New governor, same old Legislature

Since the primary election, the Star-Advertiser’s Derrick DePledge has been writing Sunday pieces on the top issues in the governor’s race, and he’s doing a good job of helping voters understand where Neil Abercrombie and James “Duke” Aiona differ.

My eye is drawn to the part at the end where he solicits the views of key legislators. As you’d expect, the Democrats who control the Legislature don’t think much of the Republican Aiona’s proposals. But it’s interesting that they’re not exactly lining up either behind the ideas of Abercrombie, their own party’s candidate.

In yesterday’s piece on energy policy, Senate energy chairman Mike Gabbard wouldn’t commit to Abercrombie’s centerpiece proposal to establish a new state energy authority, and his House counterpart, Rep. Hermina Morita, suggested it was downright unwise.

Similarly, in the story a couple of weeks ago on education policy, House education chairman Roy Takumi said he doesn’t see much appetite in the Legislature for another Abercrombie centerpiece — a new Department of Early Childhood Education.

It’s a reminder that the possible return of a Democrat to the governor’s office is no guarantee of smooth sailing or an end to the gridlock that has existed between the Legislature and Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.

We should remember that the last Democratic governor, Ben Cayetano, didn’t have much better luck with the Legislature than Lingle, failing to win approval of his key initiatives on economic revitalization, civil service reform and rebuilding infrastructure such as public schools and prisons.

When I interviewed him toward the end of his term, Cayetano expressed contempt for the Legislature as harsh as anything Linda Lingle has ever said.

“Very few things today, in my opinion, are … decided by philosophical or ideological basis,” he said. “The people I served with (during his years in the Legislature) had more life experience. The Legislature is different today, which, in a way, is why I’m kind of glad I’m going to be leaving. I’m not sure there’s a lot of people there who really stand for anything.”

The point is that the Legislature marches to its own drummer, and the beat is most often played not by party leaders, but by the special interests in whose pockets many legislators reside.

It’s way too early to declare Abercrombie’s proposals DOA before he even has a chance to make his case to the Legislature, but if he’s elected, his fate will depend on whether he’s more effective than Cayetano and Lingle at selling his ideas to change-resistant lawmakers and their special-interest benefactors — and using the power of the office to leverage agreements.


Speaking of DePledge, if you haven’t already done so, check out his blog item on the latest theory of where Duke Aiona’s “Rise and Shine” theme came from, which amused me while greatly entertaining my granddaughter. Diabetics beware.

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18 Comments on “New governor, same old Legislature”

  1. Richard Gozinya Says:

    More departments to oversee departments. Maybe we need another department to handle all that.

    I guess this is job creation,Hawaii-style.

  2. Kolea Says:

    Nice stereotypes here. “Change-resistant legislators”? You must assume your readers are driven by blind anger more than actual knowledge of the specific legislators you are disparaging if you expect them to accept your characterization of Gabbard, Takumi and Morita.

    For all his faults, I have no doubt Mike Gabbard is sincerely interested in switching away from dependence upon fossil fuels and towards clean energy sources. Unlike too many Hawaii politicians, he is NOT in the pocket of HECO. The same can be said of Mina Morita for energy and environment. And of Takumi for education. Rather than “change-resistant,” these legislators are very open to change and pushing for it in their immediate areas of responsibility.

    I am strongly supporting Neil. But I also support democracy. Why should either potential governor be able to impose their campaign slogan solutions on the state without trying to win over our elected representatives?

  3. Michael Says:

    Before there was one King and he made the rules. Only when the Missionaries came and “civilized” Native Hawaiians did a Government ruled by many begin.
    There were the Alii’s but they all followed the Rules of their King. One person.

    “I guess this is job creation,” Mainland-style.

  4. Jeff Says:

    Regarding “Rise and Shine,” that made my day. Back in 1984 my son was in the program this song was in, called “Psalty the Singing Songbook.” I sent the link to him this morning and he was shocked that he knew all the words. Actually, it was a lot of fun and pretty wholesome, so if that’s where Duke got his inspiration, good for him. The bad news is I looked at the video at about 5 AM this morning and have been singing it all day long. Thanks Dave, that made my day!

  5. ppcc Says:

    Creating an energy committee, Kakaako development board , transit committee, police commission, etc; all under the guise of independence from politics is pure BS. Elected officials load these committees with people who are aligned with the politicians who put them in power. One clear example was police commission chairperson Christine Camp put in by Mufi and was the center of politicking when the hired a new police chief. Camp was the same person who manipulated Mufi’s paperwork so that he could make money from Bombardier execs, etc. Abercrombie is same old, same old.

    Unfortunately appears Aiona is also aligned with some of the SAME special interest that make living in Hawaii an economic hell. The undersea power cable that Aiona touts is a HECO red herring meant to actually delay REAL alternatives for Hawaii residents to stop paying overpriced electricity from HECO. Lets looks at some FACTS regarding a future undersea power cable:

    1) An undersea high-speed fiber optic cable currently used by Oceanic was damaged, resulting in many days of loss of service for Oceanic customers. The cable while damaged is useless and another route had to be used for Oceanic customer. It will take months and cost MILLIONS to repair the damaged underwater fiber optic cable.

    3) Local construction workers cannot really benefit from this multi BILLION dollar underwater power cable project since they do not have the expertise and equipment, hence mainland or foreign companies must be hired to do this work.

    4) Many residents do NOT want Molokai and Lanai overrun with massive wind turbines or photovoltaic panels. Given Hawaii’s one and only economic engine is TOURISM, it is not clear the effects of destroying the unspoiled beauty of Molokai and Lanai into ugly and mechanized power generating plants, no matter how “green”

    5) Expect many lawsuits filed on behalf of Molokai and Lanai residents for this project such as was done for the failed SuperFerry and mainland shipping of Oahu garbage.

    If HECO and other private companies want to undertake this undersea multi-BILLION dollar power cable/ Molokai & Lanai fine, but do it with their OWN MONEY and not expect taxpayers to foot the bill.

    The best solution at this point in time is for the public is for the State to further expand and refine their photovoltaic generation panel program for individual home and business owners. However for this program as more people start installing PV panels to generate excess electricity during the day which is then fed back to the HECO grid, at night the gain credit for their electrical use and as long as they don’t generate more electricity than they use, they are okay. As it stands now the HECO influenced PUC punishes people who generate more electricity than they make by having HECO just take the excess electricity and not give an money or credit back to the owner. As more homeowners with the financial ability to pay serious up front costs to install PV systems on their homes,offices, etc., HECO is steadily losing income and the remaining people on the HECO grid for their electrical needs will suffer as HECO now has to raise their rates to maintain their profits. Was in the news a few months ago, either Y-Hata or Amstrong Produce (forget which one) will spend something like $5 million to install a massive PV system on their warehouse and save themselves something like $20K or 50K(?) in electrical costs! With just this one PV system alone HECO has not lost millions in revenue forever from this one customer! So it is not hard to figure out why HECO is against the State spearheading a campaign to make PV installation system available or “affordable” to more Hawaii residents.

    One future project that would be the most beneficial for many Oahu residents but for HECO the worst in terms of lost revenue is for the State to partner with General Growth and a major PV contractor to install a PV “farm” on the top of roof of the Ala Moana shopping center. The Ala Mo roof is flat, massive and in the zone where they receive the maximum amount of sunlight on Oahu. For example, general growth can charge “rent” of the PV panels by receiving free electricity for all their tenants but also the system would generate more than enough electricity to power many surrounding Ala Moana buildings. A third party contractor would be responsible in maintenance of so many panels and from the news panel maintenance/output is all computerized and won’t take that large a staff to keep this PV farm at peak performance. As it stands now this project can never be done since of the PUC rules of allowing anyone but HECO to benefit from generating much more power than they can use.

    There is a company in Hawaii now offering “free” PV installation but this is similar to buying a TV from a “rent-to-own” store. In this case, in the long run, you ending up paying something like $4,000 for a $1,000 TV. It appears with either Abercrombie or Aiona, for Hawaii residents, the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer as the families or companies with cash can afford to install a PV system , getting off the HECO grid leaving the less affluent vulnerable to HECO in the very near future raising their rates to offset all of the growing lost revenue. These people should not hold their breaths hoping their rates will go down with the undersea power cable and massive windfarms on Molokai/Lanai, since as previously outlined, it really is a delay & money siphoning project from getting the State to REALLY help Oahu electrical consumers.

  6. ppcc Says:


    “With just this one PV system alone, HECO has LOST millions in revenue forever from this one customer!”

  7. charles Says:

    David, you have an interesting perspective. If a few legislators (and there are 76 of them) express concerns about establishing more bureaucracy, they are resistant to change?

    I’m sure if they were quoted as saying they support creating more departments, you would have blistered them for expanding bloated government.

    By the way, the inherent tension and conflict between the branches of government is by design.

  8. ppcc Says:


    The final piece of the puzzle, but not quite ready is SAFE, compact, maintenance free nuclear reactors similar to what powers US nuclear submarines such as those stationed at Pearl or US aircraft carriers. The US military nuclear technology for power generation is pretty advanced given the reliability and performance of current US subs and aircraft carriers, however seems other countries such as China and Russia have not been able to perfect this type of portable/reliable nuclear power for their war ships, AND the interest of rogue nations such as Iran and N Korea to obtain any nuclear technology that remotely be used to build up their nuclear material used for a nuclear weapon (ie the sub & aircraft carrier nuclear reactor are breeder types which makes them maintenance free for a very long time but generates material that could possibly be used to help make a bomb), so it is understandable that US nuclear such technology will not be made readily available for the public anytime soon.

    In Hawaii this is NOT a problem as we have secure military installations such as Pearl Harbor, Kaneohe, Wheeler, etc where these compact nuclear reactors can be installed and protected like missile silos currently installed on Hawaii missile bases. The US military can essentially be taken off HECO’s grid in Hawaii and between widespread commerical PV systems for Hawaii civilians, the goal of Hawaii having 70% or greater clean energy generation would be easily within reach.

    Panos had the general concept correct for proposing nuclear power in Hawaii, but lacked the understanding that only the military has, and should have, the nuclear technology for safe, compact nuclear power generation, and they alone should protect and maintain these power generators on secure military land to generate electricity for themselves and the civilian population; and NOT nuclear reactors “floating in the ocean”, maintained by HECO or any other private power generation company.

  9. hugh clark Says:

    My take is that since primary election it has been Hawaii politics SOS. My goodness, the governor might make his lieutenant a working member of his team.

    We have heard that stuff for 44 years (possibly before). Remember Burns and Gill & Brown). Fastest way to become an outsider is to be elected Lt. Gov. Just ask Doi or King or Cayetano or Aiona. That job is the appendix of politics.

    And the newly elected whatever is going to start his term running hard (is that in place?) Enough trite crap.

    Let’s see what the due has done after 100 days or so.

  10. David Shapiro Says:

    @Charles, @Kolea You guys sure are touchy. I didn’t opine on whether Takumi, Morita and them are right or wrong, just that it’s unusual for them to be shooting down the major proposals of their party’s candidate for governor in the middle of a tight campaign. How often do you hear congressional committee chairs doing that to their party’s presidential candidate? Why not just say they’ll give the idea a full hearing and see what can be worked out?

  11. charles Says:

    David, I don’t know who’s being thin-skinned here. Here’s my hunch: I suspect that these chairs have concerns about Aiona’s platform as well but unless the media interviews them, they can shout their concerns from the highest rooftop but it still might now get heard.

    Also, the ideas that Abercrombie is proposing have been discussed at length at the legislature. If you follow the legislature at all, you would know that the idea of a Department of Energy and Department of Early Learning have been discussed.

    Now, if you’re saying that the chairs could have said that these ideas were discussed in the past but maybe it’s time for another discussion, fair enough. But to infer that these are brand new ideas is not quite true.

    Lastly, I would think some credit should be given to any legislator who raises concerns about any idea from anyone on the merits of the idea and not whether it’ll help the election of someone.

    Just my opinion, of course.

  12. Kolea Says:

    I’m almost reduced to saying “Amen!” to Charles’ response, but let me try from a slightly different angle.

    Dave, had you actually said what you now say was your intended point, I wouldn’t have objected. But you accused the legislators of being “change-resistant.” You did not merely point out they were being independent. Your very title suggests even if we get governors with new ideas, we are still “stuck” with the “same old legislators” “resisting change.”

    And your use of Cayetano’s remarks are misapplied here. He is decrying the scarcity of legislators motivated by principle rather than careerist impulses. Gabbard, Morita and Takumi each possess a strong sense of their own philosophical motivations. On the “careerist” vs “principled” spectrum, they are much more motivated by their sense of “right” than by self-interest.

    You can imagine I have difficulty saying ANYTHING nice about Gabbard. If we were talking about areas other than environmental policy, I would undoubtedly be trash-talking the man. (Oops, I mentioned “trash.” OK, I think his idea of shipping our trash to the mainland for THEM to deal with it was irresponsible.)

    Aiona and Abercrombie, as candidates for Governor, are expected to come up with their “plans” for transforming Hawaii. The more detailed they are, the more voters are inclined to think they have a good grasp of the complexities involved and are truly committed to “change.”

    But the committee chairs in the affected policy areas also have their own ideas and may even have spent more time wrestling with the policy implications than the wannabee Governor’s. If they were simply “resistant to change” because they are captured by the special interests who dominate the Lege, I might agree with your framing. But with these SPECIFIC legislators, I think your framing of the issue only reinforces broad, sweeping stereotypes against legislators in general to the detriment of both “democracy” (in the sense of thoughtful “checks and balances”) and open policy debate.

    Neither potential Governor deserves to be able to impose their Master Plan on the Legislature. And the insistence of legislators that they participate in developing policy SHOULD NOT be presented as an obstacle to change.

    Your presentation could easily be misunderstood– against your intentions– as support for the Governor as Benevolent Dictator, with legislators expected to get out of the way of their plans. The candidates are forced by our campaign system, to present themselves as a Heroic Figure on a White Horse galloping in to solve our problems with their wisdom and Good Values. Let’s NOT reinforce that model. We already have a system in place for debating policy. Unfortunately, it requires a broad swath of the public become “heroic” by learning about the policy options facing us, debating the issues intelligently and civilly, electing politicians to (hopefully) represent our interests and negotiate on our behalf. We need to show up to testify, we need to lobby.

    Instead of trying to remove obstacles in the way of the Governor, let’s focus on ways of removing obstacles which prevent the people from rising to the levels of heroism our system demands from us if good policy is going to emerge from that Square Building downtown.

  13. David Shapiro Says:

    @Charles, @Kolea The problem with the Hawai‘i Democratic Party is that it’s built around personal power rather than shared values and common goals. It’s made up of many fiefdoms devoted mostly to protecting various status quos. The proof of the change-resistance is the absence of significant change in addressing our most pressing problems. The Legislature provides little leadership of its own in this regard and has a knee-jerk resistance to attempts by the executive to provide leadership. It’s all about personal power.

    On the federal level and in most states, the chief executive and legislators from the same party have some semblance of a common program to address major issues and they work on hashing out differences. That’s absent here, and you defend lack of vision and purpose as “independence.” In Cayetano’s last year, one observer listened to his state of the state and the opening day statements of the House speaker and Senate president and said they sounded like they came from three different planets. This isn’t the bell of independence. It’s the sound of our leading political party getting little done for a better Hawai‘i.

  14. Michael Says:

    “In Cayetano’s last year, one observer listened to his state of the state and the opening day statements of the House speaker and Senate president and said they sounded like they came from three different planets.”

    3 different thinking and 3 different voices. Local, Mainland and 3rd World thinking and voices. If this were the Mainland it would be different but being on an Island we have Island thinking. Then we have immigrants who, even if Hawaii is behind in ways, is still advanced compared to where they come from. Minimum wage is a months pay. Hawaii Democrats are not the same as Democrats on the Mainland.

    I would say that some are not thin skinned but thick headed. Sign of a Donkey. Stubborn. Not open in their thinking but those who intend to shove their ideals down others throats. Things in Hawaii have changed, when once we could get along, to now who cares. There is no Freedom of Speech for all. Hawaii has been taken over by Business persons who are corrupt and could care less about the People who live here.

    This is Hawaii not the Mainland.

  15. Kolea Says:

    I think Michael is a bit obsessed with what people are having “shoved down their throats.” I recommend the term be retired. Or reserved for homoerotic fantasies.

  16. Kolea Says:


    I have re-read the statements attributed to the specific legislators in the DePledge stories and do not see what there is to complain about. Gabbard essentially said he is willing to look at the Abercrombie proposals. Morita said she thinks reorganization will not solve the problems, that there are sufficient mechanisms already in place SHOULD the state want to use them. And Roy Takumi thinks creating a new department will not solve the problems if, again, there is a lack of political will. And IF there were sufficient political will, the ends can just as easily be accomplished using the existing structure.

    Those all strike me as eminently reasonable positions for key subject area legislators to take. None of them declared war on Abercrombie’s proposals. They voiced their reservations.

    Why should they hide their opinions on these proposals during the election campaign? I don’t see them as undermining the chance of Neil being elected. If anything, they ensure there will be a more open policy debate after he is elected by letting voters know in advance that they will not automatically rubber stamp Neil’s ideas, so voters should have realistic expectations about Neil’s ability to deliver on his campaign promises. That will actually give Neil more flexibility in post-election negotiations, should he win.

    When you say the “Democratic Party” lacks a “common program,” I am somewhat surprised by your attitude. Correct me if I am wrong, but haven’t you generally opposed efforts by the Party to hold its members accountable to our platform? The Morita, Takumi and Gabbard responses have all fallen within the broad outlines of agreement among Democrats, so the Party qua party has no means to impose some agreement on them. Let their ideas be a basis for negotiations. I would LOVE for there to be public discussions over the problems facing our school system and the energy options available to use. Do I understand you to be saying you think the Dems should have those discussions within our own organization in order to forge internal agreement before inviting the public to join the debate?

    Why should a Governor’s plans, forged for the needs of a political campaign, trump the more collective plans developed through community-wide discussions? Or, lacking the broadest input, let’s have politicians and the public participate within the structures created for resolving these differences, the legislative hearings.

    As for the “unity” you perceive among Democrats at the Federal level, I guess we see different things. I saw the White House being held ransom by a small minority of Blue Dog Democrats and their efforts to win over one or two GOP votes for their initiatives, while ignoring the hopes of Democratic voters for “transformative” “Change We Can Believe In.”

    On issue after issue, Obama and Rahm Emanuel have repeatedly sacrificed “Democratic Unity” for a chimerical, “bi-partisan unity” which rarely ever succeeded in delivering the goods. The current lack of enthusiasm of Democratic voters in the mid-term elections is a pretty good measure of how miserably the national “unity” model has worked, either for the congressional Dems generally, or for Obama personally.

  17. charles Says:

    David, I guess I got thrown off when the headline said, “same old legislature.” By the headline, I thought you meant “same old legislature.”

    I guess it’s because you don’t write the headlines.

    My bad.

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