Sunday, January 22, 2006


Building the case against Case

Video of parent meeting with Ed Case 4/21/2003

Congressman Ed Case's announcement that he will run for Senator Daniel Akaka's seat stirred up an immediate flurry of reaction in the press. Much of the commentary revolved around Case's offer to replace age with youth in Hawaii's congressional delegation. He also styles himself a moderate, and said he doesn't "talk and walk lock-step with my own party" (Star-Bulletin 1/22/2006).

Youth has its appeal, but so does experience, so this is something that will be debated and dissected in the press right up to election night.

Before long, pundits will get around to analyzing the voting records of both Akaka and Case. This will contrast the two based on performance, and define whether Case is indeed the moderate he claims to be or whether he is farther to the right than most democrats are comfortable with.

The press will also have to evaluate Case's relationship to the Democratic Party and to Democratic voters. While he was in the state legislature, he clashed with others in his party. Even a generally favorable article describes him thusly:
During the organization for the 2001 session, Case gave up the majority leadership. It had been a bad fit. Democrats who served with him in that period use words like stubborn, hard-headed, impatient, overbearing — even tyrannical — to describe Case.
A more difficult parameter to evaluate is the quality Case's representation of his constituents. He is perhaps best known among parents in Hawaii and nationwide for writing and introducing what became known as the "Case Amendment" to H.R. 1350, a bill that was part of the reauthorization of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

This anti-child amendment would have allowed governor Lingle and other state governors to set the fees for attorneys representing parents of special needs children. When parents find that school are not providing their children with an equal education under the law, they have little recourse but to file for a due process hearing, which they most often lose unless they have representation (the DOE always has legal advice). Hawaii's Department of Education embraced the Case Amendment as a means to greatly reduce the number of due process cases filed against them.

Parents, advocates and many others saw Case's action differently, of course. In no other civil rights cases can the defendant set fees for the plaintiff--and Governor Lingle is often the defendant, along with the Department of Education, in these suits. Given the power to limit attorneys fees, she would most certainly set them at a point which would be favorable to the DOE by making it impossible for attorneys to represent parents.

Parents protested. On April 21, 2003, a group of about two dozen parents crashed Case's office along with reporters and a video camera. In a Star-Bulletin article on the meeting, attorney Chris Parsons said that allowing the governor to set rates would "give the fox the keys to the henhouse" and drive lawyers away from such cases.

The video (which may take a bit of time to load) can be viewed here or here (turn up the computer volume a bit to hear this properly).

Case consulted with Superintendent Pat Hamamoto before introducing the amendment, but certainly not with parents of special needs students, who are his constituents. His amendment brought him tremendous negative publicity across the country.

How will parents feel about giving Ed Case additional power in the Senate? Let's see how this plays out.


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