Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Factions and dealmaking at the Hawaii state legislature
With few exceptions, Senate leadership expects members to vote in line with the committee chair.
by Larry Geller (edited 3/18/2015)
The Senate will vote on the nomination of Carleton Ching as DLNR Director tomorrow, Wednesday, March 18, at 11:30 a.m.
The pull-quote above is a snip from the must-read Civil Beat article, Palace Intrigue and the Ching Confirmation Vote (Civil Beat, 3/17/2015). The pull-quote, which isn’t directly related to my topic here nor central to the Civil Beat discussion, nevertheless is a rare description of how Hawaii’s legislature really works. Yes, a legislative committee will almost always cast their votes the way a chair “recommends,” including voting for proposed amendments they haven’t even seen.
So submit all the testimony you like, what will happen is what the committee chair wants to happen.
Why that little snip is important: it illustrates a “The people be damned” attitude that can prevail in any legislative body. That’s also what the Civil Beat article describes. Voting according to factional loyalty is a thing apart from and is the antithesis of voting in the public interest.
Kaui County Councilman Gary Hooser, a former state legislator, emailed this today (snip):
The overwhelming public sentiment against the appointment, the numerous conservation and environmental organizations who are publicly opposing the appointment, the fact that both the Honolulu Star Advertiser (twice) and the Civil Beat both have also taken positions in strong opposition, combined with the blatantly obvious and extremely poor performance of the nominee - translate into the fact that there is no justifiable public policy reason to vote Yes.
If you haven’t read the Civil Beat article above, go read it now. It’s not public policy that many of the senators keep in mind when they vote—it’s which “club” they owe allegiance to.
Factions and deals
The Civil Beat article details the different factions in the Senate and how that may influence the vote tomorrow. Public policy isn’t part of it. Reporter Nathan Eagle has done a superb job of exposing the relationships that may well determine the outcome of the confirmation vote—regardless of the will of the people.
They don’t teach this stuff in any of the classes explaining how the legislative process works. (Also, please see the diagram at the end of this article for my comparison of our legislature to a Japanese feudal system of government.)
And you thought we had a functioning democracy here? Ha.In the meantime, news of “deals” being offered one way or the other have leaked in—that is, deals allegedly offered by the administration to senators in exchange for “yes” votes, or by senators to the administration, offering a “yes” vote in exchange for later support of some kind of project or for other consideration.
It seems that the alleged dealmaking has been overheard in public—in committee rooms or outside at the rail. But obviously, I can’t easily verify any reports. There’s nothing I can report here as “fact.” We expect them to vote according to the best pubic policy rather than whether, for example, just hypothetically mind you, would a school project in Kihei be given favorable treatment if the senators vote “yes” tomorrow?
Or what did Ching mean when he referred to Kawainui Marsh in his confirmation hearing? Is there a promise, hint or suggestion of development in that area which might swing the Tokuda faction mentioned in the Civil Beat article to vote in favor of his confirmation?
It’s not strange that there are no reports of deals asking for “no” votes. The public doesn’t make deals, it demands representation, among other things, of its representatives.
I posted this diagram some time ago. It shows Calvin Say as Shogun, under whom are 20 daimyo or feudal lords. Maybe some of them (such as the chair of the Finance committee) are more powerful than others, but basically, they all obey orders, mostly.
Perhaps, in light of the Civil Beat description of factions in the Senate, I could have drawn some vertical lines to divide the factions, just as they would have been divided in feudal Japan.
Under the committee chairs are all the retainers. As we now know, they vote according to what their feudal lord requests. If they don’t vote as they are told, they might as well commit suicide, because whatever they want for their constituents simply isn’t going to happen.
This worked in Japan for hundreds of years! And it appears that Hawaii has chosen to emulate that proven system of government.
Heck, what state legislature is different? Probably, they’re a lot worse. Hawaii is unusual in that you can walk in to your representative’s office and speak with staff or with the person her- or him-self. That is, if you live on Oahu. If you’re part of a Neighbor Island fief, sorry about that. Ordinary people do have strength here, if they come out and participate in person.
No matter where you live, if you have an opinion on how your senate representatives should vote on the Ching nomination, call them now—the vote is at 11:30 Wednesday. Leave a message.
Stealing Gary Hooser’s list of phone numbers:
Members of the Hawaii State Senate
Baker , Rosalyn H. 808-586-6070
Chun Oakland , Suzanne 808-586-6130
Dela Cruz , Donovan M. 808-586-6090
English , J. Kalani 808-587-7225
Espero , Will 808-586-6360
Gabbard , Mike 808-586-6830
Galuteria , Brickwood 808-586-6740
Green , Josh 808-586-9385
Harimoto , Breene 808-586-6230
Ihara , Les Jr. 808-586-6250
Inouye , Lorraine R. 808-586-7335
Kahele , Gilbert 808-586-6760
Keith-Agaran , Gilbert S.C. 808-586-7344
Kidani , Michelle N. 808-586-7100
Kim , Donna Mercado 808-587-7200
Kouchi , Ronald D. 808-586-6030
Nishihara , Clarence K. 808-586-6970
Riviere , Gil 808-586-7330
Ruderman , Russell E. 808-586-6890
Shimabukuro , Maile S.L. 808-586-7793
Slom , Sam (R) 808-586-8420
Taniguchi , Brian T. 808-586-6460
Thielen , Laura H. 808-587-8388
Tokuda , Jill N. 808-587-7215
Wakai , Glenn 808-586-8585