a House Transportation Committee hearing yesterday where red light enforcement cameras again came into play as Representative Souki inserted the idea into another traffic safety measure. I was at the hearing, too, by the way.

The measure would have to make it out of the House Judiciary Committee and then the full chamber before going back to the Senate for consideration.

A similar measure advanced in the House last year but died in the Senate.

Lingle has not taken a position on the red-light cameras in the past.

Senate Transportation Chairwoman Lorraine Inouye (D, Hilo-Honokaa), whose committee had advanced Lingle’s Senate bill, said she would support Souki’s bill and she is looking forward to hearing it if it comes over from the House.

“I’d like to see it happen and perhaps this is the right time,” Inouye said.

Senator Inouye’s comment makes little sense. She will have no opportunity to “hear” Souki’s red light camera bill if it passes the House, because at that point the only options left for this Senate bill would be for the Senate to either agree to the House amendments or to disagree with the House amendments and go to Conference on the matter. Further, it’s not clear if the Senate will get another look at it, becuase Souki’s red light camera bill from this yer, HB 1812, stalled in the House Judiciary Committee. Given that both Judiciary committees have not shown much interest in red light cameras, I think that this part of the bill is unlikely to become law this year—barring an (un)timely red light crash fatality between now and May.

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3/13/2006

Sunshine week 2006, Day 2: we’re going fishing

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:13 pm
The SB has an interesting piece today about the numerous bills at the Lege aimed at the Office of Information Practices. It also mentions an upcoming Brown Bag Workshop on Thursday, March 16, (see March 8 entry here) to be held at the State Capitol. This was going to be a post about all that, but…

While I was browsing the OIP website I noticed a link to the Records Reporting System, which is a search engine to provide information about records held by the government. To see the actual records would require a formal request.

Just to play around with the system, I chose the totally-not-random topic of all records sorted by access classification for DBEDT. Within those results is a reference to DBEDT correspondence – private sector.

The RRS classifies access in one of five ways:

In the RRS, departments can use five possible access classifications for their records:

* Public – public access required.
* Confidential – no public access permitted.
* Confidential/Conditional – access permitted only to those persons, or under those conditions, described by specific statute(s).
* Confidential/Conditional – access permitted to public after segregation of information protected from disclosure by an applicable UIPA exception.
* Undetermined – access will be determined at a later date.

The DBEDT correspondence is under the fourth (bolded above) classification. Taking a look at the UIPA exceptions, there should be no reason to deny a UIPA request for all DBEDT correspondence to and from the participants (and the potential participants) in the Lingle administration’s 2005 foreign trade delegations. Heck, I’ll even allow them to redact the names, I am mainly interested in what was offered them and what “donations” were sought in return. In other words, I want to know how many sponosrs were solicited and what other “benefits” were offered to “sponsors” beyond the one (redacted) letter that was leaked to the media.

OIP provides a handy form to make a request, so I shall do just that… who knew that Sunshine Week would be so fun?! I can only wonder why no other media outlet has not asked for this already. Speaking of that, I’ll ask for any communication to and from the media and public relations folks on the topic, too. Maybe the media have asked for it, too, maybe they were more involved than we already know, and maybe other things will turn up. Heh.

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Tax cut and/or Iwase loses to Lingle

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:07 pm
The SB editorial today makes a rather stern warning on the subject of tax cuts:

Democratic legislators appear headed for a confrontation with Governor Lingle that could backfire in next year’s gubernatorial race. If they fail to recognize that fiscal responsibility reflects political popularity, they will encumber their candidate with an impossible task.

[scratching my head over that second sentence]

Okay, “they” must mean the Democrats—I’m with them so far.

However, the clarity disappears with the vague “fiscal responsibility reflects political popularity” statement. Depending upon who you talk to, fiscal responsibility can mean cutting taxes and reduced spending or fiscal responsibility can mean spending revenues wisely to invest for the future. The Republicans favor the former meaning, the Democrats (so far) have chose the latter meaning. As to which side is “politically popular,” well, that’s pretty much speculation, isn’t it? People can be found on both sides of the coin.

Moving to the conclusion of that warning, the editors appear to be arguing that if the Democratic legislators are not fiscally responsible (by which definition?) then the Democratic candidate for Governor (i.e. Randall Iwase) will face an impossible task, i.e. Iwase will be defeated by Governor Lingle.

Um, maybe.

Actually, I see little benefit to Iwase if the Democrats come around to Lingle’s notion of fiscal responsibility and choose to reduce taxes. Wouldn’t Governor Lingle have a stronger claim to take credit for the tax reduction than Mr. Iwase? In strictly political calculus, it seems to me that Iwase would be better served by Democrats who make a strong argument for the “investing in the future” style fiscal discipline than by Democratic legislators who fall into a tax reduction “race to the bottom.”

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3/12/2006

SB stories about trade delegation questions? We’ll see.

Filed under:
HI Media
— Doug @ 10:34 am
When I was pondering yesterday why the SB seems to be so late to mention the questions about the Lingle administration trade delegations to Asia I should have thought of this:

The SB sent their own reporter along on the trip and published daily journals submitted by the Governor. If it turns out that the trip arrangements involved illegal or unethical acts, it could be embarrassing for the SB to have been involved—no matter how tangentially. Furthermore, agressively pursuing the story, uh, might not help the chances that an SB journalist would be invited along for future junkets. Interestingly, the AP piece that did finally run yesterday in the SB was about what? It was about Lingle’s Attorney General saying that he found nothing wrong with the procurement arrangement to handle the donations made by delegates. Hmmm.

As I dug up those links I had a look at this article from the trip, which is not exactly on-topic with respect to the current questions, but it is very funny:

China Business Dos and Don’ts

State materials on the China trade mission include the following tips for Hawaii business people meeting prospective Chinese partners.

? Negative replies are considered impolite. Instead of saying “no,” answer “maybe,” “I’ll think about it,” or “We’ll see.”

? If the subject of Taiwan comes up, never refer to it as the “Republic of China” or “Nationalist China.”

? Unless you’re a communist, never refer to someone as “comrade.”

? The Chinese will decline a gift three times before finally accepting. You will have to continue to insist.

? Do not wrap gifts in yellow paper with black writing. These colors are for gifts offered to the dead.

? Empirical evidence and objective facts are accepted only if they jibe with the Communist Party line.

? Do not put your hands in your mouth. It is considered vulgar.

? Avoid unusual facial expressions.

Was Lingle travelling with Hawaii communists? HA HA. Insert your own punchline here.

Comments (1)
Reresentative Hale may retire if a suitable Dem emerges

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 10:19 am
The West Hawaii Today reports that Representative Helene Hale may join the ranks of retiring legislators this year, or not.

After 52 years in public service, the Democrat representing Puna, Pahoa, Hawaiian Acres and Kalapana finds herself between a rock and a Republican place.

Heading toward her 88th birthday March 23 and having suffered a slight stroke, Hale has indicated to others that she’d like to step down once this legislative term is done. But she’s determined that the District 4 House seat not go to a Republican. If that means running for re-election, well, so be it.

“I’m trying to find somebody to take my place who I think is a good person, someone who I know is very active in the community,” she said. “I wouldn’t run against another good candidate. On the other hand . . . I always leave my options open.”

Hale has until the July 25 candidate filing deadline to decide. No one else has filed for the seat yet, although three Democrats and the Republican she beat with less than a 10-point margin in 2004 have picked up the paperwork.

——–

Hale’s stroke left her with a condition called “expressive aphasia,” which is basically a short-circuit between the mind and the mouth. One million people in the United States currently suffer from aphasia, which is most often the result of a stroke, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Hale said her doctor told her to not talk so fast, to let her words catch up with her.

“Once in a while I get stuck on certain words,” Hale said. “It eventually will come to me but a lot of people will try to help with that and say it for me.”

House Speaker Calvin Say, D-St. Louis Heights, Palolo, is one of those who try to ease Hale’s communication on the floor, acknowledging her quickly when she raises her hand and helping her make her oral vote.

In a Feb. 27 reply, Say wrote, “Representative Hale is regarded by her colleagues as a bright, experienced and knowledgeable legislator, and I believe her reelection is a validation of how much the community values her contribution.”

Lately, Hale’s been lobbying hard for HB 1889, her bill creating an Office of International Affairs to handle trade issues that are increasingly arising because of the globalization of the marketplace.

Strange that the article does not name the three Democrats who have pulled nomination papers for that district, yet later in the piece they name Brian Jordan, the Republican, and include his comment. One can also infer from the article that because Hale still speaks of “trying to find someone who is a good person” that she is not happy with any of those three Democrats already showing interest. Is that the message Hale intended?

From the Office of Elections website, if Hale runs again then her Democratic challengers (PDF) may include William F. Eger, Lou Ann K. Jones, and Gerard I. Silva.

As for Hale’s HB 1889, the only opposition that I can recall to this bill was from Representative Moses who (correctly) noted that many of the tasks assigned to the proposed Office of International Affairs are already addressed (to some extent) by DBEDT. However, the explicitly “pro-Peace” language in the bill is probably seen by some as a challenge or even a rebuke to current U.S. foreign policy. Thus, my hunch is that if the bill survives then the Governor would probably veto the bill citing the former reason to obscure the latter.

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Hawai’i among worst in access to documents

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Honolulu Politics
HI Media
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 10:17 am
The Advertiser begins the annual Sunshine Week flurry of coverage with this article based upon recent information access cases and a report available on the web with our national ranking. [Note: I have a lot of trouble with getting that website to serve me the info I ask for, but maybe it’s just me(?).]

There is also a very good op-ed by Senator Les Ihara, Jr. who is the only best-known champion of open government at the Legislature. He writes:

Many people say they feel disconnected from the Legislature and left out of the process. There’s a sense that difficult decisions are made in private, and public discussions and votes are just for show.

I believe the Legislature should conduct more of its business in public. It should encourage public deliberation, especially on controversial issues, to shed light on the motivations and reasons for legislative actions.

I believe the Legislature should repeal its exemption from the sunshine law. Exceptions should be allowed only to comply with constitutional requirements. Twenty state legislatures are subject to sunshine laws, including seven with exemptions for political-party caucuses.

Lack of time is the reason most often cited for the Legislature’s sunshine law exemption. The state Constitution limits the legislative session to 60 business days, which requires an intense work schedule to meet legislative deadlines. A solution to this problem would be to extend the session a few more weeks by adding recess days.

This would require an increase to the legislative budget that I believe the public would support as the price of sunshine at the Legislature.

In my view, a larger barrier to legislative transparency is a mindset that the ends justify the means. With this thinking, it is easy to view rules as impediments. I’ve seen leaders I respect use unprincipled means and reasoning to pass good and worthy legislation.

But coercive practices, political trade-offs and other publicly unacceptable behavior can only be sustained under a cloak of secrecy. I believe the transparency requirements of the sunshine law would help curtail these practices and promote the democratic principles of fairness, equality, inclusiveness and accountability at the Legislature.

In a way, the Legislature operates like a secret society. Relationships among legislators and lobbyists mostly are developed outside of public view. The actions of legislators sometimes mask their real intentions.

No wonder legislative observers, the media and public are often mystified by what they see.

——–

Also, in the process of managing a hierarchical power structure in a legislative organization, the line between legitimate influence and coercion sometimes can get blurred. I believe more transparency would reduce unacceptable behavior and increase public trust, as well as provide for more equitable power distribution among legislators.

Another roadblock to transparency is a legislative legal opinion shielding legislators’ office records from the open-records law. The state Office of Information Practices has ruled that these are public documents, especially those on official legislative letterhead. I believe the Legislature’s opinion should be reversed.

Citizens find it difficult to follow the legislative process, but a bill still alive at the Legislature would provide a window into the process. The bill funds an audio and video Web-cast project to provide Internet access to legislative proceedings.

Since all Capitol meeting rooms are wired for sound, anyone with high-speed Internet access could listen to live or archived proceedings.

I was quite surprised that 20 states already hold their Legislatures to Sunshine Law requirements, and if I could get the Citizen’s Access website to work I would like to investigate that topic further…

I am often (usually?) guilty of the ends justify the means mindset Ihara describes, and I think that the few reform ideas that he suggests are reasonable and could make a difference. However, he is a voice in the wilderness; many of Ihara’s ideas are even more salutary and less supported than publicly-financed campaigns.

That seems to be the point of the Advertiser’s editorial, which also includes a heavy-handed warning about totalitariansim and then hastily retracts it.

Most folks undoubtedly would agree that openness is a good thing. After all, they’ll say, those guys are spending my money; shouldn’t I be able to know how and why it is being spent?

But people are busy. There’s little time for worrying about issues such as access to public records or open meetings.

And after all, the news media are watching things fairly closely, aren’t they?

It’s true. The media are in the forefront of the fight for access to government information and meetings. It is their business to do so. But ultimately, the responsibility must ride on the shoulders of every citizen, every taxpayer.

I guess I’m doing my part, then. Heh.

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Land use to test soul of Democrats

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 10:17 am
Plenty to consider in this op-ed from the Advertiser about Hokulia and the history of agricultural land use policy at the Legislature. Mr. Frankel makes a larger point about this being a key to the “soul” of the Democratic Party, which I think is arguable yet more-or-less true, but along the way he provides this account of the history of the issue:

The Legislature passed the land-use law with lofty goals. The law was intended to “protect agricultural land from urban encroachment, to prevent scattered and premature development, to limit land speculation to urban areas and to protect the unique natural assets of the state.” The Legislature specifically noted that scattered development costs taxpayers more money than concentrated growth.

The agricultural district was not created simply to protect agriculture. Much of the land in the agricultural district was placed there to “stage the allocation of land for development in an orderly plan to meet actual needs and minimize costs of providing utilities and other public services.”

Keeping nonagricultural uses out of the agricultural districts encouraged “completion of partially developed areas already supplied with public facilities before new lands and new public investments are demanded.”

——–

In recent years, the Democrat-controlled Legislature has resisted further calls to undermine the land-use law ? and, in fact, has strengthened it. Three years ago, it prohibited private restrictions on agricultural activities in the agricultural district.

Such restrictions have been employed by developers of luxury residential developments to increase their speculative value. Last year, the Legislature prohibited new golf courses in the agricultural district ? undoing its 1985 action.

Now, pro-development Democrats in the Legislature argue that residential subdivisions should be allowed in the agricultural district. They ignore the original goals of the land-use law.

Some argue that all the subdivisions illegally approved by the counties should be grandfathered. Such legislation, however, would also allow genuine agricultural areas to be automatically converted to nonagricultural uses. Real farmers would then be swept into the storm of real-estate speculation and skyrocketing property taxes.

Moreover, how would such action stop the counties from continuing to allow suburban sprawl on agricultural lands?

After all, Hawai’i County deemed the Hokuli’a project ? a private, luxury residential resort subdivision consisting of million-dollar mansions and a golf course, clubhouse, dining facilities, beach club, spa and a hotel ? an “agricultural” project.

——–

There is much value in keeping nonagricultural uses out of the agricultural district. It ensures that natural resources and open space are protected. It ensures that taxpayers do not wind up subsidizing a development’s infrastructure costs.

It ensures that growth is concentrated in urban areas. It ensures that proper planning takes place. It ensures that when development is proposed, the community is involved in the decision-making. It ensures that decisions are made by those who have not received campaign contributions from developers.

Allowing the Land Use Commission to decide case by case which existing projects should be removed from the agricultural district and which proposed projects should be authorized ensures deliberate decision-making.

Some of these are new arguments (to me, at least) that I don’t recall coming to light in testimony on the controversial bill that passed the House and is now before the Senate. Mr. Frankel’s points about the agricultural designation being intended as much to reduce sprawl as to preserve land suitable for agriculture is a good rebuttal to those who argue that many current agricultural land designations are essentially wasting lands that have soil “unfit” for agriculture. Also, I appreciate Frankel’s point about grandfathering being unfair to those living on agricultural lands who are engaged in actual agriculture while surrounded by “farm dwellings” that make conduct little or zero bona fide agriculture.

I’m not sure if Frankel has all his facts correct, but his arguments deserve the wider play the Advertiser provided for them and hopefully will further the debate.

Comments (1)
Moms find it’s tough to change a law

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 10:16 am
A very good piece in the Advertiser today that explains some of the pitfalls involved when citizens new to the legislative process try to shepherd their own ideas through the Legislature.

The bills advocated by Elento and Wong have gotten further than hundreds of others that have already been deferred or held, if they were even scheduled for hearing.

But hundreds more will be taken off the table before the session is over. To keep their bills alive, the two have a big job ahead ? and time is short.

Their situation illustrates the struggle that citizens can face when taking their cause to the Legislature without help from experienced lobbyists or politically savvy supporters, both of which can take connections or money.

The legislative process, even with lobbyists and political savvy, is extremely fickle and most bills die. That’s more often a good thing than a bad thing, in my opinion. Legislators have a very tough time getting their own bills passed, much less bills introduced at the request of a constituent. “It’s hard work,” to quote our President.

The article is also to be commended for including a discussion of how bills can be salvaged, which are things well-known to insiders but less-known to the public.

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3/11/2006

Who’s numbah one?

Filed under:
HI Media
— Doug @ 9:36 am
This link is the “best local web site” according to the March 2006 Honolulu Magazine.

I will browse around and possibly beef up my media links, but a web page consisting of links is hardly what I would consider the best local site around… Whatever.

You may notice that I never link to Honolulu Magazine. Not because of this lapse per se, but because they don’t put anything online for non-subscribers. The “best” page does not link to them either. Heh.

Comments (1)
Kane enters Maui mayoral race, suggests more Sunshine for incumbent

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 9:36 am
Maui Councilmember Dain Kane is running for Mayor, according to this Advertiser story. Kane says would like to focus his campaign on water issues, though he may be forced to continually address his DUI issues.

He said he is not ready to go on the offensive against his opponents, but did say there are clear distinctions between the candidates, especially in regard to style.

“I’m respectful of people. Whether I like them or don’t like them, I treat them with fairness and dignity,” he said.

The council has often been kept out of the loop on administration proposals, Kane said, “and that doesn’t reflect a respect for the legislative process.”

Okay, not on the offensive, but by the way, the other candidates are disrespectful. Sigh.

Kane also has a letter to the Maui News editors today, explaining his bill to authorize the Mayor to establish advisory committees. His hope is that this change would require the Mayor’s advisory committees to be subjectt to the Sunshine Law. He makes a very good argument, in my opinion. Just in time for Sunshine Week, too.

First, government officials must always act within the bounds of their authority. The County Charter and the courts have made clear that any mayor has limited authority and may only exercise power that is specifically granted by law. If his advisory committees are not authorized, how can the mayor justify expending our money and other county resources on them?

Second, government business needs to be conducted in the open. As eloquently stated in the Sunshine Law?s preamble: “Opening up the governmental processes to public scrutiny and participation is the only viable and reasonable method of protecting the public?s interest.”

The mayor has told us his unauthorized advisory committees play a critical role within county government, particularly relating to the administration?s policy decisions. How, then, can he allow them to operate in secrecy?

Kane goes on to list a dozen such advisory committees or task forces, and offers a few specific examples of why they should be held to the Sunshine Law.

For instance, a mayoral appointee told The Maui News that the Iao Theater task force isn?t required to comply with the Sunshine Law because it?s merely advisory. Actually, the Sunshine Law expressly applies to advisory bodies. The Blue Ribbon task force that provides recommendations on appointments to authorized boards and commissions may raise the most serious issues.

Mayor Arakawa has testified that he accepts the Blue Ribbon task force?s recommendations on all appointments unless a background check reveals a major problem such as a criminal record. Yet the County Council, which ultimately votes on the mayor?s nominations, has no access to the Blue Ribbon task force?s records, including confidential files on nominees.

Obviously, these arguments would also apply in other Counties. The first that comes to my mind is Mayor Hannemann’s committee that just this week gave him advice about the property tax legislation before him for approval or veto.

As much fun as it is to skewer the Executive Branch of government, at some point they need to have leeway to conduct meetings necessary to carry out their mandate. I don’t think anyone seriously believes that the Governor’s cabinet meetings would ever be open to the public or that department heads should be forbidden from discussing common problems without giving adequate public notice. Granted, no votes are taken at such meetings and the participants, while holding certain legally granted powers, are not meeting as a “board,” but there can be no doubt that policy decisions are made in such meetings.

Comments (1)
SB (via AP) finally runs a story on trade delegation questions

Filed under:
HI State Politics
HI Media
— Doug @ 9:35 am
I don’t claim to be the final arbiter of what makes a story worthy of coverage outside of this blog, but I get the feeling that if one mass media outlet has an exclusive tip which leads to a scoop that the other mass media sort of grumble and sit on the sideline waiting for their turn to dig up a scoop (or get a leak). For weeks the Advertiser has been following the questions surrounding the Lingle administration’s solicitation of sponsorships for foreign trade delegations and how the money came to be expended by a certain third party on the state’s behalf. The SB had been mute the whole time. I don’t get it. Is this some sort of journalistic unspoken pact, “that’s not my story?” Is it too embarrassing to remind readers that another newspaper broke the story? Whatever.

Today, however, the SB might be testing those waters. There is an AP story that more-or-less covers the same ground as an Advertiser piece I posted about yesterday.

General auditing and monitoring of the process are the responsibility of the state Procurement Office, the state procurement officer and, under certain circumstances, the compliance audit unit of the state Office of the Auditor, [Attorney General] Bennett wrote.

“So in answer to [Representative Marcus Oshiro’s] very specific question to me in ‘what steps are you going to undertake,’ what I laid out is why we don’t get involved in just procurement violation issues generally because statutes provide who has that jurisdiction,” Bennett said.

Telephone messages left by the Associated Press for state Procurement Office Administrator Aaron Fujioka were not immediately returned yesterday.

As he sat yesterday thumbing through a fat file of documents covering Lingle’s trips, Oshiro said he is not satisfied and is still waiting to see copies of the contracts drawn up for the Pacific & Asia Affairs Council and other businesses that provided services for the trips. “This is just the first layer,” Oshiro said.

A fat file of documents? Hmmm.

Maybe I’m going out on a limb, but shouldn’t the journalists following this also have a “fat file of documents?” At the very least they should be asking to review what Oshiro already has. Simply reporting on the official statements of those with political capital at stake is insufficient. Rake that muck!

Comments (0)
3/10/2006

Attorney General responds to Lege: counter-contradiction

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:59 pm
The Attorney General deflected an inquiry by Representative Marcus Oshiro concerning the Lingle administration’s foreign trade delegations and the procurement of a launderer firm to handle donations. Mr. Bennett’s letter is provided (in jpeg form) and described in this Advertiser article.

Bennett said it is the responsibility of the state Procurement Policy Board, the state Procurement Office and the Office of the Auditor to determine whether DBEDT completely followed state procurement code.

PREVIOUS ADVICE

The Attorney General’s Office likely would have to recuse itself from any criminal investigation into the matter because it gave DBEDT advice on the financial issues prior to the trip, Bennett said in his letter to Oshiro.

“Were we to receive a complaint as to criminal conduct (and we have not), I would refer such a complaint to the Honolulu Prosecutor,” Bennett wrote.

Oshiro said Bennett’s latest letter appears to contradict advice the attorney general’s office provided DBEDT Director Ted Liu last year. In an April 5 letter, Deputy Attorney General John Chang warned Liu about funneling money for the trip through a nonprofit. The letter said (a PDF) that if Liu or someone from his department helped make decisions about how money is spent at a nonprofit organizing a state trade mission, it may violate procurement law. [DOUG: The letter also said that they need to exercise care to be ethical in soliciting the contributions.]

Despite the warning, DBEDT made all decisions about how to spend the donations that were given to the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council to fund the trip.

“I have serious concerns regarding the inconsistent positions of the attorney general’s office,” Oshiro said yesterday.

Bennett said the agency’s opinions are not inconsistent. However, he declined to comment on the April 5 letter, citing attorney-client privacy rights.

Oshiro said he will request that the state Procurement Office investigate the matter.

The Procurement Policy Board is not known for being an aggressive watchdog, if you recall how they punted when asked to look into the mass transit study contracting dispute. The State Procurement Office may have a bit more investigatory zeal, or not.

The attorney general’s opinion appears to differ from the Procurement Office’s stance. The Procurement Office has said it cannot comment on the China trip specifically. In general, a competitive bidding process is required even if a contractor isn’t paid by the state, the office has said. If the contractor gets other benefits, such as enhanced reputation or increased access to government officials, competitive bidding is required.

“As an office we haven’t changed our position on that,” state Procurement Office Administrator Aaron Fujioka said yesterday.

In addition to Oshiro’s probe, nine Democrat senators have introduced a resolution requesting the attorney general investigate whether DBEDT violated procurement law. A separate Democrat resolution in the House requests the state auditor look into whether it was appropriate for DBEDT to promise special treatment to private companies in exchange for donating money toward the trips.

The next question is how far those two resolutions will advance. Stay tuned.

Comments (0)
A layman’s thoughts on a Hokulia “do-over”

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:56 pm
I am not a lawyer, but the Wednesday and Thursday posts at iLind.net as well as the useful links at the unofficial Hawaii Supreme blog and the Kona Blog have had me thinking more about my own previous post about the Hokulia settlement.

The Supreme Court is going to allow the parties to the lawsuit submit motions under Rule 60 of the Hawai`i Rules of Civil Procedure.

Rule 60. RELIEF FROM JUDGMENT OR ORDER.

(a) Clerical mistakes. Clerical mistakes in judgments, orders or other parts of the record and errors therein arising from oversight or omission may be corrected by the court at any time of its own initiative or on the motion of any party and after such notice, if any, as the court orders. During the pendency of an appeal, such mistakes may be so corrected before the appeal is docketed in the supreme court, and thereafter while the appeal is pending may be so corrected with leave of the supreme court.

(b) Mistakes; inadvertence; excusable neglect; newly discovered evidence; fraud, etc. On motion and upon such terms as are just, the court may relieve a party or a party’s legal representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for the following reasons: (1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect; (2) newly discovered evidence which by due diligence could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b); (3) fraud (whether heretofore denominated intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party; (4) the judgment is void; (5) the judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged, or a prior judgment upon which it is based has been reversed or otherwise vacated, or it is no longer equitable that the judgment should have prospective application; or (6) any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment. The motion shall be made within a reasonable time, and for reasons (1), (2), and (3) not more than one year after the judgment, order, or proceeding was entered or taken. A motion under this subdivision (b) does not affect the finality of a judgment or suspend its operation. This rule does not limit the power of a court to entertain an independent action to relieve a party from a judgment, order, or proceeding, or to set aside a judgment for fraud upon the court. Writs of coram nobis, coram vobis, audita querela, and bills of review and bills in the nature of a bill of review, are abolished, and the procedure for obtaining any relief from a judgment shall be by motion as prescribed in these rules or by an independent action.

(Amended December 7, 1999, effective January 1, 2000.)

My earlier consternation was because I thought (and it seemed that Ian agrees, Aaron less so) that the facts in the prior ruling actually mattered when a settlement is proposed.

The text that I have highlighted above, however, lead me to a hunch of how the parties intend to use Rule 60 to set aside the facts laid out in that 2003 ruling by Judge Ibarra and to proceed with their settlement. In other words, the parties don’t need to find mistakes, inadvertence, surprise, neglect, fraud, etc, in order to settle the lawsuit. The thrust of their Rule 60 motions could be as simple as “we have reached an agreement which we think is just.”

Sheesh. Talk about ending with a whimper instead of a bang.

Comments (1)
Mayor goes along with tax relief plan

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 5:53 pm
Mayor Hannemann has allowed a bill that changes the property tax rate-setting process to become law without his signature. The law is Bill 12 and the Mayor explained his (in)action in a press release yesterday. The Advertiser and the SB have stories and comments (here and here).

This new law will divorce property tax bills from changes in appraised value. Instead, property taxes will be tied a baseline based upon the budget as it emerges this year, plus the “uncontrollable” costs of County government. What does that mean?

?Estimated uncontrollable cost adjustment? means a factor representing costs that the city is mandated or obligated to pay.

If the City is actually held to a strict interpretation of that definition, then it will make for some interesting (and politically uncomfortable) moments the next time a budget is presented to the Council. Strictly speaking, I’m not at all sure if the city is “mandated or obligated to pay” for inflationary costs associated with providing (and maintaining) parks, landfills, sewers, streets, police and fire protection, etc. If the “initial tax rate” as calculated under this new law excludes all of those inflationary adjustments, then it would seem that every time a budget is introduced there will only be discussions concerning how much to adjust raise the tax rate to fund the increasing cost of all those other functions of City government.

I think it’s safe to assume that there will be a lot of wiggle room in the “uncontrollable” costs category… Strangely, the first draft of this bill incorporated an inflationary adjustment, but it was replaced later with this “uncontrolled cost” language. Hmmm.

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Accelerated budget process said to be a factor in veto strategizing

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:53 pm
Today the House had second reading on their draft of the state budget. The SB has a story that describes the bill and its implications for tax cuts (i.e. none are included).

The House Finance Committee completed its work on the supplemental budget Wednesday, two weeks ahead of the deadline for the full chamber to vote on the measure and send it to the Senate.

Finance Chairman Dwight Takamine (D, Hawi-Hilo) said there is plenty of time left in the session and that all of the tax cut proposals “are still in play.”

He also noted that the supplemental budget was crafted based on the December forecast from the Council on Revenues, which had predicted a budget surplus of about $574 million for the 2006 fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The Council’s revised forecast, issued Monday, increases the projected surplus by about $60 million.

It will be up to the Senate to complete work on the budget and determine whether any tax cuts or tax bracket adjustments can be worked into the state’s financial plan.

——–

The quick work on the budget could indicate that lawmakers are setting themselves up to override any potential vetoes.

Two years ago, lawmakers completed work early on the supplemental budget, allowing them to also finish early on key spending proposals and still have enough time during the regular session to override some of Lingle’s vetoes.

In other words, allowing legislators an opportunity to override vetoes without a special session (which would occur in the middle of a campaign summer). The budget, or any other bill, presented to the Governor more than 10 days before the end of session could be vetoed and overturned during regular session.

At this point it’s hardly worth reading the budget bill, except so far as to get the general thrust of the House version (which is actually better-described in the Committee Report). The spending priorities and amounts appropriated will change as the Senate enters the conversation.

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Hawaii County Councilmember gets lesson in UIPA

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 5:52 pm
Both of the Hawaii County dailies have the story of Councilmember Gary Safarik’s correspondence concerning a building being considered as a potential site for the Council to buy additional workspace. The Hawaii Tribune-Herald piece is here and a very similar West Hawaii Today article is here. A few days ago Safarik had mentioned concerns brought to his attention that put the structural integrity of the building in doubt, but at that time Safarik had not released the actual communications. Now he has.

Safarik referred to a letter from Concept Development president Bruce Hansen when he objected to Council Chairman Stacy Higa’s pitch to buy the second floor of the Ben Franklin Craft Stores building for up to $5 million.

“The Ben Franklin building was a quick in-house modification, which basically means we took the Safeway building with a convex roof and built up the second story utilizing only wood framing,” Hansen wrote Safarik on Feb. 27.

Hansen said on Wednesday he thought he was writing “private correspondence” to Safarik, and that is all he wants to say “because it has become something.”

Wayne Kamitaki, who co-owns all the state’s Ben Franklin Craft Stores and most of the Ace Hardware Stores, asserted last Thursday that “the building is a steel framed structure” and is “safe and structurally sound” but has since declined further comment. He said last week it is “premature” to comment whether or not he is considering litigation against Safarik.

Hansen’s letter also claims that Hilo Architect Neil Erickson worked on the “Penncro Call Center” project in the Ben Franklin building and “is very negative on the structure.”

Erickson told West Hawaii Today that comments he made to Hansen were “taken out of context and misconstrued” in Hansen’s letter to Safarik. He said the Kamitakis are his clients, he has done a lot of architecture work for the Ben Franklin building over the years, and “there is no reason why I would say something like that.”

“No one should worry about whether the building is safe. Penncro had 109 employees there,” Erickson said of the second floor of the Ben Franklin building.

Uh, it does not follow that simply because there were 109 employees in the building it indicates that the building was safe…

Safarik said it took him seven days to release Hansen’s letter because he struggled with the fact that the letter is considered a public document but Hansen thought he was writing private correspondence to him.

Aside from Hansen’s letter, Safarik also released an e-mail addressed to him and Councilman Bob Jacobson from Kona architect John Parazette, which expresses concern for spending up to $5 million on a building that a structural engineer hasn’t analyzed.

Mr. Hansen and Mr. Parazette may wish to become familiar with the new-fangled “telephone” technology, if they wish to communicate with politicians without leaving such an obvious trail. Heh.

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3/9/2006

The blurring of socializing and lobbying

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 5:59 pm
The Maui News prints a letter from Grant Chun of Alexander and Baldwin trying to downplay the earlier story about a recent dinner where they invited select members of the Maui County Council.

Contrary to what the story implied, the dinner was simply a social gathering with council members. Spouses and outside guests were also present. This is something we regularly do, as part of our normal outreach efforts, to interact on an informal basis with government officials on all different levels, on all islands, and in all branches of government. We believe that communication with government officials is not only a basic right but also something that is good for government.

Chun is digging A&B into a deeper hole, in my opinion.

However, since he brought it up and seems to be proud of it, it would be interesting to know the specifics about these “normal” gatherings “on all islands, and in all branches of government.” When, where, and with what other groups of legislators has A&B been dining?

Communication with government officials is, indeed, a basic right, as Chun notes. However, “socializing” with government officials is not, in my eyes, a form of “communication” that is necessarily “good for government.” Communicating with legislators in front of the public and all other interested parties is what is good for government. Chun seems to want it both ways—to characterize the gathering (and all other such dinners hosted by A&B) as a legitimate good government effort and as a purely social event where no government business was (illegally) discussed.

A&B needs to re-think this argument. It is not “good for government” for A&B and the Councilmembers to create the appearance of impropriety. Does this mean that legislators should not socialize with each other (and/or powerful landowners), even if no business is discussed? Yes.

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Gas cap bills enter holding pattern until Conference

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:59 pm
The Hawaii Reporter has a post with a little bit more information about the pressure applied to Senator Menor concerning the gasoline price cap.

Menor, the Senate Consumer Protection Chair, maintains the law, which went into effect Sept. 1, is in fact working, and working admirably. He admits there are some flaws, but says the law should be tweaked, not repealed, as the majority of House lawmakers and many fellow Senators are now demanding.

As the Consumer Protection chair, Menor has the power to kill any attempts to repeal his law. But he agreed [Tuesday] at the first legislative crossover, that he will hold a hearing on the House proposal seeking to suspend, and later remove, the gas cap.

That agreement likely saved Menor from an embarrassing plot by fellow Senators to force a vote on the House bill, with or without Menor?s support, which they could do with 13 votes on the floor of the Senate, even if Menor had not heard the bill in committee.

In private meetings before the crossover, Senate Democrats, especially those from neighbor island counties who have heard numerous complaints from drivers about the gas cap, pressured Menor to hear the House version.

Senate Democrats agreed to support Menor?s bill, which he says adjusts several portions of the current gas cap law, including lowering the wholesale cap by 18 cents per gallon, if Menor agreed to hear the House bill.

Sen. Shan Tsutsui, D-Maui, documented the promise that Menor made on the Senate floor [Tuesday], saying in a floor speech that he would vote for Menor?s Senate bill only because Menor promised he?d consider the repeal legislation.

The “plot” to force a vote on the Senate floor would actually only require 9 votes to recall the bill from Menor’s Committee, but it would then take 13 votes to actually pass some form of the bill. A recall would have indeed been an embarrassing situation for Menor, and, assuming that Menor would vote “no” in that scenario, his no vote would have denied Menor any voice during Conference Committee negotiations. By agreeing to hear the House bill, however, Menor is now free to act as he pleases in Committee and to lead the Senate conferees during Conference Committee negotiations—where the real legislating gets done.

The House will, no doubt, gut Senator Menor’s bill and insert their own preferred language. This (and the reverse) will be a very common occurrence for the next few weeks as each chamber reviews the work of the other.

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Akaku – it’s all Greek to me

Filed under:
HI Media
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 5:58 pm
A strange op-ed by Lance Collins, board attorney for Akaku Community Television (and candidate for Maui County Council). The first half of his piece expounds upon the etymology of the phrase “free speech” and its origin in the Greek “parrhesia.” BO-ring. After that, however, it becomes more interesting.

Free speech, in its modern usage, is much more inclusive than the Greek parrhesia, or fearless speech. The U.S. Supreme Court has excluded from free speech obscenity, defamation and incitement to imminent violence. All other things are included within the purview of free speech. This definition is broad.

In an oft-quoted dissent of a Supreme Court ruling in 1919, U.S. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, ?The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the marketplace of ideas.? Yet, as the last 80 years of corporate mergers, escalating costs of running a newspaper and the diminution of the small-publisher newspapers, the marketplace of ideas has become dominated by a few ideas controlled by advertising dollars using ?offensive content? as a proxy for censorship.

Akaku is the last countywide market in ideas on Maui. The small investor in ideas, the person with nothing more than time and effort to give, can invest in the community his or her ideas. Most people cannot afford to publish a countywide newspaper. The community must have a place where it may exchange ideas in a frank, truthful and fearless manner.

[cough] Start a blog! [cough]

Really, it’s not that hard—and blogs are available worldwide, not just in Maui County. The hard part is deciding what to say… not that community television “producers” seem to let a lack of interesting topics slow them down very much. Heh.

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Bills to transfer Oahu GET collection duties die

Filed under:
HI State Politics
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 5:58 pm
It seems very unlikely that any legislation to shift the collection of the GET on Oahu from the State to the County (or a private collection agency), and the SB has the miffed reaction of the Governor in this story.

Lingle accused the mayor of breaking his pledge to help to shuttle through the legislation.

“He told the people that he would stand behind the county collecting the tax. He wanted a tax increase, he supported a tax increase. When it comes time to collect it, he wants the state to do his work for him,” Lingle said, “and I think that is simply not living up to his word.”

But [Mayor] Hannemann said he did everything he promised to do to get legislation through and that it was the governor who was missing in action at the Legislature, failing to lobby personally for the bills’ passage.

“I think the question that I would ask of her is, Where was she? I did my part. I kept my word. I keep [sic] my commitment,” he said.

The law says the state Tax Department, which now collects the state’s 4 percent general excise tax, must collect the 0.5 percent excise tax surcharge to fund mass transit projects. The state also would receive 10 percent of the surcharge revenue for administrative costs. Officials would collect an estimated $150 a million a year on Oahu starting Jan. 1.

Last summer, Lingle threatened to veto the legislation that led to that law because she said the county should be collecting its own tax.

But she eventually allowed the bill to become law without her signature after reaching an agreement with legislative leaders and the mayor over trying to get the law changed this legislative session so that the city would collect the tax.

——–

“The Senate president and House speaker said that they would also move this issue forward now beyond just introducing it. If they really had something that they felt they weren’t going to do, they should’ve been upfront about it with me and with the public,” Lingle said.

But Bunda and Hannemann see it differently.

“We said there were no guarantees,” Bunda said yesterday. “We said that we would give it a good-faith effort.”

Said Hannemann, “The Senate and House leadership did their part, we did our part. She didn’t do anything, so if she’s going to point the finger at anyone today, she should be turning that finger and pointing it at herself.”

Lingle spokesman Russell Pang said state Tax Director Kurt Kawafuchi and Lingle senior policy adviser Linda Smith lobbied on the governor’s behalf. “Her position was well known, and we had an agreement with leadership as well as the mayor that they would make this change,” said Pang.

Bunda said his pledge was to put the bills through the legislative process on his side and made no promises on approvals. Say could not be reached for comment.

Give it up, Mr. Pang.

The Governor’s agreement with leadership was bogus from the start. As I recall it (I was at sea at the time), President Bunda and Speaker Say agreed to introduce legislation to make the change. They did so. Those two legislators can’t pass legislation by fiat. The Governor had her own reasons to make a (small) fuss over this agreement. It may have been possible to work this out, but the idea was unlikely to proceed as soon as privatization entered the discussion as the City and the Lingle administration crafted a MOU. Privatization was not part of the agreement with leadership, and I think that is what torpedoed any chance of the bills becoming law.

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Kauai guaranteed to prevail in suit against itself – or – full employment for attorneys

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 5:58 pm
The Garden Island News editorializes today about the Ohana Kauai appeal to the Hawaii Supreme Court concerning their attempt to implement a property tax cap via a ballot question in 2004. I have posted about this several times already (here, here, and here) but it is interesting that the County Attorney basically admits that she could have used a different (and probably cheaper) legal strategy than what is begun.

In the lawsuit County of Kaua’i, Plaintiffs-Appellees v. Bryan J. Baptiste, Mayor, County of Kaua’i ? better known as the Ohana Charter Amendment lawsuit ? the county filed a lawsuit against itself to request a judicial declaration as to whether the Ohana Amendment Ordinance was constitutional. The voter-approved ordinance was found to not be constitutional as a result of that action.

Had it ended there the taxpayer bill would have been the initial expenditure authorization of $135,000. But a group of residents stepped in and requested an appeal that was granted to the Hawai’i Supreme Court.

Because the case has now reached the appeal stage, the extra $100,000 is being requested to deal with the motions filed and the appeal.

The county did not foresee the appeal and that is why the additional monies are needed.

Nakazawa said the Ohana Amendment case is not about real property tax reform, but about whether the charter amendment was constitutional.

How could the county not foresee the passion behind a voter- approved ordinance being struck down as unconstitutional by a lawsuit that the county filed against itself?

The residents behind the appeal come from organizations with names such as: the Reason Foundation, Americans For Tax Reform, Americans For Prosperity and National Taxpayers Union.

The county discovered through the process that the county charter does not allow the property tax cap to be instituted via ordinance, as was done with the Ohana Amendment.

The county could have taken another route, says [Kauai’s County Attorney] Nakazawa. A request for declaratory judgment on behalf of the county would have reached the same result, but with a different mechanism.

In addition to the arguments to send Hokulia back to Judge Ibarra, these would also be interesting legal pleadings to review…

Comments (0)
3/8/2006

The GOP and the U.S. House contest to replace Case

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:53 pm
A very insightful column by Dave Shapiro in the Advertiser today about the race for the soon-to-be-vacant 2nd Congressional District seat. Shapiro looks at the story from many angles and offers his analysis. Very worth a read.

The best scenario for Republicans would be if a Democratic candidate emerges from a crowded primary with a small plurality ? and bad feelings linger among supporters of the losers.

That could open the door for an upset by a moderate Republican with good name recognition and a broad enough appeal to reach across party lines.

The most likely to achieve this appear to be Carlisle or Hogue ? both popular and proven vote-getters whose support has cut across demographic lines.

It would be a coup for the GOP to land Carlisle, who runs for prosecutor as an independent, and party leaders might not want to welcome him with a primary fight.

Hogue, who is up for re-election and would have to give up his current job to run for Congress, might be persuaded to stay put and preserve his previously Democratic Senate seat for the GOP.

Senator Hogue may be “persuaded” to stay put—if the Republican Party has tighter control over its elected officials looking to move up than the Democrats have over their herd of cats. If Hogue jumps the gun and pulls papers for Congress before Carlisle announces his intentions, then we’ll get some indication of how strong GOP discipline is and/or how they really feel about a contested primary (more on that next).

One keenly interested observer of the GOP maneuvering is Case, who is counting on a big Republican crossover vote to help him unseat U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka in the Democratic primary.

If there’s a lively race in the Republican congressional primary to keep GOP voters home, it could doom Case’s already long-shot chances.

That would cause few tears among Republican leaders, who have no viable candidate of their own for the Senate.

Akaka, 81, would likely serve one more term at most, opening the seat for a possible future Republican takeover by a candidate such as Gov. Linda Lingle.

If Case wins at 53, he’d probably settle in for a long time and be difficult for any Republican to beat.

Hmmm. Here’s where Shapiro’s logic seems a bit tangled.

First Shapiro argues that the GOP would like to avoid a contested primary of Carlisle and Hogue. Then Shapiro argues that the GOP would prefer a contested primary to reduce the crossover vote that could give a victory to Case for U.S. Senate and thereby ice out a 2010 bid for that seat by Linda Lingle.

Well, guess what? If that is the calculus then I think the contested GOP primary scenario wins out. GOP fealty to Lingle easily overwhelms any GOP “welcome” to Carlisle.

Comments (3)
‘We have more issues than we have power’

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:47 pm
A wide-ranging puff piece by Dan Boylan about the female-dominated House GOP members is the cover story of Midweek.

Says the pro-choice Rep. Thielen: ?We recognize that we have differences on abortion, sex education and other social issues. We don?t spend time debating them. That?s a male-dominated tactic, trying to hammer different ideas into the ground. We treat one another with respect and forge ahead. It?s demeaning to everyone to waste time that way.?

No such spirit of cooperation existed in 1988 when religious conservatives supporting the Rev. Pat Robertson?s candidacy for the presidency seized the Hawaii Republican Party. In the aftermath, moderate Republican women office-holders Donna Ikeda, Virginia Isbell and Ann Kobayashi found membership in the GOP uncomfortable. All three became Democrats.

Thielen feels that there?s a marked difference between how men and women approach politics: ?When the Republican caucus was dominated by men, we were not as tight as a group, not as cooperative. They were more into power plays than achieving results.

?Women care about issues more than power. Male politicians are constantly jockeying for the next step upward. Women want to see something accomplished. Take an issue like workforce housing. If women were in power, issues like that would have been addressed long ago.?

Colleen Meyer puts it differently: ?Women aren?t so ego-driven. The men often look like peacocks, strutting and trying to get into the limelight. Women behave better. The Republican caucus works much more as a team than before. We have more consideration for each other. We listen to each other. We support each other.?

I have not noticed any decline in “power plays” when the House Republicans have had a woman leader. Furthermore, when the men were leading House Republicans during the years they had a 19-member caucus and could force procedural motions, the women in the caucus made no attempt to rein in those (always futile) floor amendments or the melodramatic recall of bills from Committee. When House Republicans have the numbers, they have been consistently partisan—no matter the gender of their leader.

Each Republican House caucus acknowledge [huh? sic] the role Linda Lingle, Hawaii?s first woman governor, has played in widening the horizon for women in politics. ?Gov. Lingle?s example has encouraged a lot of women into running for office,? says Colleen Meyer. ?You can see Gov. Lingle?s influence in the students who come down here to shadow legislators. The governor is a role model for many of the girls.?

Rep. Pine says that, despite years of experience as a legislative staffer, she had a love/hate relationship with politics: ?Then Linda Lingle came along, and she listened to me.?

Lingle listens to women, and she apparently thinks highly of their ability as legislators. Lingle has had two opportunities to fill vacant legislative seats due to resignations. In each instance, she?s chosen a woman: Bev Harbin to fill the downtown Honolulu House seat held by Ken Hiraki, and Anne Stevens as a replacement for Fox.

Uh, and Representative Mele Carroll, of course, who replaced Sol Kahoohalahala when he went to the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission. Make that three vacant legislative seats Governor Lingle has filled with women to replace men.

As to Representative Meyer’s comment that women were encouraged by Governor Lingle’s example to run for office: off the top of my head, I could not think of many women who have ran for office since Lingle took office in 2002 that have won, so I did some checking.

Is there something to this alleged Lingle Effect? i.e. Were there more women encouraged to run in 2004 than in 2002? No. In the 2004 primary and general elections fewer women ran overall and fewer women challengers ran against incumbents than in 2002. In both general elections only a handful of new women were elected, though women incumbents (as usual) fared quite well.

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Island Democrats reveal ID of donor in fund-swap

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:42 pm
After an extended period of foot-dragging, the name of a donor has been revealed who was part of an alleged pass-through scheme to send money to a Rhode Island candidate for U.S. Senate. The SB and the Advertiser have nearly-identical AP stories that follow up on this topic. I also posted on this previously.

Richard Bready, the chief executive of Providence-based Nortek, Inc., wrote a $6,000 check to the Hawaii Democratic Party after the party had given $5,000 to Rhode Island Secretary of State Matt Brown, who is running for the Democratic nomination to the Senate on a clean-government platform, Hawaii party treasurer Jane Sugimura acknowledged yesterday.

Federal election laws prohibit money exchanges that are made to avoid campaign donation limits on individuals, Federal Elections Commission spokesman George Smaragdis said. It’s also illegal for an organization to pass on contributions in someone else’s name, he said.

——–

[Hawaii Democratic Party Treasurer] Sugimura told The Associated Press bureau in Providence in two phone interviews last week that a Brown campaign staffer had arranged a tit-for-tat deal in which the Hawaii party gave a $5,000 donation to Brown in exchange for money to be received from Brown supporters. She later told The Associated Press in Honolulu that was not the case.

——–

But the Hawaii party disputes that there was a deal in place to support Brown in exchange for Bready’s contribution.

Unless there are actual recordings of those AP phone interviews with Sugimara or, even more unlikely, a paper trail, I don’t think that any of this could be proven. The appearance of wrongdoing is hard to deny, however. One thing you can almost be sure of: Sugimara is going to be much more careful talking to journalists from now on, if she keeps her job. Heh.

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First Crossover synopses; gas cap jostling

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:39 pm
Both of the Honolulu dailies have articles summarizing various bills that have successfully advanced through First Crossover. The SB piece is here and the Advertiser article is here. The articles are useful, but I will only focus on the leading paragraphs of both stories as they describe a softening in the stance of Senator Ron Menor regarding the gasoline price cap law.

The House Democrats also advanced their proposal to suspend and ultimately repeal the gas cap.

It would suspend the cap in July and, in its place, adopt strict oversight measures aimed at determining whether oil companies are fairly pricing gasoline.

Price caps would be repealed on Jan. 1, 2008, if the transparency measures are determined to be working.

“This bill provides for suspension, it provides for transparency and a period to work with the oil refineries,” [Representative] Souki said.

The measure passed with only Rep. Bev Harbin (D, Kakaako-Downtown) voting no. Harbin said she supports Sen. Ron Menor’s proposals to amend the price-cap law.

In the Senate, Menor (D, Mililani), Consumer Protection Committee chairman and the author of the gas cap, changed his mind and said he would hold a hearing on the gas-cap repeal bill. Before yesterday, Menor had said he wouldn’t hear the gas-cap repeal.

——–

State Sen. Ron Menor, the main author of the state’s cap on wholesale gasoline prices, said yesterday he would hear a House bill to repeal the cap and force greater transparency on oil company pricing.

Menor, D-17th (Mililani, Waipi’o), had previously said he would not hear the repeal bill but now has promised other Senate Democrats to at least listen to it and other potential changes to the controversial law. One of those changes would allow the state’s Public Utilities Commission to suspend the law until January while the commission studies whether it is working.

“I will keep an open mind,” Menor told his colleagues yesterday.

Menor has agreed to hear the House bill, but there can be a big difference between the way a bill comes before his Committee and the way it leaves. This is not necessarily a sign that Menor now agrees that the gasoline price cap law should be suspended while more monitoring takes place (i.e. the House position). The House had planned to insert their language into Menor’s bill, forcing the issue to Conference Committee, so I don’t see this as a really big shift in position. Menor’s previous intention to not even hold a hearing on the House bill has almost zero political advantage, and would attract a great deal of animus.

As ever, the real critical time will be those Conference Committee negotiations.

Comments (1)
3/7/2006

Judge Ibarra may “revisit” his Hokulia ruling

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:55 pm
A rather surprising story in the SB today suggests that the Hokulia decision now on appeal at the Hawaii Supreme Court might be sent back to the Circuit Court for revision.

Circuit Judge Ronald Ibarra is “inclined” to void his order that halted work on the 1,550-acre Kona residential project Hokulia in 2003, according to court documents.

Ibarra would issue a new ruling on the legality of Hokulia as part of a settlement of the lawsuit brought against developer 1250 Oceanside Partners by Protect Keopuka Ohana and four individuals, according to documents filed Friday in Ibarra’s court in Kona and in the state Supreme Court.

Besides changing his ruling, Ibarra would permanently dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims that Hokulia is an urban project being illegally built on agricultural land, documents say. He would also lift his ban on construction.

——–

Ibarra’s willingness to assist in a settlement is seen in a document he signed Thursday. The document is an order regarding his “inclination to grant” a motion “to partially vacate” his previous ruling.

The part he would not vacate would be an appeal pending in the Supreme Court of the matter that originally led to the lawsuit, questions relating to ocean pollution caused by storm water runoff from the project in 2000.

The document says Ibarra signed the document “without deciding” the matter. The purpose is to inform the state Supreme Court, where an overall appeal is pending, that the judge wants the case back to take another look at it, several documents say.

I had expressed my doubts about this at the end of an earlier post. Those doubts will be made moot if this goes forward: this action would suggest that it is possible for the findings of fact regarding Hokulia to be set aside if the parties to a lawsuit reach a settlement, no matter if nothing actually changes on the ground.

It does not seem right that Judge Ibarra would issue such a lengthy, well-reasoned opinion and then 5 months later decide that it needs “another look” now that a settlement offer is pending. It would very interesting if the Judge decided (or was required) to explain his change of heart, but I doubt that is likely or necessary.

However, if others were to sue the developers (the original plaintiffs may not sue again, according to what we’ve been told of the settlement) by laying out the exact same facts Judge Ibarra provided in the original ruling, that would put him in a very awkward position—unless and until the Lege passes some salvation for Hokulia. The House version of that relief passed Third Reading today and is on its way to the Senate.

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State’s budget surplus growing … according to latest guess

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:54 pm
The two Honolulu dailies report on the latest Council on Revenues forecast (PDF). The Advertiser piece is here and the SB piece is here.

I almost incorporated these articles into another post I wrote today, but I decided to break it out because I am again frustrated that Council on Revenues forecasts must be accepted witthout comment, no matter if their accuracy is poor and getting worse. Some of the forecasting errors are unavoidable (economics is hardly a science), but I would like to see some discussion of how their forecasts are derived and why we should continue to trust them.

The council’s forecasts have been consistently lower than actual revenue growth over the past year, mostly because of underestimating the rise in personal income, tax collections and inflation. The council decreased the forecast for 2007 to adjust for one-time windfalls due to court settlements and for higher delinquent tax collections that may level off or decline.

Paul Brewbaker, a Bank of Hawaii economist and chairman of the council, said lawmakers should recognize that the recent forecast errors have been in the state’s favor since revenues were underestimated instead of overestimated. “Lucky for everybody because it says something about our underlying economy,” he said.

——–

“A big problem in general in recent years has been these windfalls of revenue. They’ve been just outsized. I mean, they’re like way over the top of what anybody would have estimated. And we kind of have to assume that that won’t continue,” said Paul Brewbaker, chairman of the council.

A better computer system has helped the state Tax Department track down businesses and residents who have not been paying their taxes. The result was a surprise $260 million showing up in the state coffers last year and a growth rate of 16 percent by year’s end – far ahead of the council’s initial projections of 5.3 percent.

A major contributor to the latest upward revision of the 2006 estimate is also the council’s previous underestimation by about a half-percentage point of inflation in Honolulu, Brewbaker said.

That means members did not account for higher revenues coming into the state based on higher prices in the state.

——–

… Lowell Kalapa, president of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii, said the council might be too enthusiastic about the future.

Hotel occupancy has not been as high as hoped since the holiday season, and building construction has begun to slow down. Also, a number of hotel workers’ contracts will be expiring this summer, adding some unpredictability to revenues, he said.

Brewbaker said his advice to lawmakers is to recognize that for reasons that are difficult to pin down, the forecast’s margin of error has been widening in recent years.

“Lucky for them we were too low. … You wouldn’t want to wake up in July and find out that it was as big in the other direction,” he said.

The quality of these forecasts would not be such a big deal if the Legislature was not required to base their budget process on these low quality data.

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Senate bill would ask voters to amend Hawaii Constitution regarding surplus revenues

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:54 pm
A SB story and a post at the Hawaii Reporter describe Senate Bill 3040. The bill would put a question on the November ballot to amend the Hawaii Constitution as to how the Legislature may deal with a budget surplus. The voters would decide if the Legislature should have, in addition to a tax refund/credit, the option to direct some or all of the surplus to a rainy day fund.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill this week. If it is approved by the Legislature, the amendment would still have to be approved by the voters in the fall election before it could take effect.

The Ways and Means Committee report on the bill said, “The measure will provide the Legislature with the necessary flexibility to determine the best way to dispose of excess revenue.”

The measure was first referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, but that committee steered clear of endorsing the measure, saying just that the proposal had no technical flaws.

“Your Committee conducted a legal review of this measure but notes that the subject matter of this bill is within the purview of the Committee on Ways and Means,” the committee report read.

In committee, Slom, Hemmings and Sen. Gordon Trimble (R, Downtown-Waikiki) voted against the measure.

The measure also is opposed by the Lingle administration.

Compare this to the nacent property tax revolution on Oahu. Supporters of that effort argue that the question of how to deal with the surplus should be put to the voters by a Charter amendment. If Oahu voters agree, then the Charter would be amended to reflect that preference. In this case, however, the opponents of SB 3040 (a group that probably consists of many of the same people who support the property tax revolt) do not want voters to have a choice to speak about how to deal with a tax surplus. Go figure.

Not that I’m at all surprised by this, but it’s a key angle completely missing from both stories.

UPDATE: The Governor issued a press release on the topic. It also passes right over the “let the people decide” angle that seems, in her estimation, to only apply to tax “relief.”

Reminder: the Governor may not veto SB 3040, should it pass the House.

?This bill ignores the reality that thousands of people in our state live paycheck to paycheck and have difficulties paying for basic necessities. When the people of Hawai`i ratified an amendment to the state Constitution in 1978 to require a tax refund when the state collects more than it needs, they wisely recognized the importance of returning money to the people who earned it and getting it into the hands of Hawai`i?s families.

?Given our current robust fiscal condition and the continued revenue growth projected by the Council on Revenues, we have the responsibility to ensure the people who created this surplus share in the benefits. We cannot keep collecting taxes from people who are unable to afford to pay their rent, buy groceries or cover their electricity bills.?

…even if there is a vote and a majority decides that amending the Constitution is a good idea. Heh.

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3/6/2006

DBEDT Gasoline price cap study is rebutted

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:41 pm
Further follow-up today in the SB is found in a story that includes a rebuttal to the DBEDT study discussed yesterday. Upon my request, DBEDT has promptly provided me this copy (PDF) of the letter.

In a letter to House lawmakers, for whom the study was prepared, DBEDT Director Ted Liu said the analysis was reviewed by three “well-respected” local economists and determined to be sound, adding that the agency stands by the report.

The DBEDT analysis, which was obtained by the Star-Bulletin, attempts to determine what gas prices would have been without the price caps, which took effect Sept. 1, the same day oil and gas prices nationwide began climbing to record highs following Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in the Gulf Coast.

It concludes that prices for regular unleaded were an average of 27 cents a gallon higher in the five months after the price caps took effect. The analysis studied market data from January 2002 through August 2005 to try and determine future trends.

Hamilton criticized the methodology.

“I’ve never seen an economist who would agree that you could predict the future like this,” he said, noting that none of DBEDT’s economists are named in the agency’s report to the House.

He criticized the analysis for assuming that prices in Hawaii would have remained relatively flat after Katrina. The analysis, he said, makes that assumption based on similar trends following Hurricanes Ivan and Frances in 2004, which were not as damaging as Katrina.

“If we’re going to assume that if the cap wasn’t there the oil companies would have kept the price flat, it would’ve been the only geographical area of the world where that happened,” Hamilton said. “They are giving the cap the full entire blame for $60 a barrel crude oil and a hurricane called Katrina.”

Tesoro President Bruce Smith, in a letter to Gov. Linda Lingle in September, acknowledged that the devastation caused by Katrina was so severe that Hawaii likely would have been affected.

This falls into the old storyline of “dueling experts.” Very soon (if not already) it will be immaterial if the DBEDT report is flawed, because any criticism of the report will be discounted as partisan bickering… sigh. So, striking while the iron is hot, I’ll give it a whack.

First, remember that in an earlier post, I linked to another report (also a PDF) that shows the entire country was probably gouged by the oil companies around the time of hurricane Katrina. So there’s that possibility that is, for me, putting into doubt the way DBEDT estimated gasoline prices in Hawaii without the gasoline price cap in effect.

Purpose & Principle. The purpose of the analysis was to answer the question: “What would Hawaii retail gasoline prices have been if the gas caps had not been in place since the [sic] September 1, 2005?” This question cannot be answered empirically, but it was possible to develop an estimate, using valid statistical methods. Such estimates are based on the accepted principle that historical trends, if reliably replicated can effectively predict future patterns.

Method & Rationale. DBEDT’s estimate of the gas cap’s impact on consumers is based on a standard statistical time series model. It is based on recorded time series data that covered a time-period reflecting similar market forces (substantial increases in crude oil, and the impact of hurricanes) as observed in the post-price cap period [footnote omitted here, but basically claiming the Katrina should have mirrored the effect of Ivan and Frances in 2004]. Our analysis is based on the use of linear trending to estimate what Hawaii’s retail gasoline prices would have been if there had been no gasoline price cap. The linear trend method used in the analysis assumes that the historical pattern of the data will continue in the future. Linear trending was selected by our model as the tool best fitting historical data.

All well and good—if history stops at September 1, 2005. However, the study by Nichols (linked above) suggests that gasoline prices in markets without gasoline price caps were very non-linear beginning near that date. Thus, I wonder if DBEDT were to apply this (crude, in my opinion) “linear trend method” to prices throughout the mainland to examine retail gasoline markets both pre- and post-Katrina if they would find similarly excessive pricing. I suggest that they would find it, but I don’t have any data at hand to explore that hypothesis.

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Democratic primary opponents for U.S. Senate evaluated by voting records

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:40 pm
Both Honolulu dailies run an AP story about the Case v. Akaka primary contest for U.S. Senate. The Advertiser has a longer version here (with the AP reporter’s name spelled incorrectly), and the SB has a version here.

The SB left out the paragraphs that I keyed in on:

Philosophically, Case is labeling himself as a moderate who can appeal to independents, while Akaka is more of a traditional Hawai’i liberal.

The liberal Americans for Democratic Action rated Akaka as agreeing with its positions 95 percent of the time in 2005, while Case supported its causes 85 percent of the time. The American Conservative Union said Akaka backed its issues 5 percent of the time in 2004, compared to Case’s 20 percent.

Those data are available online: The ADA ranking for Akaka and the list of Senate votes considered in the ranking. The ADA ranking for Representative Case and the list of House votes considered in the ranking. The ACU does not allow me to make a direct link to the results for the two men, but the ACU search engine is here.

Again, it’s too bad that they are from different chambers of Congress and it’s impossible to do a direct comparison… which is a point made in another Advertiser piece today that focuses on their differing views regarding the Iraq occupation.

Congress has taken several other benchmark votes on Iraq but comparing Akaka’s and Case’s voting records is problematic because the Senate and House heard different measures at different moments of the debate.

In November, Akaka voted with the majority on a Republican amendment to a defense bill that requires the Bush administration to submit quarterly reports on the progress of the war to help determine when troops might be removed. Many saw the vote as a check on the president since it came when debate on troop withdrawal seemed to be at a peak nationally.

In July, Case voted for a Republican amendment to a foreign operations bill to block troop withdrawal until U.S. national security and foreign policy goals have been achieved. In May, Case voted against a Democratic amendment to a defense bill that would have called on the president to draft a troop withdrawal plan. The May amendment, which failed, was notable because it was the first in the House to press the administration on when troops might be coming home.

——–

Democratic activists and political analysts interviewed the past few weeks believe Iraq will be an issue in the Senate primary, since it shows a contrast between the candidates on what remains an emotional subject for many in the Islands. Although analysts believe the campaign will most likely be influenced by whether voters stay loyal to Akaka or agree with Case that it is time for a leadership transition, the war could be a factor in defining the two men.

I would very much prefer a campaign about issues instead of “loyalty,” but, unless we see more days with this type of media coverage, I tend to think that this is a big reason why it seems Akaka would rather not have to debate the issues because that debate could reveal and exacerbate a lingering unresolved schism within the Democratic Party, i.e. whether to follow the centrist path or the more progressive/liberal path.

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UH punts instead of searching for its next president

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:39 pm
The Chair of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, Senator Clayton Hee, has an op-ed in the Advertiser today questioning the UH Board of Regents acceptance of a task group report that stopped the search for a President to replace interim President McClain.

It’s unfortunate that this piece was submitted by Hee. There is such a perception of bad blood between the Board and Hee, that this essay will, correctly or not, seem as just more of the same. That said, I think the op-ed has merit. The reasoning provided to, and accepted by, the full Board of Regents to stop the search is decidedly weak.

The individuals whose advice [the task group] sought included people who know the University of Hawai?i and/or have a credible comprehensive perspective on the role of the system presidents, such as Richard T. ?Tom? Ingram, just-retired president of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and Ray Cotton, a nationally recognized attorney specializing in higher-education issues. The task group conducted lengthy teleconferences with each of these individuals during the last week of January and first week of February.

From these discussions we gained some new information?

* There is no ?best practice? method for selecting a system president because there are so many versions of the position, each tailored to the circumstances and priorities of a particular set of higher-education institutions.

* System presidents are quite different, in all of these versions, from campus chancellors who have direct campus leadership roles and responsibilities.

* It is extraordinarily challenging to find outstanding system presidents, because they often combine business savvy and leadership with strong academic credentials. In other words, you don?t look for people like these only in the upper echelons of academia.

* Finally, all of the people we spoke with, including the search firms, asked us why we weren?t trying to convince David McClain to remain on the job. When we explained that we wanted to do things properly and we had been advised that a search was the only way to do that, we got some interesting feedback, including the following:

o ?Your chances of finding another system president who you would rate ?outstanding? are less than 50 percent.?

o ?Someone who has been doing the job extremely well for almost two years should not have to participate in a cattle call to keep the job; the BOR should just appoint him.?

o ?If I were in your shoes, I would not proceed with a search until I knew the door was absolutely nailed shut with David McClain.?

o ?No matter who tells you what to do, you have to do what is best for your university system and follow your instincts.?

In a nutshell: “It’s hard and you may not find anybody better.” Also, I wonder which individual said each of those quotes. The executive search firms (looking for the contract) would certainly not be expected to recommend stopping a search, so they probably offered the first and fourth comments in that feedback. Judging from their other opinions, Ingram and Cotton probably offered the second and third comments.

Anyway, from that fuzzy-headed, glass-half-empty advice the Regents choose to quit the search? Their collective commitment to mediocrity is impressive.

Slackers, all.

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3/5/2006

DBEDT knows how oil companies would have set gasoline prices without cap?

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 9:06 am
A very interesting SB piece today that riffs on a (new?) study by DBEDT regarding the price of gasoline and the impact of the gasoline price cap law. First, before I go any further, this study should be available on the web. I’m sure the public would like to review it (I sure would!) and it was generated using taxpayer money. So, let’s have it.

The analysis was prepared for House lawmakers and released by DBEDT after an inquiry by the Star-Bulletin. It studied market data from January 2002 through August 2005 to try and determine future trends. DBEDT noted that the analysis and its methodology were reviewed by three “well-respected” local economists who found no fatal flaws in the study.

Over the five-month period, consumers spent an average of 27 cents more per gallon for regular unleaded, amounting to a total added cost of $43 million for that grade of gasoline, according to the study. The added costs for mid-grade and premium brought the overall total to $54.9 million.

The added cost per gallon over five months amounts to about $64.80, based on figures from the Energy Information Administration that show the average household vehicle consumes about 12 gallons per week.

——–

The DBEDT findings back arguments made by critics.

Jack Suyderhoud, a business economics professor at the University of Hawaii, contends the price caps have only introduced volatility to a traditionally stable market.

“The Legislature was warned that this type of pricing regulation is enormously difficult,” Suyderhoud said. “The industry and market forces are just too complicated to regulate with simplistic formulas.”

Hmmm. No mention of whether Professor Suyderhoud is or is not one of the three economists who found “no fatal flaws” in the DBEDT study. However, it is interesting that he and other gasoline price cap skeptics contend that the price of gasoline is too complicated to regulate, yet the authors of the study (probably fellow economists, and using a methodology not described in the SB article) offer their own artificially precise estimates of how much consumers would have saved and, more fundamentally, the study purports to understand how the oil companies would have set their prices without the price caps. Oh, really?

If DBEDT would have us believe that they have a better handle on how gasoline prices are set by oil companies, then perhaps the Senator Menor should consider the DBEDT methodology as a baseline as he considers how to amend the law that sets the price cap…

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The genesis of editorials

Filed under:
HI Media
— Doug @ 9:06 am
I got a nice chuckle out an explanation in the Maui News about how editorials are written for their paper.

Historically, editorials in newspapers are not signed. Although one person does the actual writing, editorials are the result of group think. The Maui News has a committee made up of three editors and the publisher ? all of whom contribute ideas and who have a hand in forming the final essay.

There are no hard-and-fast editorial positions at The Maui News. Subjects are treated on a case-by-case basis. Often the underlying motivation is a love of Maui, its people and its environment. There are no hidden agendas, although some individuals read with such thick personal-opinion filters they may attribute motives that are not there. What you read is what is meant and all that is meant.

As any graduate of UH-Manoa’s Political Science department who took Dick Chadwick’s international relations course might recall, group think is not something to be proud of. Heh.

I probably took special notice of this article because I’m almost finished reading a fascinating book by Victor Navasky called “A Matter of Opinion.” Where he writes at some length about the importance of small-circulation magazines (from The Nation, where Navasky is publisher, to National Review, etc.) in influencing public debate well beyond their own limited readership. Along the way he includes some very entertaining anecdotes; highly recommended.

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Expect political parties to play prominent roles

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 9:04 am
An interesting column by Jerry Burris in the Advertiser today on the issue of mainland-style campaign professionalism coming to Hawaii in 2006. I agree that the major Parties are paying much more attention to slick professional message management and perpetual campaigning, but I have a few comments on what it means.

[Democrats and Republicans] will be tempted to bring in outside “experts” to help with this work. This is understandable, and the use of consultants is a time-honored part of politics, both here and across the Mainland.

But there are dangers here. Sometimes consultants bring with them political styles or ideas that might make sense elsewhere but do not fit with an Island style of doing things.

We saw this two years ago, when outside consultants produced so-called “hit piece” mailers for candidates that were sent to voters in some districts.

These slick brochures left a sour taste in the mouths of some voters, who prefer to keep their politics on a higher plane.

Another danger is accepting boilerplate campaign themes or slogans that may be in fact an odd fit locally. For instance, campaigns built around dislike or antagonism for those in office have had some success in some jurisdictions.

First, Burris’ piece begs the question: did those slick brochure “hit pieces” work? I can recall one race where they were said to be an issue, the David Pendleton vs. Pono Chong race in the House. Pendleton was “hit” and was defeated. Sure, it’s tough to say if the slick brochure was the magic bullet and swung the race or even if the voters will hold it against Chong this year. What other races were subject to these brochures? What were the results in those races for the candidates who used them? My point: if it was a winning strategy, it will happen again, “Island style” or not.

Second, Burris’ argument assumes that “Island style” residents outnumber and turn out at the polls more reliably than newly-arrived voters who might already be accustomed to (objectionable) political campaign styles. I don’t know if that assumption is true, but this balance is changing every day. If you accept the drumbeat of stories about mainlanders buying homes in Hawaii, increasing real estate values and compelling young “Island style” voters to leave for the mainland, then these outside political consultants may be heralding the new “Island style” campaign.

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More from the “insiders”

Filed under:
HI State Politics
HI Media
— Doug @ 9:03 am
The SB series by Borreca that polls political insiders continues today with a story and his column. The earlier piece is here.

Make a note, I agree with the Governor here:

Lingle, who has repeatedly said she would not run for anything but governor this year, declined to say what other future office might interest her. She said she didn’t care for the survey, saying it “should be on a gossip page.”

Like I said before, the concept is interesting, but this month is a disappointment. It is hardly worth taking time (your time—I already spent mine, haha) to read anonymous handicapping of political races so far in the future, especially since they are not asked to explain (or the readers are simply not told) how each “insider” reached his or her conclusions. Far too many things will change between now and then.

Why not ask a tarot card reader on Kalaukaua Avenue, too?

My own record of short-term political predictions is spotty, at best, so I would not be so bold as to make predictions about 2010(!). Sometimes the best answer really is “no comment.” The participants are probably so flattered (or conceited) that once they are approached by Borreca for the survey that they feel they must play along.

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Lege prepping for First Crossover this week

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 9:01 am
A somewhat misleading headline for this Advertsier piece that tries to explain what is going on at the Hawaii Legislature. Really not a big deal, but if they are gonna try to use the jargon they should use it correctly.

State lawmakers and staff worked furiously last week to get bills ready for what is known as first decking, the Friday deadline for bills to be in their final form 48 hours before lawmakers vote on passage.

The bills are being set for third and final readings on Tuesday so they can move between chambers at first crossover on Thursday, the first substantial hurdle of the session. Bills that originate in the House move to the Senate, while bills that start in the Senate move to the House.

First Crossover is when most bills have their Third Reading. Final Reading, the term the article and headline uses, takes place at the very end of the process (for most bills, but there are a minority of bills that pass the non-originating chamber unammended that avoid it).

While it’s true that one bill has already passed Final Reading and there may be a handful of bills up for Final Reading at First Crossover (but I doubt that), the vast majority of bills are only halfway through the journey to Final Reading.

Oh, and as for “work[ing] furiously last week,” that only applies to lawmakers and staff who serve on the final committees (i.e. the money committees, judiciary committees, and consumer protection committees). For the rest, the week was prettty slow. After First Crossover the workload reverses (until Second Lateral).

Comments (1)
3/4/2006

Foxes strongly against enhanced chicken coop protection

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 10:29 am
Two (nearly) identical stories in the Hawaii County dailies discuss some legislation that would change the way the Governor appoints U.S. Senators and members of the Legislature that leave office during their term. (Hawaii Tribune-Herald piece is here and West Hawaii Today article is here)

Bills that advanced Thursday in the state House would change that appointment process, taking away some of the governor’s authority to fill vacancies in the U.S. Senate and state Legislature. Vacancies in the U.S. House must be filled by an election under federal law.

HB 2454 and HB 2455 require the governor to choose from a list submitted by the political party of the previous incumbent, rather than simply appointing someone of that same party.

In addition, HB 2454 requires prospective appointees to have been members of that political party for six months prior to their nomination.

While the bills easily passed their committees and were forwarded to a final vote in the full House, it’s unlikely that Gov. Linda Lingle will sign them. Nine of the 10 Republicans in the House voted against the measures Thursday after a debate that threatened to turn highly partisan.

“The governor thinks the process we have in place is a good one,” said Lingle spokesman Russell Pang. “Every previous governor has had the same authority, and she doesn’t think the process should be changed because of her.”

So much for “A New Beginning.” Heh. Maintaining the status quo needs a better defense than “tradition,” especially after the appointment of Representative Harbin revealed how unpredictably the existing loosey-goosey process can turn out. Speaking of the devil her, Representative Harbin (with an irony-o-meter apparently set too low) spoke vigorously against these measures on the House floor.

The lone Democrat opposing the bill, Rep. Bev Harbin, D-Kakaako, Iwilei, was one of Lingle’s more controversial appointees when she was selected to fill a vacancy last September. After Lingle discovered that Harbin had a criminal record for passing bad checks and owed the state $125,000 in back taxes, she asked Harbin to resign, according to news accounts. Harbin refused.

“This type of bill is exactly what the old guard would want to do,” Harbin said. “Why now? Is there something that we don’t know about our existing U.S. senators that we suddenly have to have a way to appoint them? . . . What is wrong with our U.S. senators that we have to stealthily run a bill through one committee onto the floor so that our party chair can make a recommendation should a senator fall ill or die?”

I won’t shoot at that fish in a barrel.

On second thought, yes, I will. The problem (uh, in this situation) is not with the existing U.S. Senators or Hawaii legislators, but with the existing process that still has the potential for another Bev Harbin to be appointed by a Governor of one party when a seat held by the opposite party (or even a seat held by the same party) becomes open between elections.

The better solution, since I don’t particularly trust the Party leaders of either side, is to hold a special election. Too slow, yadda yadda yadda.

The articles don’t mention it, but Harbin was also saying some very cryptic things about the Democratic Party not following it’s own rules (dramatically waving the rules about) and even asked for the Party rules to be inserted into the House Journal as part of her remarks on the bill (her request was denied). Harbin never actually spelled out her beef with the Party, but she certainly left the impression that she believes that she and the Governor are blameless in the process that led to her appointment. Maybe Representative Harbin will post at her blog about those allegations and possibly clear things up…

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Select Maui Councilmembers dine with developers

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 10:28 am
An excellent story today by Valerie Monson of the Maui News reveals that Alexander & Baldwin officials recently hosted a “purely social” dinner for five members of the Maui County Council, their wives, and a visiting UH scientist. A&B is in the midst of several important development projects that all need Council action. There’s a lot there and it’s worth a read.

A&B was represented by Meredith Ching, vice president of government and community relations; Stan Kuriyama, chief executive of A&B Properties; Steve Holaday, general manager of Hawaiian Sugar & Commercial Inc.; properties Vice President Grant Chun; consultant Mercer ?Chubby? Vicens; Jeff Faulkner, construction manager on all the islands; and Clyde Murashige, vice president in charge of the company?s Wailea projects.

?We do this periodically,? said Vicens, who told a reporter she would have been welcome to join them, too. ?It?s just part of our regular outreach. We do it on Kauai, we do it at the state level. We interface socially, that?s why we invite the wives. We understand the Sunshine Law and try to keep it as a social entity.?

——–

Lorna Aratani, an attorney with the state Office of Information Practices, said council members can get together for social events, even with developers, but they must not talk shop.

?If it was purely social, then they could have dinner and talk about weather and sports, things like that, and that?s not a violation of the Sunshine Law,? said Aratani. ?The question is whether they were policing themselves and avoiding any board business.?

——–

?I don?t think it?s appropriate to socialize with major landowners who have large land entitlements coming before the council,? [an uninvited Councilmember] said. ?It?s hard to break bread ? and expensive bread at that ? and then turn around and deny them an entitlement.?

Last month, A&B?s request for a change in zoning for a 179-acre expansion of the Maui Business Park was referred by the council to the Land Use Committee. Along with Maui Land & Pineapple Co., A&B will begin discussions about the future of their lands at Haliimaile next week. Just six months ago, preliminary public sessions were held to talk about designing a residential community on 826 acres of A&B land at Waiale.

Even if there was zero discussion of Council business, the simple fact that the five of them are socializing with those particular members of A&B who need their support is suspicious. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it doesn’t seem to me that the Maui County Council has much of a history (with or without dinner dates) of refusing development proposals from A&B (or any other developer). Thus, these Sunshine Law questions are worth asking but a bit beside the point. The Councilmembers will likely roll over anyway, even after going to dinner Dutch. Heh.

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Bronze Star awarded to another Kaneohe Marine

Filed under:
General
HI Media
— Doug @ 10:26 am
Following up on this earlier post about a Marine awarded the Silver Star, on February 24th another Marine involved in that same incident, Corporal Troy Arndt, was awarded a Bronze Star with combat distinguishing “V” device. The Hawaii Marine has a story (PDF) on Arndt this week, which recounts the tale previously told in the Honolulu dailies (for the Silver Star awarded earlier).

I’m beginning to wonder; just what is the Marine policy for alerting the local media to these award ceremonies? Is a Bronze Star deemed unworthy of a simple press release, where a (higher) Silver Star is publicized? Is it the fact that Arndt is a NCO and not a commissioned officer? Surely, those are not the criteria the Honolulu dailies use while deciding whether to cover a story. Right? But at least twice now Marines winning Bronze Stars for comabt valor have went all but unmentioned by the Honolulu media.

Anyway, congratulations again to Corporal Arndt. Ooh rah!

Comments (0)
Property tax tweak proposed for Hawaii County

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 10:26 am
There is a short piece in the SB today that talks about proposals to lower property tax rates and create a rainy day fund, blah, blah, blah. [snore]

No wait! This time it’s in Hawaii County, not Honolulu.

[Hawaii County Mayor] Kim proposed a $316 million budget for 2006-07 this week, up from the current $284 million in 2005-06.

Roughly half of the county’s money comes from property taxes. Property values have increased 35 percent overall, Kim said, but he would cut property tax rates so the increase in property tax revenues would be held to 19 percent.

That would be done by cutting tax rates in 2006-07 on all properties except owner-occupied homes by about 13 percent. For owner-occupied homes, Kim already obtained agreement from the County Council last year to limit increases in their taxable value to 3 percent per year, besides boosting annual homeowner exemptions to $80,000.

In 2007-08, Kim envisions limits on growth of taxable value for other properties, similar to the 3 percent limit on owner-occupied homes.

——–

To avoid a repeat [of previous County budget problems], Kim’s proposal calls for creating a “rainy day” fund with an initial $4 million. “Its purpose is to enable the county to continue providing services to the public without having to increase taxes during economic downturns,” his message said.

Surely, most on the Big Island must be familiar with what is going on on Oahu. Honolulu dominates the media and the news. But, are Oahu homeowners familiar with the deal Big Island owner-occupied homes enjoy? The outer islands sometimes hardly enter the Oahu-centric minds.

Last, and this is not in the article, if the rates were kept the same instead of lowered as Kim is proposing and the Hokulia lot owners (unlikely, but somehow) prevailed in their lawsuit then I wonder if there would be enough revenue to pay damages. Obviously, Hawaii County would not take in enough to pay in a lump sum, but I think you see my point.

Comments (0)
3/3/2006

Happy Birthday, Dan!

Filed under:
General
— Doug @ 6:33 pm
My older brother notches another one today. He’s with his wife celebrating on a cruise ship somwhere, wisely taking a break from the frigid Wisconsin tundra.

He’s always been so much more wise and mature than I. Too bad for him. Heh.

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World’s slowest treasurer prolongs the agony

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:30 pm
Today the SB takes a whack at the AP story that came out yesterday in the Advertiser.

Seeking to fix a “mistake,” the Hawaii Democratic Party will reverse a series of transactions that channeled $5,000 to a Rhode Island candidate for the U.S. Senate, the state party chairman said yesterday.

“We are going to return the funds. We want to rectify this as soon as possible,” said state Democratic Party Chairman Brickwood Galuteria, referring to a $6,000 contribution later made to the Hawaii Democratic Party. “We realized we had made a mistake.”

——–

But the party disputes that there was a deal in place to support Brown in exchange for the unidentified mainland donor’s contribution, said Jane Sugimura, the party’s treasurer.

“We didn’t do anything wrong,” Sugimura said. “I don’t know what the uproar or the fuss is about.”

Sugimura earlier told an AP reporter who called from Providence that it was her understanding that the Brown campaign struck a deal in which the Hawaii party gave a donation in exchange for money to be received from Brown supporters. However, Sugimura said yesterday that she did not confirm a tit-for-tat arrangement.

Uh, so which is it: the Party made a mistake (Chair’s position), or the party didn’t do anything wrong (Treasurer’s position)?

The identity of the donor to the Hawaii Democratic Party is still unknown. Party officials say they have the name in their records, but they will not know who it is until they look up that information.

Until the identity is released, it is impossible to tell whether the donor had already reached the contribution limit in Rhode Island and was filtering the money through Hawaii to circumvent federal law.

“This is an example of how the private funding of elections is out of control,” said University of Hawaii political science professor Ira Rohter. “It’s standard operating procedure. You could probably discover this kind of stuff happens all over the states.”

Wha? “They will not know until they look up that information?!” Please. They’ve had two days already. How long does it take to identify a donor? You could be sure that if revealing the donor’s identity would end this fracas then his or her name would have been made public already…

Meanwhile, the Hawaii GOP is treading on thin ice in their obvious glee to exploit this.

Aiona, the GOP chairman, said it would take a state or federal investigation to determine whether any laws had been broken.

“It is our understanding that what occurred with the Democratic Party was illegal. It really makes you wonder what else is going on in their party that we don’t really know about,” he said.

Call for an investigation; fair enough. However, what is Aiona’s “understanding” of this occurence based upon? If Aiona has some proof, then let’s see it. I agree with Aiona that this makes me wonder what is going on in the party; but the same suspicion applies treble to his own house.

Professor Ira Rohter definitely puts the correct gloss on this whole situation.

Comments (0)
Both, instead of either/or is best gasoline price cap compromise

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:28 pm
Yet another summary of the competing philosophies at play in the gasoline price cap law legislation this year is found in this SB editorial. I would like to echo the concluding paragraphs:

[Senator] Menor says he is “in total disbelief” that the state Public Utilities Commission, which has implemented the gas-cap law, has not interpreted it to guarantee lower prices. However, Carlito Caliboso, the commission’s chairman, is correct in interpreting the intent of the law to set a price cap that reflects competitive market conditions on the mainland. While that was the specific intent, the expected result was lower prices, which had been too high because of Hawaii’s oil oligopoly.

A bill that would suspend and ultimately repeal the gas-cap law appears headed for House approval. House Majority Leader Marcus Oshiro says the caps should be replaced by “transparency – as far as revealing the true cost and the fair rate of return for the oil companies.” Governor Lingle, who has opposed the price caps, also has favored closer examination of oil industry costs.

The imposition of open records, without infringing on the companies’ proprietary rights, is important, but it should be added to the gas-cap law, not replace it. Price caps have been in force for too little time and implemented under circumstances too extraordinary to be cast aside.

I would first like some discussion and clarification of what comprises those “proprietary rights,” but in general (and as I wrote at the end of an earlier post) I support the editors’ call to add transparency to the gasoline price cap, instead of suspending the law and collecting the data without a cap in place. Of course, given the PUC’s hostility to anything that might make the law work better, I don’t know if they could even be trusted to gather and disseminate the data in an orderly manner.

Comments (1)
Hybrid of a debate and quiz show?

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 6:25 pm
Some moderately interesting quotes in this Lahaina News article about Ed Case.

[Representative] Case said there?s a world of difference between he and [Senator] Akaka, and he wants to be able to debate on the issues.

?The qualities will become evident if Akaka will participate in debate,? he stressed. ?It?s the past versus the future. Status quo versus change. I vote independently and I?m more hands on.?

The moderate Congressman said he has the raw energy necessary to represent Hawaii in Washington.

?I don?t believe the Democratic Party is always right. And I don?t believe that a majority of the voters look at the world through a partisan lens,? said Case. ?I evaluate the decision and make it for the best of my state and country. Most people in our country are in the middle.?

——–

?I know Maui far better than Senator Akaka,? said Case. He said he has worked on many issues affecting the West Side of Maui, such as transportation and irrigation.

It’s becoming a drumbeat: Case is clearly itching for a debate with Akaka, although I can’t remember any debates taking place so far in advance of a primary election. Perhaps the two candidates could also settle this “who knows Maui better” question at that time.

I reckon that Akaka wishes Lingle a Republican challenger will enter this race. If that happens it would serve to split the, uh, “moderate, independent” voters that Case is appealing to.

Comments (1)
Arakawa leads in dollars raised

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 6:24 pm
A rather thorough Maui News article provides a summary of where the various candidates for Maui Mayor stand in the race to raise campaign funds.

There is some potentially interesting discussion of particular donors, though I can’t say that I have any particular insights into any particular donations. If you do, please leave a comment.

Instead of extensive excerpts, I’ll just reproduce the data for how much each candidate reported as of January 1, 2006.

Arakawa $48,749
Apana $56,829
Tavares $24,420
Kain (unannounced, but expected to run) $45,630
Miller and Waikiki were not required to report, as they were not declared candidates at that time.

The one thing that definitely stood out in the piece was this thread:

Apana wouldn?t predict if his fundraising this time around would hit the $821,000 mark that set records in Maui County four years ago.

“We never know how much we?re going to raise,” he said. “We just hope people believe in the candidacy and help out not only by voting but also by giving a small donation.”

——-

Candidates will be dealing with new rules on fundraising this year, notably a prohibition on accepting donations from companies that hold contracts with the county, starting in January.

Apana was not concerned about the restrictions.

“It?s going to be the same for all candidates,” he said. “It really shouldn?t affect any one campaign.”

Arakawa agreed, saying it would make bookkeeping more difficult, but “it?s a good law.”

He noted that the new restrictions were implemented after a campaign finance scandal resulted in the prosecution of several donors around the state for exceeding contribution limits.

“[Apana’s] campaign raised a tremendous amount of money off this illegal contribution list,” Arakawa observed.

Apana said he felt voters would understand that it was the donors who were at fault, not the candidates who accepted the money. He has maintained that his campaign could not keep track of where donations came from when the contributors used deception to get around limits.

“I think if people understand the way campaign spending laws are written, they?ll realize our campaign did the right thing,” he said. “It?s more a reflection of the donors than the candidates.”

Hmmmm. “I’m not dishonest, but my supporters are dishonest.” That is hardly a convincing response. It’s also probably not the best way to speak of your donors. Heh.

Comments (0)
3/2/2006

Hokulia discussed at the Lege and (secretly) at the Hawaii County Council

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:58 pm
The Advertiser has a brief update about the hearing held in the House Finance Committee yesterday concerning HB 1368 HD1.

A bill that would allow the Hokuli’a luxury home project on the Big Island to proceed and to recognize the legality of other housing already built on agricultural land was passed by the state Finance Committee yesterday.

The bill now heads to the full House for a vote and, if approved, will cross over to the Senate.

The Finance Committee voted 16-2 for the bill for the bill, although half of the committee members who supported it did so with reservations. Lawmakers gave the bill an effective date of 2020 ? an intentional monkey wrench to ensure continued discussions on the measure.

Meanwhile, the SB reports from the Hawaii County Council where they met in closed session to discuss a potential settlement of the Hokulia lawsuit (pending before the Hawaii Supreme Court).

An appeal of Ibarra’s ruling has been pending since 2003 in the state Supreme Court. It is unclear how a settlement by the parties would satisfy Ibarra’s ruling on the project’s legality.

No details of the settlement were revealed yesterday, and people in the closed-door discussion gave different accounts of the recommendation.

County attorney Lincoln Ashida, who made the recommendation, told the Star-Bulletin that the meeting dealt only with “minor items related to a possible settlement.”

But he also said the possibility of a settlement was “hot,” requiring quick Council action.

Councilman Gary Safarik said the “points of the settlement” were discussed. “Once the settlement parameters are approved in court, we can talk about it,” he said.

The extent of the recommendation is relevant, since the matter was added to an existing Council agenda just hours before the discussion. State law allows an addition only if it is not “of reasonably major importance.”

Ashida said the item did not have major importance.

——–

Meanwhile, a second lawsuit was filed last year against the state and county by about 150 people who bought 1-acre Hokulia lots costing $650,000 to $2.5 million. The suit seeks $264 million in damages.

I’ve contacted the 3rd Circuit Court in Kealakekua to obtain the list of those 100-and-some plaintiffs in that second lawsuit (I could not find the relevant “exhibit A” anywhere online). I am very curious to see if these deep-pocket owners of lots at the Hokulia project have made any campaign contributions and, if any turn up, to which politician(s), in what amount(s), and to what effect on the support or opposition to the legislation dealing with this matter.

As to the Mr. Ashida’s assertion that yesterday’s settlement discussions “did not have major importance,” that declaration (while required by the Sunshine Law in order to allow the Council to have amended the agenda without the regular public notice) certainly would seem to fly in the face of the Hawaii County’s continuous “the sky is falling” testimony at the Legislature regarding Hokulia.

Comments (3)
Hawaii Republicans could field as many candidates as Dems for vacant U.S. House seat

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:56 pm
Both Honolulu dailies heard from the Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle yesterday about his intentions to run for U.S. House District 2, and today we see a Borreca piece in the SB.

Hawaii GOP candidates are showing interest in being the first Republican to go to Congress since Pat Saiki in 1990.

Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle said yesterday he is seriously considering the race for the 2nd Congressional District (rural Oahu, neighbor islands).

Also Sen. Bob Hogue (R, Kaneohe-Kailua) confirmed yesterday that he is looking at the contest.

Other Republicans have said former state Rep. Quentin Kawananakoa was a possible candidate, but the Star-Bulletin was unable to contact Kawananakoa for confirmation.

Carlisle, who is in his third term as elected prosecutor, described himself as “actively considering the possibility.”

Like other elected office holders in the middle of their terms, Carlisle would not have to resign his municipal office to run for federal office.

——–

State GOP Chairman Sam Aiona welcomed Carlisle’s interest in the race, saying “he shares the same views as us, he wants to see a bipartisan delegation in Congress.”

Aiona said former City Councilman Mike Gabbard, who ran unsuccessfully against Case, is also considering the race.

Such a flattering and squinty photo of Senator Hogue in that article, yeah? He looks constipated, haha.

I had posted on this topic earlier, and little has changed since then. Funny, the articles today make no mention of Mr. Terry…

Meanwhile, in the Advertiser is this account of the same news, but with a few additional nuggets worth noting.

State Sen. Bob Hogue and former Honolulu City Councilman Mike Gabbard have said publicly that they are interested in the Republican primary next September for the 2nd District, which covers Central, Leeward and Windward O’ahu and the Neighbor Islands. They both said yesterday that their own planning would not be immediately influenced by Carlisle.

——–

Gabbard said he is still thinking about whether to run for Congress or in the Republican primary for the state Senate in District 19, which is now held by Sen. Brian Kanno, a Democrat.

Sam Aiona, the state GOP chairman, said the party does not want to be in the position to pick a candidate although there will likely be pressure among Republicans to help the strongest contender. But he praised Carlisle.

“We’d be thrilled if Peter Carlisle ran as a Republican in this congressional race,” Aiona said. “I think he’s proven his electability.”

I’m inclined to think Gabbard would be a very strong challenger to (State) Senator Kanno (perhaps even the strongest Republican challenger to a Democratic State Senator this year), so that choice between running for U.S. House and for Hawaii Senate must be a difficult one for Gabbard to make. At this point it is all a waiting game to see which of these men (and why is there no Republican woman taking a look?) actually gets beyond the “exploratory” stage. If Carlisle actually runs as a Republican for U.S. House, then I reckon Gabbard will take the safer (and cheaper) road back to elected office by running against Kanno.

Comments (1)
PEG procurement – Spoken testimony means not having to be slick

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:52 pm
A rather strange, if heartfelt, letter to the editor is in the Maui News today.

I am a 24-year government employee and know what Clyde Sonobe of the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs is going through. I am writing in protest over the DCCA policy of asking residents to submit written testimony despite their verbal testimony in person.

Freedom of speech is not having to write anything. Freedom of speech is getting up and speaking your mind ? you do not have to do research, you do not have to fret. Freedom of speech is not having to do work. Freedom of speech is taking no more time out of your workday than you already have. Freedom of speech is the freedom to be everything you already are. Freedom of speech means not having to be slick.

Freedom of speech means that government should listen to you when you speak; government should not remind themselves later of what you said. Freedom of speech is the common man and woman. Freedom of speech is the most basic of rights.

I feel so strongly, this is only the third time I have written to The Maui News since I was 13 years old.

Wayne A. Boteilho

Wailuku

So far as I can tell, Boteiho is referring to this incident regarding the question of whether PEG (public, educational, and government) cable television production should be made subject to open bidding or if the DCCA should seek a waiver from the procurement law.

A crowd of Akaku supporters turning out to voice support for the station was outraged [February 15th] when a state hearing ended before everyone had been heard.

The state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs had called the meeting to gather comments on whether contracts for public-access programming on cable should issued by competitive bids. But only 24 of 70 testifiers had had a chance to speak when the hearing stopped as scheduled after two hours and DCCA Deputy Director Clyde Sonobe left to catch a flight back to Honolulu.

?No more free speech because it?s 6:15,? grumbled Akaku?s acting chairman, Jay April, as the crowd was ushered out of the meeting room at Maui Community College.

Sonobe said the meeting location had been coordinated by the governor?s liaison to Maui, George Kaya. Sonobe said the DCCA felt two hours was ?adequate? for the meeting.

?We allowed two hours for every county. We felt it was a reasonable time,? he said, adding, ?This is not the only avenue for input. We?re not precluding anyone from submitting their comments (in writing).?

I happen to think that written testimony is the most important form of free speech, because it endures and is so much more accessible than oral testimony which is either lost forever or requires some hardware to recreate it in audio or video form. It is indeed a burden to transcribe your oral remarks, but it’s definitely in (y)our best interest for testifiers to comply.

Leaving that aside, I’ve neglected this topic to date, but the rest of that article is interesting:

Sonobe said the DCCA plans to make its recommendation to the state procurement office in April, before Akaku and the other stations? contracts expire on June 30.

Making the contract competitive could allow the state to determine if another organization could do a better job of providing cable-access services than Akaku. It wouldn?t mean the end of access or free speech, he said.

?We would apply the same requirements we apply to the PEGs today ? that they don?t censor,? he said.

He said the purpose of the meeting was to hear from the public about what it wanted before deciding how to proceed.

?That?s why we?re here,? he said.

Many of the testifiers praised the services provided by Akaku and questioned the need for a change.

?Right now it really ain?t broke, and it don?t need to be fixed,? said Chivo Ching-Johnson, an Akaku producer.

He didn?t buy the claim that the DCCA innocently had happened to inquire about state procurement laws, and wanted to know what or who had prompted the move.

?What?s going on behind the scenes is what we need to discuss,? he said.

Perhaps the Lingle Administration is a bit nervous about procurement because of this? Heh. I do agree that there almost certainly bigger forces behind this, though.

To put it mildly, many testifiers (both in Maui, and on Oahu, too) were not reassured that there will be no censorship if another organization were to submit a lower bid than Akaku (or Olelo on Oahu). Well, maybe, but it’s obviously just speculation at this point. If there are any (more) concrete arguments or evidence to make that case, then I’m certainly open to consider them.

It’s unusual for the State to suddenly become a stickler for procurement policy. However, it’s also more than a bit ironic that those who seem worried the most about this specter of PEG censorship are the same folks who usually are very much in favor of keeping a close watch on the powerful and on how government is (or is not) wisely spending public money. Suddenly all parties have re-thought their positions with regard to State agencies complying with the procurement laws? Go figure.

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Hawaii Democratic Party involved in dubious contribution deal

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:50 pm
The Advertiser runs an AP story about money exchanged between the Hawaii Democratic Party and a Rhode Island Democrat running for the U.S. Senate. The piece begins like this:

Secretary of State Matt Brown, who is running for the U.S. Senate on a clean government platform, received donations from three state Democratic parties and at least one, the party in Hawai’i, may have violated campaign finance laws, The Associated Press has learned.

The Brown campaign struck a deal in which the Hawai’i Democratic Party would give a $5,000 donation to Brown and in exchange, the party would receive money from Brown supporters, Jane Sugimura, the Hawai’i party’s treasurer said.

“That’s what my understanding was,” Sugimura said.

The arrangement could violate federal law if the donation to the party was earmarked for Brown and came from someone who had reached the legal limit for individual donations to the campaign, said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which monitors fundraising and spending in political races.

Late yesterday, Sugimura told The Advertiser that the party accepted a $6,000 donation from a Brown supporter in January after giving the Brown campaign $5,000 late last year.

Sugimura said she did not know the party’s donation was going to be used for a primary, where the party usually remains neutral, and said the party has decided to return the money.

“We’re going to return the donation and ask the Matt Brown campaign to return ours,” she told The Advertiser.

It was not immediately clear who gave the donation.

So, if Mr. Noble’s explanation is correct, it is unclear if these particular transactions violated federal law. What is clear, though, is that the deal certainly looks like a passthrough operation. If the donation from the Brown supporter to the Hawaii Democratic Party can be explained better, then the Party (and or Matt Brown’s campaign) had better make that explanation promptly. Simply returning the donation does not eliminate the appearance of impropriety.

Comments (0)
What does the FBI know about you?

Filed under:
General
— Doug @ 5:49 pm
Here is a link to a Freedeom of Information Act Request Form that can be filled out, printed, signed, and mailed to the FBI to learn what (if anything) they have in their files about you.

Provided for my readers after being inspired by that COINTELPRO-loving UARC supporter from a while ago… Fill one out, even if you’ve never even made a lane change without signalling.

With the NSA listening to our phone calls in a twisted form of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon Al Qaeda, you just can’t know if you may turn up on the end of a wiretap.

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Third candidate pulls papers to run for Maui Mayor

Filed under:
Neighbor Islands
— Doug @ 5:47 pm
Very short piece in the Maui News announcing the third (official) person that intends to run for Mayor of Maui County.

Nelson N. Waikiki Jr. took out papers last week for the 2006 mayor?s race.

Waikiki, a Wailuku resident, is the third person to start the nomination process, following Maui County Council Member Charmaine Tavares and real estate agent Harold “Hap” Miller of Kihei.

Okay, [Maui] readers, anybody know this man? Does he have any chance?

Comments (1)
3/1/2006

Lawmakers split on gasoline cap

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:56 pm
The Advertiser runs an AP story about the competing gasoline price cap legislation moving in the House and Senate. Same stuff I posted about yesterday.

The Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Ron Menor, D-17th (Mililani, Waipi’o), chief architect of the state’s unique gas cap law, would change the way the caps for individual areas of the state are calculated. He contends the change could save Hawai’i drivers, who regularly pay the highest fuel prices in the nation, about 16 cents per gallon.

Hawai’i also has the nation’s highest gasoline tax. Honolulu drivers pay about 65 cents a gallon in taxes, which is more than any other state.

Menor’s bill to fine tune the gas cap was heard by the Senate committee he chairs: Commerce, Consumer Protection and Housing.

——–

The House bill went before the House Finance Committee yesterday, one of the last stops for a bill before going to a final House vote. A decision on the bill, however, was deferred until today.

Testimony and questions from lawmakers were relatively spare, with one of the signers of the bill, Rep. Glenn Wakai, D-31st (Salt Lake, Tripler), voicing concerns that it has “no hammer at the end” to punish those companies found guilty of wrongdoing.

It seems that Ms. Godvin chose the wrong hearing to attend, because Larry Geller posts about some very interesting testimony and questioning at the Senate hearing yesterday.

A Senate committee heard rather shocking testimony today on how the Lingle Administration has managed Hawaii’s first-in-the-nation gasoline cap law. A representative of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission testified this morning that the law has not been administered in a way that would lower prices as the law permits. Instead, prices have been set at the maximum values the law allows.

In response to questioning on SB2911 before Senator Ron Menor and Senator Rosalyn Baker, Chair and Vice Chair respectively of the Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and Housing, the Public Utilities Commission stated that it has not been administering the price cap law to reduce prices at all, but to only to maintain “stability in the market.”

As Geller points out, that the Lingle administration chose to poorly execute the gasoline price cap law is no surprise. However, I am surprised to see the PUC openly acknowledging this mindset. I would have expected the PUC to plead ignorance or incompetence, not malice and spite.

Comments (1)
Representative Green speaks of tobacco and oil contributor pressure

Filed under:
HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:53 pm
Have a look at this very good article in the West Hawaii Today with comments from Representative Josh Green, M.D.

Speaking to about 75 people attending his “talk story session” Monday night, Green said he does not like partisan politics, but added that it is very much an integral part of life at the Capitol.

“If the Legislature were 80 percent Republican,” said Green, “then it would be the opposite.”

Green said it is an unfortunate fact that GOP members get little accomplished in the state Legislature.

“And all because (former Rep.) Mark (Jernigan) and (Sen. Paul) Whalen are Republicans?” he said. “I will be making that point (during the next election).”

Green, who touched on numerous subjects during his discussion, also said legislators are constantly being wooed by lobbyists who are prepared to make significant contributions to campaigns in return for support of their issues. He pointed out tobacco and oil lobbyists as particularly persistent.

“I wish there’d be more reporting on campaign contributions,” said Green. “My colleagues are upstanding, but it only takes one committee chairman to stop a bill.”

Green said serious reform must be implemented to limit the influence of lobbyists and campaign contributions or meaningful legislation will keep on “slowly creeping by.”

He also said it is vital to elect people who are free of those influences, but they are often overwhelmed by opponents who take money from oil and tobacco supporters and are able to conduct strong campaigns.

“That’s where the rubber meets the road,” said Green. “Friends can only wave signs so much.”

I could not agree more. Which is why publicly-funded campaigns, aw, you know the rest…

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Wai’anae may keep landfill after all

Filed under:
Honolulu Politics
— Doug @ 5:51 pm
Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann has vetoed Bill 37 which would force the City to cease landfill operations at Waimanalo Gulch. This story is featured at the Advertiser, KGMB, KHON, and the Star-Bulletin. The Mayor’s veto message is here (PDF) and includes a 2003 LUC ruling that directed the Council to choose another landfill site and the 2004 Council resolution that selected Waimanalo Gulch for continued use.

Read through the Mayor’s veto message, especially the 2004 resolution (attached to the message). I’m surprised that the media accounts seem to downplay (if they even mention) the rather blatant, uh, flip-floppery from 2004 to 2006. In 2004 the Council voted 6-3 (with Councilmembers Djou, Gabbard, and Garcia voting no) to select Waimanalo Gulch as the site for a “new” city landfill. Last month the Council voted 7-2 (with Councilmembers Marshall and Tam voting no) to close the Waimanalo Gulch landfill in 2008.

From the Mayor’s press release announcing the veto:

Environmental Services Director Eric Takamura noted that former mayor Jeremy Harris publicly promised he would shut the landfill down by 2008 but never took the steps to do so because he also signed a 15-year contractor extension with Waste Management of Hawaii to operate the landfill. ?That action only contributed to the perception that the Leeward Coast is consistently taken for granted.?

Recognizing that, Mayor Hannemann?s administration reexamined dozens of possible alternate sites that had been previously identified and dismissed, including the Ameron Quarry in Kapaa and even Central Oahu locations such as Poamoho, without success. The mayor noted that two separate, recent studies each identified the same eight sites that met the preliminary criteria for a future landfill. Five of the eight sites were on the Waianae Coast, and the other three, in Windward Oahu, are not available.

Hmmmm. Just what does that mean, the three Windward Oahu sites identified as meeting the criteria for a future landfill “are not available?” Sounds like code for, “too haole.” Heh.

Therefore, Hannemann said his administration will continue its efforts to address community and regulatory concerns with the Waimanalo Gulch landfill and continue to work on reducing Oahu?s need for landfill space.

He also announced that Waste Management of Hawaii, which operates the Waimanalo Gulch landfill under contract with the City, will continue to build upon the improvements made ever since his administration took office, including, but not limited to, reducing leachate levels and odors, improved grading, reducing litter and better record-keeping. Furthermore, Waste Management has committed to:

* Spending $100,000 to $200,000 over the next two years to landscape the entrance to the landfill.
* Work with the City and the state Department of Health on a supplemental environmental program.
* Work with his administration to develop additional programs to benefit the community.

In addition, Hannemann said he plans to establish a citizens advisory board consisting of residents from Honokai Hale to Makaha that will work directly with Waste Management to better address the needs and concerns of Waianae Coast residents. The committee will also serve as an oversight board, ensuring that the daily operations are conducted in a transparent and open manner.

Environmental Services Director Takamura added, ?Residents should make every effort to visit the landfill site and take a tour to see it for themselves.?

I am having trouble wrapping my head around this. The Mayor and the Council (allegedly) want to find another site, yet the City has previously committed to a 15-year contract with Waste Management, Inc., to continue landfill operations at Waimanalo Gulch?

I have a hunch that Councilmembers Okino and Kobayashi will change their votes and the veto will not be overturned. Bill 37 was a symbolic act by the Council, yet, as such, it was a message of dubious sincerity. I agree with Councilmember Dela Cruz insofar as this has had the effect of bringing the waste management issue back into the limelight. However, I don’t see any political will to choose another landfill site on Oahu, so I expect Oahu will begin to export our rubbish in the mid-term.

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Bev Harbin – Blog goes live

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HI State Politics
— Doug @ 5:48 pm
Oh, boy! Did you notice the newest addition to the blogroll? Bev Harbin – Blog

We can only hope that she posts more regularly than the other legislators with blogs… I won’t mention any names. [cough]

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