Sunday, July 15, 2007


Sewage problem at the State Capitol

In an insightful column, Lingle needs someone new to grease the skids, Richard Borreca documents a huge communications gap between our governor and our legislature. He describes "a bitter and antagonistic session" and suggests that another one might be avoided when a replacement for Bob Awana, recently resigned chief of staff, is found. You can find Richard Borreca at the State Capitol whenever it is in session. He spends more time observing our government's inner workings than most people. And he weighs his words carefully, so it must really have been a bit of a mess over there this year.


The State Capitol is not an island off in the distance, it's a place we go to make good things happen

There can't be antagonism just between a governor and legislators. There are others in the picture as well. You and me, for example.

Nasty problems can't be fully contained within the walls of the State Capitol since the fights are over bills, policies and laws that affect all of us as citizens. Many legislative acts bring badly needed improvements. The people demand that more be done on critical issues such as health care, affordable housing, the high cost of living, livable communities, and traffic congestion. Just to name a few.

We don't need ongoing political disputes between the governor and our elected representatives. We've worked long and hard on bills. We've spent hours offering testimony. We've called, faxed and emailed. Legislators debated. They voted and came together to override vetoes. In the end, some good things came about. We should be able to stop for a moment and enjoy the sweet smell of our collective success, of doing good for people, of achieving necessary improvement and even saving lives, as result of new laws passed during the 2007 session.

But now the dispute at the Capitol building is spilling out into the streets. And it doesn't smell like roses. In fact, it absolutely stinks. And the mopping up will take further effort that could be directed at better things.


Citizens go to their representatives when they need something done

Generally, individuals, groups, advocates and lobbyists work directly with legislators between and during the session to develop and advance bills that may eventually become law. Sometimes the work occupies one session, sometimes it requires years before there is a meeting of minds and a measure succeeds.

While the governor does introduce an administration package each year, those bills are most often created behind the scenes, often (but not always) by special interests. There isn't the same interaction that takes place between people and their representatives. You can visit your legislators at their offices or run into them at Zippy's. You'd be surprised how many bills start with discussions over lunch at Zippy's. But the governor probably never eats at Zippy's.

So the strong polarization or antagonism that Borreca referred to is not just between the governor and the legislature, but between the governor and the people as well. In particular, by withholding funds when laws are passed, she frustrates and infuriates those who have worked hard to pass decent and fair laws in our state.

There was a flurry of activity before the July 10 special session called to override some of the governor's vetoes. People were calling their own representatives or Senate and House leadership with their positions on the targeted bills. AARP held a demonstration in the rotunda in support of the pedestrian safety bill.

Now that the session is over, planning normally moves to the next round. Advocates limber up and politicians plan for the next session. Unfortunately, some of the good work accomplished this past session will be undone unless we put still more time, effort, and sweat into removing obstacles to implementation of our shiny new laws.

So it's not over for the people. The governor has stated she won't release funds for pedestrian safety, even though the bill was overridden. Exasperated lawmakers strengthened the Rx Plus law (by writing "shall" instead of "may") to require negotiations with drug companies so that seniors who must choose between food and medicine can get some needed relief, but DHS presents nothing but excuses for why this still isn't happening. 

We are the ones at risk crossing the street. It's our parents and grandparents who are made to sacrifice for drug company profits. The Legislature has done it's job. If these laws are not implemented, it's between us and the governor.

The governor vetoed the Safe Haven bill which is now law. Will her departments implement it despite her objections? Will signs will be posted and information distributed so that the law is effective?

These are just examples.


The people react

With a shrinking minority party (which often, but not always, reflects the governor's policy views during legislative debates) and without the services of her key intermediary, Bob Awana, it may be that the communications gap Borreca describes could grow to an unbridgeable chasm. One can argue that the vanishing number of Republicans is a reflection, at least in part, of voter reaction to this governor's policies and to her lack of success at the legislature.

Seniors groups are upset. Pedestrian advocates are upset. Heck, the AARP seems upset, and there are a lot of folks in that organization who vote. 

Bush has his signing statements--he refuses to implement laws he doesn't like. Lingle just withholds funds when she disagrees with legislators. It's not much different.

I have faith that this can't go on very much longer. The intersections will be repaired, and seniors will get some relief from high drug bills. Perhaps the governor would like to assist somehow in this process.


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