Wednesday, January 16, 2013

 

From a neighbor island “cesspool” to state government quicksand


by Larry Geller

Gary Hooser will be on Oahu today to lead a demonstration at the State Capitol scheduled to start at 9:30 (march from UH starting at 8:30). Can’t keep a dedicated guy down, it looks like.

Gary currently occupies a seat on the Kauai County Council, but he knows that the action needs to be here on Oahu. Gary is the former executive director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control and is wasting no time re-engaging. Today is the opening day of the 2013 legislative session. The fireworks will be inside, not outside, the State Capitol building.

Fireworks aside, trying to get the PLDC law repealed against the opposition of the Abercrombie administration and key legislators will be like fighting a battle in quicksand. Stand still and you go down. Supporters have money and resources, but a strong enough public outcry could move a repeal action forward. Today’s demonstration will need to be more than a one-off effort.

I thought I would check on what is going on over there on Kauai, where Hooser is based. It’s so easy to remain myopically focused on shenanigans in that one building over on Beretania Street. We on Oahu generally have no view whatsoever of the Neighbor Islands. To connect, one needs to check out the websites of Neighbor Island newspapers and blogs.

So clicking over to Andy Parx’ Got Windmills? I did get a picture of the Kauai Council, and it’s not pretty. Andy pulls no punches:

The swirling cesspool of sexual harassment that is the government of County of Kaua`i has made filing lawsuits into a cottage industry.

Check out his article (and blog) if this grabs your interest. So I did learn about the cesspool milieu in which Gary must swim. But that’s an interesting word. It means environment. And that’s the battle that starts today at 9:30 and might most usefully end in the repeal of the despised PLDC law and perhaps reform of the legislative process that permitted its passage in the first place.

[Curiously enough, Andy’s article is about deck chairs on the Titanic, and the example quote in the web definition of milieu includes this: “Theirs was a bohemian milieu in which people often played romantic musical chairs. —Edmund White, New York Review of Books, 12 Feb. 2009.” And the power in the House has shifted as leadership has rearranged who occupies what chair this session… could the legislative gestalt this year be something about “chairs?”]

Andy also pays far more attention to situations on Oahu than anyone here pays to whatever happens on Kauai. Picking up on an earlier writing, Andy describes the failures of oversight agencies over here. A snip:

The interview with Ombudsman Robin Matsunaga is a case study in how oversight agencies shouldn't work. It describes how they quietly nudge the offenders until they are on the verge of being exposed and then allow them to quietly comply.

It's what allows abuse of process to continue unabated. Knowing there are no consequences to misbehavior encourage that misbehavior to continue.

The offenders know they can offend and offend and offend and if one case finally gets so bad they are about to be exposed they can just say "okay- we'll comply in this one case but we'll never change our attitude toward compliance with the rules or law." This rewards abuse of those the offending agency is supposed to serve but is, rather, ignoring.

Disappeared News has chronicled the ongoing failure of the Ethics Commission to enforce laws that require state legislators (among others) to file accurate financial reports. While gaining compliance has some value (as in the case of Sen. Hee’s repeated incorrect filings), other filings have been allowed to simply slide by. Where are the fines, the messages that it’s really not ok for legislators to ignore the disclosure laws?

As we go into the start of a new session, with a new Shogun taking one of the most powerful offices in the state, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, lawmakers remain above the law themselves. Legislative oversight remains weak or absent. Nothing new in terms of ethics or lack thereof.

While I’m on the subject of Kauai, the state-wide battle over the PLDC is mirrored in a small but important way in another struggle there against Pierre Omidyar's plan to develop luxury housing on the bluff above Hanalei Bay. Joan Conrow reports on how documents designating that area as a “green belt” have gone missing.

Here on Oahu, our view of the Omidyars is different. Here, Pierre funds Civil Beat and he and his wife Pam are known for their philanthropic good works. Check out KauaiEclectic for a different perspective.  Google will unearth the background to this particular controversy that has been all but invisible on this side of the pond.

So yes, there is political life on Kauai (as well as the other Neighbor Islands). But back to Oahu.

When the Legislature sorts itself out, it will be overload as usual. The number of bills introduced assures that hijinks will continue—more gut-and-replace, more stealth moves to pass bills without public scrutiny. We need to have repeats of the demonstrations scheduled for today. We need democracy in our state government. We need ethics. We need representation. Or not, it will depend on whether there is continued citizen pressure applied for reform, and what the response will be from younger and newly-elected senators and representatives.

On the other side, huge piles of money are being stockpiled to influence state legislators this session:

Richard Borecca reported (Jan 13, 2013):

At the same time, lobbyists influential with the Abercrombie administration, including John Radcliffe and William Kaneko, are putting together a “2013 Thought Leaders Conference” to run the day before the Legislature opens.

Not reported is that Radcliffe is rumored to have a budget of at least $50,000 to lobby for gambling this session, given that incoming Speaker Joe Souki has supported allowing gambling in the state. He will have the backing of his “thought leaders” while gambling opponents will scramble to re-ignite opposition among those who fought this evil years ago and assumed the issue had safely cooled down.

Other battle lines are being drawn. For example, monstrously big wind farms on Neighbor Islands which advocates see as prostituting their environment to supply electrical power to Oahu have polarized advocates. This session is likely to make decisive moves in one direction or the other.

And finally, reformers want to see major changes in how the Legislature operates. Can they motivate enough people to make this happen? In the past, ethics bills seldom, if ever, even managed to be heard.

All this and more could make 2013 one of the most contentious sessions in many years.



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