Friday, April 13, 2012
Legislature out of control on attacking Hawaii’s environmental protections
“If Hawaii has a series of tough environmental protection laws and a cadre of bureaucrats to enforce them, it is because we know that the free market leads to bulldozers and cement mixers at dawn. Tom Coffman, historian, author and journalist, says meddling with environmental legislation is risky. ‘Abandoning the environment, mining the irreplaceable resources, will put the Democrats of Hawaii on the wrong side of history. When the public figures it out, there will be a 1954 in reverse,’ Coffman said.”
by Larry Geller
Richard Borreca’s On Politics column is worth the cost of the newspaper subscription. It’s a pity that the Star-Advertiser keeps his writing locked away behind a paywall.
Today’s column cut right to the chase on the potential carnage that the Legislature is about to wreak this session on Hawaii’s environmental protections. It also got me thinking again that the autocratic system of lawmaking that we call our state legislature is overdue for an overhaul.
It is also seems strange to me that in Hawaii’s near-monolithic Democratic legislature, the champions of our environmental protections are Republicans.
The Legislature's strongest and most informed environmentalist is not some baby-faced, starry-eyed Democrat, fresh from college who just "wants to give back."
It is 78-year-old GOP Rep. Cynthia Thielen, a veteran environmental attorney who battled the state over the development of the H-3 freeway.
She says the Democrats "are looking at the environment as an inconvenience." She says throw out the four bills, Hawaii's environmental laws are good enough, don't exempt anything more. When asked if the legislation could be amended to compromise, Thielen flatly said, "No."
[Star-Advertiser, Isle Democrats lead charge against the environment, 4/13/2012]
I’m a great fan of Rep. Thielen. If the Legislature followed her lead, not only would our environmental laws remain intact, we’d already have alternative energy powering our coffee makers instead of burning coal, oil and incinerating garbage and paying the highest electric rates in the country.
I’m also recalling that in the House Finance hearing I attended to testify against the evil bill SB755, it was Representative Sharon Har, a Democrat, who was allowed by the Vice Chair to mount a mean-spirited and uncalled for attack on an individual testifier. It was Republican Gene Ward who raised a point of order calling on her to give it up.
While the drama was playing out in the hearing room, behind the scenes in the adjacent room, leadership had already begun decisionmaking on that and other bills.
There’s not much democracy involved. In this particular committee, the Chair simply pops out at 2 a.m. and basically instructs the committee members on how they will vote, the same as powerful chairs do on other committees. In past sessions I’ve seen Speaker Say in and out of the Finance hearings as well. It’s clear that our laws are fashioned not by the votes of the people’s representatives, but by how they are told to vote by their leadership.
Often, they are voting on proposed amendments they haven’t even seen (and won’t ever see, since the amendments go not to the committee voting but to the next committee down the line).
It’s this system of powerful leadership that is willing to cave to developers in the face of public opposition. They can do this because there are no consequences for them.
Borreca is correct in pointing out that Democrats are on the wrong side of this.
But what do they care? In the coming election, most will run unopposed.
Borreca’s article doesn’t call for reform, but I do. The ease with which our environmental protections can be set aside by decisions made not according to the public will but to satisfy special interests borders on corruption. The fight to keep our laws intact is an important one, but when will we get around to reforming a system of government that is undemocratic and unresponsive to the public will? When will we have a system that allows committee members to vote according to the testimony they have heard rather than according to the instructions of the committee chair?
And don’t get me started on conference committees, which is where SB755 and other bills end up next. Democracy has nothing to do with conference committees, which can reverse anything done in committees or in floor sessions. House and Senate leadership appoint members of the conference committees who will vote as they are told.
When will we take charge of our own state government?
For understanding how the Hawaii State Legislature works, I highly recommend YouTube "Senator Gary L. Hooser" "PUBLIC ADVOCACY #101" (9 videos total).
Good job. I think you nailed it pretty good Larry. Borreca's column hopefully will make at least a few legislators wake up and take notice. Important to remember that it only takes a few brave souls to make a diffence. I suspect several legislators want to do the right thing and are frustrated by their feeling of powerlessness. The so-called Dem dissidents combined with a few enlightened Repubs and independent Dems counted up to 20 No votes. So far, leadership on the dissident side has been dissappointing. Rep. Lee sems to be the only one willing to speak out consistently truth to power, though the others are at least voting the right way. 26 of course is the magic number. Important to remember it does not take all of the Dems to "get it" but it only takes a majority. There is hope in the Senate. They may see the truth and say to themselves WTFIUWT? Why support a divisive piece of legislation that is just plain stupid and against core Democratic Party values. The Speaker might be able to lead/force his own sheep down this very dumb path, but I cannot imagine why the Senate would follow him. After-all, it is an election year. While the Speaker might be willing to make his members vote on bad Bills that are going nowhere (read teachers and environment), I don't think the Senate will be so easily led.
I suspect the Senate will not be any better on this than the House. I think everything is lined up. The Governor and the Speaker are obviously pushing hard for this, along with Senator Donovan Delacruz and Malama Solomon in the Senate.
And how is the closed primary going to improve the situation? Some people want to believe "true Democrats" are opposed to bad development and support strong environmental legislation. But the Democratic network has always including development interests, the building trades as well as environmentalists. It is naive to think environmentalists would outnumber supporters of construction in a "pure party primary."
If the closed primary doesn't work, I guess the party can just hold disciplinary hearings against pro-development, anti-environment elected officials in order to force them to follow the party platform and resolutions?
Links to this post: