Archive for July 2010

Mrs. Heftel to Djou: No thanks

July 21, 2010

U.S. Rep. Charles Djou has gotten a “return to sender” on his proposal to name the Makiki Post Office after one of his predecessors, the late U.S. Rep. Cec Heftel.

Heftel’s widow, Rebecca Glass Heftel, objected to the idea in a sharply worded letter to Djou:

News of your initiative to name the Makiki Post Office building after my late husband, Congressman Cecil Heftel, came as a complete surprise, inasmuch as you have never communicated with me.

It would seem to be common courtesy to consult a widow on issues pertaining to her husband, and since you have chosen not to do so, I must ask you to refrain from any additional efforts in this matter.

Mrs. Heftel is said to be puzzled as to why Djou chose the Makiki Post Office, located under H-1 at Pensacola and Lunalilo, as the late congressman had no particular ties to the area; he lived mostly in Kahala and along Kalanianaole Highway in East O’ahu.

She also feels her Democratic husband and the Republican Djou are polar opposites politically and doesn’t care for any suggestion of an affinity between the two.

In a story in the Star-Advertiser Sunday, Djou said he chose Makiki because some of Heftel’s family still live in the area and that Heftel lived in the neighborhood while serving in Congress.

He said there’s a tradition of naming post offices after former members of Congress, and that the resolution is usually offered by a successor in the same district.

For instance, Djou said former U.S. Rep. Ed Case introduced a resolution to rename the Paia, Maui, post office after Patsy Mink, and Democratic U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka introduced the measure naming the Kapalama post office for Republican Hiram Fong.

Mrs. Heftel copied her letter to Hawai’i’s senior U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who is expected to be sure House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is made aware of it. Don’t expect to buy stamps anytime soon at the Cecil L. Heftel Post Office Building.

Meantime, a day after the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ripped Djou for trying to raise funds off of a little attention he’s gotten from the national media, his Democratic opponent Colleen Hanabusa is in Washington trying to do the same thing.

In a communication to supporters, she said she’s met with the Huffington Post and is trying to line up interviews with other media to counter Djou’s views on the Jones Act and other issues.

All tied to a solicitation for donations, of course.

Update: Word is that Djou’s office had contacted the Heftel children regarding his resolution and received their approval for naming the Makiki Post Office after their father and their thanks for the honor.

Mrs. Heftel issued a further statement to the effect that a wife knows her husband’s wishes best, but these appear to be family issues that need to be resolved there.

Mr. Djou conquers Washington

July 20, 2010

I received a release trumpeting a national leader of historic importance.

“Few members of Congress, let alone a freshman, have had as much impact on the national policies of our country,” it declared.

Who was this legislative wonder?  Sam Rayburn? Henry Clay? Millicent Fenwick? Tip O’Neill? Shirley Chisolm? “Fighting Bob” La Follette?

No, it was our own Charles K. Djou, according to the latest fundraising pitch in his campaign against Colleen Hanabusa to keep the seat he won in the special election to fill out Neil Abercrombie’s term.

“Despite having served for less than two months, Hawaii Congressman Charles K. Djou is influencing national policy in Washington,” said the solicitation from Team Djou. “He has rapidly become one of the most active and outspoken representatives in the U.S. today.”

All based on getting mentioned a few times in national publications.

Not to be unkind, but after working in Washington for eight years, I can think of few creatures lower on the national political food chain than a fill-in freshman congressman from the minority party representing one of the nation’s least populous states. Well, maybe the reporter assigned to cover such a congressman.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is already using the over-the-top claims as Exhibit A in a release entitled “Just Two Months In And Djou’s Already Gone Washington.” If Djou wants to be taken seriously in Washington or Honolulu, he needs to keep his copy writer on this side of reality.

In the meantime, he’s got me humming the Mary Tyler Moore theme song … Who can turn the world on with his smile?

UH sports fee wakes up students

July 18, 2010

Having grown up in the golden age of college protests, I’ve found the current student body at the University of Hawai’i to be a pretty apathetic bunch.

When protesters got national attention for taking over an administration building at Manoa a few years ago, I was on campus to speak to a class and the first 10 or so students I asked for their impressions of the protest said, “What protest?”

Apparently, it takes a raid on their wallets to get their attention; many are up in arms over the decision by the Board of Regents to stick them with a $50-per-semester fee to raise $2 million to support UH athletics.

UH sports have always been more of a community thing than a student thing, with students attending games at one of the lowest rates among the nation’s universities.

That their $50 gets them free seats in unsold nosebleed sections for games they have no interest in attending seems to be only adding insult to injury.

The money won’t go to pay coaches’ salaries, but nevertheless, it doesn’t escape their attention that a sub-.500 football coach gets more than $1 million, and we’re paying two basketball coaches next season because the last one was fired with time left on his contract for a poor record.

The depth of anger over the athletic fee among some students was reflected in an e-mail I received from one of the leaders of the opposition, who said students plan to protest by using their free admission to attend nationally televised UH football games and cheer loudly for the opposing team.

“The irony of alienating students with an undemocratic major fee, and then
handing them tickets and even free transportation to an event with major
media attention is easy to grasp, I think,” the student said.

The eyebrow-raiser is the vitriol in the suggested cheer, a rewording of the UH fight song:

Let’s go, to-day’s Visitors! Smash up the Green and White!
Break their bones and faces. Crush them with all your might.
Right! Right! Right!
Snap their fragile ankles. Infect them with disease
Then when the team is, completely cream-ed; Repeal the unfair fees!

As one of my favorite sportscasters Dick Enberg says, “Oh, my.”

flASHback alert

July 17, 2010

Today’s “flASHback” column in the Star-Advertiser: “Hannemann and Manahan make good-sounding ticket”

Carlisle gets SHOPO’ed

July 16, 2010

The police union SHOPO’s endorsement of Kirk Caldwell for mayor is a blow to city Prosecutor Peter Carlise, the assumed frontrunner in the September special election to replace Mufi Hannemann after he resigns to run for governor.

Carlisle’s main asset is his popularity as a law enforcer during his 14 years as prosecutors, and voters will naturally wonder why he didn’t get the nod from police officers.

Also expect some grousing about Carlisle’s management style to start coming out of the prosecutor’s office as soon as he steps down to enter the mayor’s race.

The apparent strategy from the Caldwell side is to keep Carlisle busy defending his record as prosecutor before he can even get started outlining what he’d do as mayor.

Carlisle has been perceived as a good friend to police and it remains to be seen how the endorsement will play with the rank and file, but the union leadership is politically close to Hannemann, who wants his managing director Caldwell to succeed him.

Carlisle’s early advantage is far greater name recognition and familiarity to voters. Caldwell is a former House majority leader, but didn’t leave much of a footprint there. As managing director, he’s mostly been seen grinning in the background at Hannemann appearances.

But he’s piling up endorsements from Hannemann allies and building a big lead in campaign donations to pay for a major media blitz — much of it coming from the same rail vendors and other city contractors who are fueling Hannemann’s campaign for governor.

Caldwell will have two months to build visibility as acting mayor after Hannemann resigns next week, and it doesn’t hurt that his wife, banker Donna Tanoue, is a longtime associate of senior Sen. Daniel Inouye.

City Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz and rail opponent Panos Prevedouros are also mounting energetic campaigns for mayor, but it’s uncertain if either has broad enough support to challenge the big two.

A timely idea on the homeless

July 15, 2010

You never know where an excellent idea might come from, but I applaud Reps. Tom Brower, John Mizuno and Rida Cabanilla for their renewed push to create “safe zones” for homeless campers evicted from parks and beaches.

We can’t keep telling the homeless where they can’t be without providing someplace they can be.

According to the Star-Advertiser, Brower, Mizuno and Cabanilla figure an outdoor safe area with restrooms and lockers to store belongings would cost $100,000 — less if the state solicited private donations.

It’s a small fraction of what brick-and-mortar shelters cost, and would have a better chance of attracting the hardcore homeless who won’t go to shelters because they don’t like the rules and restrictions on their movements.

If there was a safe place for them to go to, we could crack down hard on campers in inappropriate places such as Kapiolani Park with a clear conscience.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann said he would support the idea if there were enforceable rules to prevent threats to the public health and safety. The safe zones could dovetail with the mayor’s newly announced plan to clean up homeless camping in public spaces.

Safe zones are by no means the long-term solution to homelessness, but they would ease some of the current tension and make it easier for agencies to help those in need while we work on the underlying causes.

A resolution to explore safe zones passed the House last session, but was opposed by the Lingle administration and didn’t get a hearing in the Senate.

“We have to do something,” Brower said. “This is a time to look at ideas because there are no easy solutions.”

Legislators scheduled a briefing on Hawaii’s “chronically homeless” at 10 a.m. Thursday in Capitol Conference Room 325.

Politics by cheap attack

July 13, 2010

In a continuing attempt to discourage organized anonymous attack politics, I’ve been checking on a new group that’s popped up on Facebook called “Hawaii Residents Against Mufi.”

It’s run by an anonymous creator who goes by the alias “Anyone But Mufi” and says it’s “dedicated to preventing Mufi Hannemann from becoming Governor in 2010.”

It has 17 members, including state Republican chairman Jonah Kaauwai.

I sent the following message to the anonymous creator: “Would you please let me know your name so I can interview you about your ‘Hawaii Residents Against Mufi’ page and how you justify this anonymous character assassination that is dragging down politics in Hawai’i. How is this different from the Atomic Monkey site that the Hannemann campaign is taking heat for? If you want to take a stand, fine, but why not have the spine to back it up with your name?”

I received a response that refused to give give the creator’s name, saying, “This is strictly an opinionated page. If Mufi found out my real identity, he would bully around and make sure that no one would hire me for future employment.”

That’s the same lame excuse I used to get when I tried to track down similar anonymous anti-Hannemann sites during the 2008 mayoral race and transit referendum.

So I queried Kaauwai through the Republican Party, asking, “Could you please tell me who ‘Anyone But Mufi’ is so I can interview him? I’d also be interested to know how you justify lending your support to these anonymous attack sites that are degrading politics in Hawai’i? Is there any reason you shouldn’t be subject to the same criticism Hannemann chair Dean Okimoto got for being a fan of the Atomic Monkey group? Does your association with ‘Anyone But Mufi’ mean Neil (Abercrombie) can claim you as a supporter in the primary?”

Kaauwai didn’t answer me, but posted a query on the group asking, “Chris aren’t you the author and administrator of this group? Why have you gone anonymous?”

Kaauwai went on to post a video of himself warning that HB 444 will resurface next year unless more Republicans are elected to Legislature.

These anonymous sites reach few people, preach mostly to the converted and have yet to have much impact on the outcome of elections, but it’s a dishonorable form of politicking that warrants vigilant scrutiny.

Update: I received a reply from Jonah Kaauwai, who said he joined the group at the invitation of an individual he knew and assumed was named as the creator of the site.

He said he’s made inquiries about who created the site and why it was taken anonymous, which he considers “cowardly,” and will leave the group if the creator remains anonymous.

Some candidates for governor we can like

July 13, 2010

Surprise, they’re the three leading contenders we already have — James “Duke” Aiona, Mufi Hannemann and Neil Abercrombie.

So says David Thielen (son of Cynthia, brother of Laura), a Hawaii ex-pat now living in Colorado who did interviews with the three candidates for the Huffington Post that are interesting reading and listening.

Distance often has the advantage of perspective, and the perspective Thielen brings is that he finds a lot to like about all three candidates. We here in Hawaii who are bombarded by the daily give and take often see only things to dislike.

I found it telling that people with loyalties to the different campaigns suggested  I check out these interviews. They all thought their guys came across well, and they mostly did.

Thielen can be a little wide-eyed, but if you don’t like his summaries of the interviews, he provides links to the recordings so you can listen to the candidates for yourself.

All in all, a good way to get an early take on the substance of these men who seek to guide our future — and to start raising the political discourse to a higher level.

Mufi’s Rock ‘n Rollman

July 12, 2010

Keith Rollman has been a shadowy figure in local politics for much of the last 25 years, a behind-the-scenes operator whose job is to draw attention to his candidate, not himself.

He worked mostly for Republican candidates before hooking up with Mufi Hannemann’s mayoral campaign in 2004, and when he’s surfaced publicly in the political arena, it’s usually been to be accused of negative campaigning.

His flair for the negative has now made Rollman a highly visible issue in the increasingly bitter governor’s race between Hannemann and Neil Abercrombie after the Hannemann campaign admitted that Rollman was responsible for the Atomic Monkey website that made crude anonymous attacks on Abercrombie.

The attention that has forced Rollman out from behind the dark glasses he favors is feeding much online speculation about him, some of it fair and some not. Here’s a profile intended to help answer the question buzzing around the Hawaii political world: Whodaguy?

Rollman currently works as a high-level information technology adviser in the city administration and is a self-described “volunteer” in Hannemann’s campaign for governor.

He insists he created his Abercrombie parody website on his own time, used no city equipment and that Atomic Monkey had no official connection to the Hannemann campaign, which asked him to take it down.

Rollman’s assertion in a KITV interview that “the campaign didn’t know anything about it” raised eyebrows since Dean Okimoto, Hannemann campaign chairman, was a “fan” of Atomic Monkey on its now-defunct Facebook page, as were other officials in the campaign and city administration.

Arguments over what’s city time and what’s personal time can get to be hair-splitting when it involves a salaried city employee and mayoral confidant like Rollman, who was a paid consultant to the 2004 Hannemann campaign before taking an $85,000 city job after Hannemann defeated Duke Bainum.

He claims a close personal and professional relationship with Hannemann that extends beyond what you would expect between a chief executive and the No. 2 guy in the IT department. Rollman said in a post on Ian Lind’s blog: “Mayor Hannemann is not just my boss he’s my friend. That relationship is based on 8 years of working closely on a near daily basis.”

Critics argue that between his job and personal relationship, everything he does in the political arena reflects on the mayor.

The Atomic Monkey website was registered under the fictitious name of “Bob Wiesel.” By acknowledging that it was Rollman, the Hannemann campaign potentially linked Rollman to further online attacks on Abercrombie and other Hannemann rivals.

A multitude of aliases tied to “Bob Wiesel” or variants such as “Robert Wiesel,” “Bob W” or “rwiesel” have been active in numerous online forums advancing the administration’s views or bashing the mayor’s critics.

On the Volcanic Ash blog, at least a half-dozen aliases registered to a “Wiesel” e-mail address have been used to post comments.

At one time, they came mostly from the city hall IP address, honolulu.gov, and were often posted during normal working hours. More recently, they have avoided work hours and have come from non-city IPs.

“Bob Wiesel” addressed this in a post on the Hawaii Free Press: “Blog participation at City Hall tapered off after Dave Shapiro started publishing IP addresses in an attempt to suppress his critics. Several individuals at City Hall asked Charles Totto (ethics commission) for a reading on whether it was ‘against the rules’ to participate during our lunch hour, breaks etc. He recommended that we play it safe and just not do it at all from the city network and it pretty much stopped at that point.”

Rollman has defended Atomic Monkey as an expression of his sense of humor, and the few examples that are still around after the website was taken down depict some pretty nasty bite, such as a picture of Abercrombie’s face transposed on the head of a pig.

“Bob Wiesel” said in the Hawaii Free Press post that Atomic Monkey proudly calls Abercrombie a “flailing gasbag,” and conceded applying a description of a “witch” to Abercrombie’s wife, Nancie Caraway, because she’s a feminist.

Abercrombie isn’t the only Hannemann rival who’s been a target of the “Wiesel” venom in online forums.

In one noteworthy example, the Twitter account @Polystalker registered to “Robert Wiesel” had this to say shortly after the tragic death of Duke Bainum: “Now that the phony, over-blown eulogies are dying down…wasn’t Duke Bainum sort of a carpetbagging dilettante?”

The concern is that such anonymous character assassinations reduce political campaigns to the intellectual level of the locker room interviews on professional wrestling shows. Partisans of other campaigns are guilty of the same thing, but when the Hannemann camp is seen as giving more than it gets, it runs the risk of enhancing a reputation for bullying.

In a post on the Hawaii Reporter website, Rollman once described himself as “a marginal Republican working for the moderate Democrat (and fiscally conservative) Mayor Mufi Hannemann, and loving every minute of it.”

A professional colleague described Rollman this way: “In social settings, a nice guy … pleasant and personable … but when it comes to politics, he turns Dr. Hyde, with a very, very nasty streak. Takes great delight in embarrassing opposing politicians … almost nothing out-of-bounds.”

Rollman defends his rough-and-tumble style with a quote that originated with Lenin and was passed to him by his Hawaii political mentor, saying “Frank Fasi taught me that an unchallenged lie becomes the truth.”

The persistent criticism has been that the Hannemann group regards any honest disagreement with its own views as a “lie.”

Rollman came to Hawaii with his military family in 1968 and stayed to attend the University of Hawaii when the family redeployed.

He first made a name for himself as a political consultant working in Fasi’s mayoral campaigns; Hawaii Business credited Rollman for the “negative campaigning” in 1984 that helped Fasi make a comeback as a Republican convert and regain the city’s top job from Eileen Anderson, who had taken it from him four years earlier.

In 1994, Rollman stuck with the Republicans and their candidate for governor Pat Saiki as media adviser when Fasi left the GOP and ran a third-party campaign against Saiki and Democrat Ben Cayetano.

In that race, Hawaii Business said Rollman’s negative style that had helped Fasi may have backfired when employed on Saiki’s behalf.

The magazine’s analysis said, “The (negative) strategy resurfaced this year, with Saiki commercials portraying Fasi as a shakedown artist. In this year’s race, though, the result by early September was that Saiki had engaged Fasi in a mudslinging battle, with Ben Cayetano above the fray.” Saiki, who started the campaign with a big lead in the polls, ended up finishing third.

Rollman backed Republican Orson Swindle’s campaign to unseat Abercrombie from Congress. Swindle ran campaign ads that featured unflattering images of a younger Abercrombie sporting longer hair and a bushier beard — a theme that would later reappear in Atomic Monkey.

Rollman was quoted as a media adviser for Peter Carlisle when he first won the city prosecutor’s job in 1996 and for Republican Gene Ward in his 1998 run against Abercrombie, of whom Rollman has said, “I have known and disliked Neil Abercrombie since before Mufi Hannemann was out of high school.”

In the late 1990s, Rollman relocated to Austin for several years, saying in a later interview that he went to Texas to “immerse” himself in technology.

Rollman re-emerged in Hawaii in 2000 when he established Hawaii Ventures Corp., which Pacific Business News described as “a new Web-based venture, showcasing Hawaii’s high-tech companies to potential investors and customers in the booming Houston area.”

The listing for Rollman and Hawaii Ventures on the online business network Spoke listed Mufi Hannemann as a vice president, but didn’t specify the role or whether it was a paid position.

Rollman initially commuted between Hawaii and Texas, but returned to Hawaii for good in 2001 to continue his online venture and take a job as vice president for technology services with McNeil Wilson Communications, which is the Hannemann campaign’s current public relations agency.

Technology was the rage in 2001 and Rollman landed with a splash upon his return. Honolulu Weekly described him as an “example of the kind of talent Hawai‘i needs to retain” and Hawaii Business featured him in an article called “Cyberspace Cowboy.”

The Weekly reported that while in Texas, Rollman helped launch an Internet startup called Living.com that “grew from one to 370 employees in less than a year.” The venture now appears defunct, with the domain name held by a food blog.

Hawaii Business said of Rollman’s local venture, “Although he wouldn’t reveal any revenue figures, Rollman does say that HawaiiVentures.com started turning a profit almost from the start, and he now earns more than he did as a high-level executive at a large Internet startup.” HawaiiVentures.com also appears currently defunct with its domain name being offered for sale.

Within a few years of his return to Hawaii, Rollman was shifting his attention back to politics. The Spoke listing said he did a stint as chief of staff for former state Sen. Melodie Aduja, and Rollman became a paid media consultant to Hannemann’s 2004 campaign for mayor. Ian Lind posted Campaign Spending Commission records indicating he received payments from the campaign of about $75,000.

After Hannemann narrowly beat Bainum, he hired Rollman to an $85,000-a-year job in February 2005 as director of the city Office of Economic Development, an appointment that was sharply criticized by Pacific Business News.

PBN said in an editorial: “Rollman has bounced around in a variety of tech jobs over the past decade and served as a media adviser to Hannemann’s campaign. Since he has no apparent experience in economic development, Rollman’s appointment to an $85,000 job seems to us a business-as-usual payback to a campaign worker. We expected better of Hannemann.”

The assignment didn’t last long; in May 2005, Hannemann shifted Rollman to the job he still holds as special adviser in the city’s Department of Information Technology.

Since joining the city, Rollman’s few appearances in the news have been more about politics than computers. He was accused in the 2008 mayoral campaign of posting a derogatory website about Hannemann opponent Panos Prevedouros. Rollman strongly denied any ties to the website.

This year, he was in the middle of a dispute over the Hannemann campaign’s allegedly high-handed behavior at the state Democratic convention, which caused party chairman Dante Carpenter to rebuke the mayor.

Rollman, who was a delegate to the convention, posted a stinging retort to Carpenter on this blog: “There is little tolerance for any ‘Democrat’ not willing to tow the liberal mantra of the Neil Abercrombie zealots who have taken over the party. What used to be the ‘big tent’ is now a rather ingrown clique with some very radical views. I don’t think they represent the more patriotic AJA Democrats I know, the typical union workers or a majority of the more moderate and independent individuals who still consider themselves Democrats. To quote an old adage…we didn’t leave the party, the party left us.”

More than a few Democrats found it cheeky for a guy who spent all those years working to elect Republicans to present himself as the voice of old-line Democrats.

Expect to hear more from Keith Rollman and “Bob Wiesel” as the campaign pushes on. Whether by design or happenstance, Rollman appears to have taken on the role in the Hannemann administration and campaign of trolling online forums to smack down “lies” — and to plant shots at the opposition along the way.

flASHback alert

July 10, 2010

Today’s “flASHback” column in the Star-Advertiser: “On civil unions, Neil’s a yes, Duke’s a no, Mufi’s a show.”


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