Thursday, February 18, 2010


Corporate opportunity tonight at S. Andrew’s priory

by Larry Geller

Important things, good or bad, often begin in the House Judiciary Committee, and they are often introduced by its chair, Jon Riki Karamatsu, (D-41st, Waipahu, Village Park, Waikele). His position clearly gives him great influence.

Tonight, Karamatsu is holding a fundraiser during the legislative session, even as bills come up before him for decision. He’s holding it in town. This gives others a chance to influence his influence. Who might those others be?

Fundraiser tweetHere’s his Tweet, sent from his Facebook page. St. Andrew’s Priory is right across the street from the State Capitol. It is nowhere near Waipahu, Village Park, or Waikele. Will his constituents fight traffic to be with him tonight? Not many, you’d think.

WaikeleSo like some other legislators (he’s far from alone), the fundraiser is to be held at a place convenient to lobbyists and business interests who may want to buy influence. They just have to walk over, no fighting traffic for them.

It’s not like there are no good restaurants in Waikele or Waipahu. The map above shows a flock of them. But will high-powered lobbyists or corporate representatives travel all the way to Waikele? Only if they or their spouse have some shopping to do.

Hey, these days corporations are persons, and the Supreme Court says that when they spend money it is free speech. Stockholders want the speech to be purposeful, or they wouldn’t pay for it, right? If their money wasn’t buying anything, it wouldn’t be spent.

What kind of businesses would want to influence Karamatsu tonight? Let’s look at some bills that have come before his committee, just a few.

Non-smokers can continue to breathe easy. A bill that would have allowed bars to get a permit to allow smoking was extinguished Tuesday at the State Capitol.

The State Department of Health, American Lung Association, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and other health groups spoke out against the bill.  [, Lawmaker crushes smoking bill, 2/9/2010]

The bill was killed in the next committee by Rep. Bob Herkes, normally a business friendly kind of guy. But Karamatsu remained faithful to his constituents corporate friends:

"We might have to tighten up some of the language next time around," said Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, who introduced the bill.

Ok, he introduced a bill favoring tobacco interests. Let’s move on.

House Bill 2251, which would establish a gaming commission to oversee casino gaming, has a hearing before the House Consumer Protection & Commerce Committee and the House Judiciary Committee Thursday afternoon at the Capitol.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, a Democrat who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee. [Pacific Business News, Legislature considers legalized gaming, 2/4/2010]

Ok, he not only supports smoking but gambling. He introduced both bills.

Moving on to another bill introduced by Karamatsu:

The bill would have permitted people and businesses who competitively bid for government contracts to make campaign contributions. It would have still been illegal for no-bid contractors to make contributions.

"What we're saying is, let competitive bidders be allowed to participate in the political process," said Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, the bill's sponsor and chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Karamatsu, D-Waipahu-Waikele, is considering a run for lieutenant governor. [AP, Loosened Hawaii campaign contribution bill fails, 2/11/2010]

The passage of the campaign contribution bill illustrates the power of a committee chair in Hawaii’s legislature—only one member of his committee dared vote against that bill, yet when the entire House voted to recommit, it was unanimous.

On balance, here is a bill he introduced which is constituent-friendly:

The ingredients in entrees served at restaurants across the state are the target of new legislation at Hawaii's Capitol. Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu is spearheading a food allergy bill that would require restaurants to post guidelines informing staff of food allergies and their... [World News, Bill Looks At Food Allergy Awareness, 2/8/2010]

Smoking, gambling, payola—business-friendly bills introduced by a committee chair with the power to push them along (though not so amazingly, they often are stopped later on).

Holding fundraisers during session is part of the problem. Holding them in town instead of in the district the legislator represents is an obvious play for corporate money, which comes with corporate strings attached.


Jon Tiki's during-session fundraisers used to be characterized by all the old-time political hacks, ambitious college students, and legislators who used to be ambitious college students, oh and lots of alcohol. and they were never held at churches, but in places where the alcohol flowed.

To be fair, it should be noted that JRK is running for LG this time, not for re-election to the Waikele House seat. LG is a statewide seat and his fundraiser is in Hawaii, so I think the argument that "downtown is the wrong locale" is weak(ened).

Weakened perhaps a little. Of course, if running for LG, it is important to give the lobbyists and corporate supporters first crack at you. He is supposed to represent his constituents at least through the end of the session, not tobacco, gambling and other corporate interests.

His remark about fixing up the smoking bill "next round" has nothing to do with a run for LG but everything about the interests of constituents vs. big business.

Did his plan to run for Lieutenant Governor influence his embarrasing push last session to blow the lid off of corporate campaign contributions? Or his bill to allow contractors to contribute this session, which was soundly rebuffed by the entire House?

Do check out his blog. In addition to meetings (and, unusually, regularly noting on his blog such meetings) with numerous corporate/union constituencies, he has been pressing the flesh at a bajillion community functions for months. Furthermore, he has this bizarre notion that keeping a tally of thousands of these interactions is worthwhile, too. He'll have the last laugh if he wins, but for now it all seems ridiculous to me.

Yes, his blog is an awesome thing, in several ways. Anyone who has read this far down in the comments might want to check it out and form their own opinion.

Now, we do want to know who or whom President Obama meets with, and some (amost all?) of that information is now released to the public, but Jon Riki?? But there are other interesting aspects of his blogging. Anyway, it's worth a visit to learn about him.

Sorry, wrong link to his blog. The correct one is here. Note the date headline of the most recent post.

Also, he writes that he greets people, but so what... that's one reason why I don't know what to make of the blog. Is greeting thousands of people a good thing, or should one greet less, maybe, and represent their interests a bit more? If some other candidate "greets" more or fewer people than he has, is that a good thing?

Is greeting a good thing?

Depends if your metric is "good government" or "getting elected." Not necessarily congruent notions.

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