Monday, September 03, 2007


Hawaii is hell for Republicans, I guess...

by Larry Geller

I feel sorry for Hawaii's Republicans. They are getting fewer and fewer, and it reHardlyThereally would be nice to have a decent opposition party. With the recent defection of Senator Mike Gabbard, Hawaii has only four (count 'em 4) Republican senators remaining. That's four out of 25.

Maybe there would be more of them if they'd stop and think for a moment about what is not working with the voters. One thing might be their endless mantra that Hawaii is bad for business. It certainly is an expensive place to do business. It's also an expensive place to live. And one reason for the latter is that it's such a good place to do business.

The theory is, of course, that if you repeat something over and over again, people may believe it. In this case, few voters are willing to buy the Republican bill of goods.

Hell to do business in?

From the Honolulu Advertiser, August 29:

State Senate Minority Leader Fred Hemmings, R-25th (Kailua, Waimanalo, Hawai'i Kai), said the Supreme Court's decision [to stop the Superferry] contradicts the law and insults the Legislature. He also blamed what he called "extreme liberals" in the environmental community.

"It's another reason why Hawai'i is a hell to do business in," Hemmings said.

Sure. The Superferry was caught trying to avoid an environmental assessment. It appears that the State may be complicit in the plot, but nevertheless, it didn't work in the end. The law seems clear and a judge has interpreted it. I'll take the judge's word on this one over Sen. Hemmings'.

Star-Bulletin reporter Dave Segal seems trapped in the Republican's frame. For his article in Sunday's paper (headlined A black eye for business) he seems to have sought out as many investors as he could. Sure, if Hawaii were an easy place to get away with what the Superferry folks tried, it would be better for investors. Bad for whales, bad for the large number of people on Neighbor Islands  who object, bad for the county councils who have objected. The Superferry was not only trying to do business in Hawaii, they wanted to give us the business  as well. Reporter Segal simply interviewed many people who shared his (?) point of view.

Imagine how well the ferry would have worked if they completed a successful environmental assessment showing that the ferry is safe for whales, etc.? Imagine if they treated the community with respect?

There are certain folks who will indeed find Hawaii a hard place to do business. And they should.

Let's break the frame

Let's examine "It's another reason why Hawai'i is a hell to do business in."

Costco is here and thriving. Their Iwilei store is their number one sales location. Wal-Mart appears to be doing well. Target and Whole Foods are on their way over. So retail is good (unless you're a local mom-and-pop, of course).

We have our share of celebrity chefs and the restaurant business looks healthy.

Tourism is tops, of course, with new hotels springing up and Kailua homeowners competing with each other to offer illegal vacation rentals. We have many firms doing exceedingly well providing goods and services to the military (some of these are also classified as our "high-tech" sector, and might not be here at all were it not for the large military presence in the state).

Our banks are obscenely profitable, coming in right at the top of the list.

With the building boom, electricians, carpenters and other trades are working long hours. Look around you at the construction cranes.

I'm told the movie business, fueled by generous tax breaks, is also booming.

So is real estate. It's amazing how many people are in the real estate biz.

Hawaii is a darn good place to do business.

Now, what do these businesses have in common? Most of them depend on exploiting the residents of these peaceful isles. We willingly pay more for food and other goods than most Mainland folks would tolerate. We are gouged at the gas pump and in the supermarket. When our "local" airlines had a chance, they socked us for the maximum fares that the market would bear.

The majority of jobs remain in tourism, low-paying, low-quality jobs not requiring an education better than our low-quality schools provide. Are hotels closing up? No, Hawaii is a great place for them to do business.

Oh, and those banks--no interest on business accounts, high credit card charges--again, you and I are making them the stars of the business firmament. They're doing well because we hand over our money to them. Even though there are non-profit credit unions in Hawaii, we feed those banks our hard-earned cash, making them richer than anyone can imagine. Are they leaving? No, Hawaii is a great place for them to do business.

If the Superferry gets going, don't count on bargain fares of course. Given the chance, they will take whatever they can get. Unlike the New York City Staten Island Ferry or the old Hong Kong ferry, the Superferry is a private company. (Did you know that the fare on the Staten Island Ferry is free? Yup. Zero.) (If I recall correctly, the Hong Kong to Macau ferry was less than $20.)

We have no model of an island economy other than exploitation. Thanks to us, business is doing better than it does on many islands, where there isn't much left to exploit. When all the guano is mined from an island, the place is abandoned and local folks have no income. That's the model. Exploit as long as you can, then leave.

Hawaii can still give both big and small business a good run.

It's not a bad place for business. The struggle here is to keep it a good place to live.

The misfits seem to be Republicans who can't stop complaining.


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