Archive for September 2010

A negative wind in Aiona vs. Abercrombie

September 29, 2010

The contest for governor between Duke Aiona and Neil Abercrombie has turned negative, but in an ever-so-gentle manner.

The Republican Governors Association has been running a series of “Rise & Shine Hawaii” TV spots presenting positive views of Aiona’s positions on education and other issues.

The RGA’s latest ad goes negative for the first time, but I have to say it’s the nicest negative ad I’ve ever seen.

It starts out expressing appreciation for the Democrat Abercrombie’s 35 years in politics, showing a picture of him in his Sunday best with his blue blazer and neatly trimmed hair and beard.

The announcer goes on, “We appreciate his service, but not how he’s voted. Abercrombie voted for higher taxes on Hawai‘i families, the bailout, failed stimulus — bonuses for Wall Street executives.”

Cut to somewhat grungier picture of the former congressman and the question: “In this economy, Mr. Abercrombie?”

Then comes a picture of a beatific looking Aiona and the announcer’s soothing assurance: “Fortunately, Hawaii has a choice we can afford. Duke Aiona will oppose tax increases and create jobs. A smart, independent leader. Duke Aiona for governor.”

Very mild as far as negative ads go, and a clear sign of the sensitivity to negative advertising in the race after the huge backfire of Mufi Hannemann’s “Compare and Decide” in the primary.

It reminds me of advice in the book “Etiquette for Outlaws” on what to do if you feel a bout of flatulence coming on while at a party. The advice is to find somewhere semi-private to cut a test fart, see how bad it smells and gauge from that if it’s safe to let loose back in mixed company.

This ad was the political equivalent of a test fart to see how much negativity the electorate will tolerate, and it’ll be ramped up until blowback is encountered.


Neighborhood board bully boys need reining in

September 29, 2010

The boorish behavior by some O’ahu residents at neighborhood board meetings is getting tiresome and making us look like a community of bullying loudmouths who think high volume substitutes for reason.

Last night, a meeting of the North Shore Neighborhood Board on D.G. “Andy” Anderson’s proposal to replicate the 80-unit Haleiwa Hotel was cut short after opponents disrupted the meeting and wouldn’t allow the other side to speak.

Anderson was verbally assaulted before the meeting even started and the chairman gaveled the meeting to a close after a leading opponent grabbed the microphone out of turn and refused to give it up.

This follows the Neighborhood Commission’s July suspension of a member of the Makakilo/ Kapolei/Honokai Hale Neighborhood Board for 30 days for disruptive behavior. The commission ordered a review of the entire board regarding problems with decorum.

The Ewa Neighborhood Board was also hit with a 60-day suspension while members received training for order and decorum.

In my own back yard, some Kailua residents seem to be getting cranked up to a high emotional pitch over plans it to build a Target at the Don Quijote site.

The neighborhood board system was intended as an orderly and respectful forum for residents to have a say on issues that shape their communities.

If board meetings are going to become places where bullies get away with acting  like asses, the system is no longer of much value and needs to be either restored to civility or dismantled.

The feds have a place in our schools

September 28, 2010

A lot of critics resent federal education initiatives like “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top,” feeling public schools are a local responsibility and the feds should butt out.

I disagree.

An educated population is as much a matter of compelling national interest as a strong economy, and when schools in Hawai‘i and other states fail to meet reasonable standards, the U.S. government has every right to take an interest.

President Barack Obama said yesterday in defense of his education policy, “Whether jobs are created here, high-end jobs that support families and support the future of the American people, is going to depend on whether or not we can do something about these schools.”

Hawai‘i’s statewide school system has always resisted local reform initiatives, and as a practical matter, the Bush administration’s “No Child Left Behind” — for all its faults — has been primarily responsible for what little gains we’ve made in the last five years in improving student achievement in reading and math.

The $75 million we’re set to receive under the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” is a drop in the bucket in terms of our overall education budget, but it’s inspired one of Hawai‘i’s most ambitious school reform initiatives under new Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi.

And if local administrators succeed in achieving the key goal — getting unions representing teachers and principals to finally accept tougher performance standards — it’ll likely be because of the pressure of federal oversight.


Education was on my mind because yesterday was Grandparents Day at Voyager School, and I always come away from that event with fresh ideas:

Last year, Sloane presented her plan for reorganizing the Department of Education.

It was Kaylee's turn this year, and she offered her ideas for putting teeth in the school curriculum.

Another debate about debates II

September 27, 2010

I tried last week to give Duke Aiona my best advice not to start a debate about debates against Neil Abercrombie, but he wouldn’t be denied and it put a bit of tarnish on what was otherwise a good week for the Republican candidate for governor.

The Democrat Abercrombie took the week off to recharge his batteries from his grueling primary race against Mufi Hannemann, and Aiona took advantage of it with a series of news conferences to spotlight his proposals for jobs and the economy, energy, agriculture, the environment, transportation and health care.

Abercrombie had earlier released all of his policy initiatives at once in a 45-page booklet called “A New Day in Hawaii” and was disappointed in the news coverage it got; Aiona got better media attention by spreading it over several events.

But he distracted attention from his substantive proposals by using each occasion to carp at Abercrombie for not accepting his proposal for six televised debates, making that the story — and not necessarily a favorable one for the lieutenant governor.

KITV reported that Aiona seemed clueless about his campaign’s negotiations for a debate on that station that he ultimately agreed to.

And the Maui News chided him in an editorial for accusing Abercrombie of ducking debates after himself refusing to debate his primary opponent John Carroll and ducking joint appearances with Abercrombie and Hannemann.

“It is a little disingenuous to demand that Abercrombie debate him now when Aiona ducked opportunities to do so earlier. His caginess in the primaries is coming back to bite him now,” the editorial said.

But Aiona persisted, and looked a little silly by insisting “he’s ducking, he’s definitely ducking” the same day it was revealed that both candidates had accepted through the normal channels three televised debates and three other joint appearances, with more still on the table.

In a side angle to the debate fracas, Hawaii News Now appears shut out of the gubernatorial debates for the general after all sides complained that its primary debates lacked dignity, with raucus audience participation, “lightning rounds” and an overly busy format that seemed intended to spotlight news personalities as much as the candidates.

Aiona conditionally accepted the HNN debate, but not before complaining to Star-Advertiser reporter Derrick DePledge about the format, saying, “This is not a circus. It’s not entertainment.”

Spokesman Jim McCoy said Abercrombie turned down HNN and KHON mainly because he appeared in their debates in the primary and wanted to be fair and give KITV and PBS Hawaii a chance in the general.

But McCoy said the HNN format was a factor after both the Abercrombie and Hannemann camps were unhappy with the primary debate in which both candidates were heckled by supporters of the other and felt they were given too little time to answer questions.

“During pre primary debate discussions, both the Abercrombie and Hannemann campaigns opposed the ‘lightning round’ aspect, but the station wouldn’t give it up,” McCoy said. “The station stuck to its guns, saying lightning rounds and studio audiences liven a debate, but I recall both our side and Mufi’s side saying it will be lively given who the participants were.

“There were also tug of wars over time allotted  for answers, and you saw the results; candidates were cut off in mid sentence due to the red light going off.”

flASHback alert

September 25, 2010

Today’s “flASHback” column in the Star-Advertiser: “Carlisle in the courtyard, lots of legislators laid off.”

Candidates to voters: Take my wife … please

September 24, 2010

U.S. Rep. Charles Djou is the latest local pol to trot out his spouse to smite his foes, with his new TV spot featuring his attorney wife Stacey taking opponent Colleen Hanabusa and her supporters to task for besmirching her husband and the family name.

The Republican Djou is following several Democrats who preceded him down this path in the current election cycle — and he should take note that they all lost.

Ed Case, who finished third behind Djou and Hanabusa in the special election for the seat that Djou holds, was seldom pictured in campaign ads without his wife Audrey, and she got a TV spot of her own sticking up for her husband at the end of the campaign.

When Mufi Hannemann came under fire for a mailer that seemed to attack opponent Neil Abercrombie’s wife, Hannemann’s wife Gail shot a TV spot defending her man.

Kirk Caldwell mentioned his wife Donna Tanoue so often and featured her so prominently in his campaign literature that you would have thought she was the co-candidate.

The usual reason given for the tactic beyond ethnic appeal is to show the candidate’s softer side. But some of these guys need toughening more than softening, in my opinion, and having their wives fight their battles for them can backfire and make them look like wimps.

I’ve never seen the wife card played to this extent in any other market. Does anybody see an advantage that I’m missing to this Henny Youngman school of politics?

Don’t make city hall a Ronald McMayor House

September 23, 2010

Peter Carlisle’s tenure as Mayor-elect is certainly off to an interesting start.

He raised a few eyebrows yesterday by naming Douglas Chin, his former first deputy city prosecutor, to be managing director, responsible for running the day-to-day operations of the city.

There are concerns about having two people at the top of city government with no experience in nuts-and-bolts operations, but I believe a chief executive should have latitude in choosing his No. 2 and withhold judgment until there’s more information about Chin and the qualities he brings to the job.

I’m not withholding judgment on the bizarre joint press conference Carlisle and acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell held at Honolulu Hale; I’m totally baffled as to why they called it.

It was supposed to show that there’ll be a smooth transition until Carlisle is sworn in Oct. 8, but before the press conference ended, they argued about where Carlisle’s transition office will be, whether he can start moving his stuff into the mayor’s office before his swearing-in and the disciplining of a secretary who showed him around.

Carlisle could be seen rolling his eyes in the background as Caldwell spoke. Didn’t they talk things over before assembling the media?

In the end, Carlisle turned down Caldwell’s offer of transition office space, saying it “reeked of asbestos.” Instead, he set up camp on folding tables in the city hall courtyard and mugged for the cameras.

Carlisle’s informality and sense of humor are among his most engaging qualities, but this isn’t the time to clown around.

He was rapidly losing voter support in the weeks before the election, barely squeaking by Caldwell in the end. Now he needs to show constituents that he takes the job seriously and is capable of putting together his administration in an organized and professional manner.

Beyond the bench

September 22, 2010

Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona isn’t the only former judge looking to apply his legal experience in another arena.

I hear that Family Court Judge Michael Broderick will step down from the bench to become CEO of the YMCA of Honolulu. YMCA president and CEO Larry Bush announced his retirement in July after 40 years of serving the YMCA.

It looks like a harmonic convergence for Broderick’s abilities. He has extensive administrative experience as a former courts administrator under Chief Justice Ronald Moon and as a judge, he’s had extensive experience working for the betterment of kids and families, which is the YMCA’s core mission.

I’d look for big things from the Y as it seeks to expand its already considerable footprint on O‘ahu.

Another debate about debates. Yawn …

September 22, 2010

Two days after Republican James “Duke” Aiona challenged his Democratic opponent for governor Neil Abercrombie to six debates, Aiona’s campaign manager Dutch Hanohano issued a press release ripping Abercrombie for not immediately accepting.

“The people of Hawai‘i need real solutions, not just talk,” Hanohano said in what  hardly seemed a compelling argument for six hours of talk.

There is nothing more boring in a political campaign than a debate about debates, which is on the same intellectual level as the argument over the shape of the table at the Paris peace talks.

In the 2006 Senate race between Daniel Akaka and Ed Case, you would have thought for a time that Case’s only issue was Akaka’s refusal to debate him as often as he wanted. You saw how far that got him.

Early in this year’s Democratic primary, it was Abercrombie whining that Mufi Hannemann wouldn’t agree to his debate demands. They ended up debating so many times in forums around the state that they were feeding each other cues.

Aiona is right that there need to be substantive debates before we go to the polls, but no candidate is going to accept an opponent’s debate proposal as presented — effectively allowing his own campaign timetable to be set by the opposition.

It happens by the campaigns meeting with the private groups that sponsor debates and hashing out a schedule. Until that process happens, trying to paint an opponent as being afraid to debate is one of the oldest — and cheapest — tricks in the book.

This election isn’t going to be decided by who’s the better debate organizer.

Has the train to nowhere reached its destination?

September 21, 2010

Nothing has been thrown more up in the air in the wake of Mufi Hannemann’s resignation as mayor and failed run for governor than his $5.5 billion O‘ahu rail project.

Hannemann got the 20-mile commuter line from Kapolei to Ala Moana approved on the force of his will and showed immense political skill in advancing it further in his first term than his predecessors managed in 30 years.

Now it’s a big question mark.

Mayor-elect Peter Carlisle says he supports rail, but there’s no clear sign if he’ll stay with the same plan and the same team or make changes that could result in big delays. He’ll be working with five new City Council members out of nine, and who knows what they’ll think.

Gov. Linda Lingle has held the up the environmental impact statement for a new financial review that won’t be finished until after she leaves office Dec. 6.

The two candidates to succeed her both say they support rail, but to different degrees. Republican James “Duke” Aiona says he’d finish Lingle’s financial review, while Democrat Neil Abercrombie has said he’s prepared to sign the EIS on his first day.

Former Gov. Ben Cayetano, Abercrombie’s friend and longtime political ally, has said he’ll sue if the EIS if it is approved in its current form. Carlisle says he’ll tap Cayetano’s expertise on transportation.

Some legislators are eager to raid the $500 million already collected from the half-cent O‘ahu excise tax for rail if there is any sign the project is stalled. Throwing the money into the state general fund would be a gross injustice to O‘ahu residents, who would effectively be paying a tax of 4.5 percent for the same state services neighbor islanders get for 4 percent.

When U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye recently made a big show of “begging” Lingle to sign the EIS, it was seen by some as a sign that he saw rail collapsing under its own weight and was setting up the Republican governor for the blame.

But it’s not that easy. If Hannemann had finished his term instead of throwing rail to the wind by quitting to run for governor with Inouye’s encouragement, the EIS delay would be a temporary bump in the road and Hannemann very likely could have had had construction well under way by time his term ended in 2012.

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