Archive for December 2010

Who didn’t make Abercrombie’s senatorial cut?

December 28, 2010

I was surprised that local media didn’t press the governor’s office for the Democratic Party lists Gov. Neil Abercrombie chose from when they reported his appointments of Malama Solomon and Rep. Maile Shimabukuro to replace Sens. Dwight Takamine, who joined his Cabinet, and Colleen Hanabusa, who was elected to the U.S. House.

Under rules passed by the Legislature, the governor is limited to appointing from a list of three candidates provided by the party of the departing lawmaker.

It was impossible to evaluate Abercrombie’s choices without seeing the pools he chose from, so I asked for the information and the governor’s office was reasonably forthcoming in providing it, considering that I made my initial request on Christmas eve.

To cut to the chase, Abercrombie picked Shimabukuro for the seat in District 21, representing Ko Olina and the Waianae Coast, over Cynthia Rezentes, a Neighborhood Board activist and former House candidate, and Hanalei Aipoalani, who previously ran for Congress and the state House.

It was an interesting pick in the context of the turmoil over organizing the House. Shimabukuro was one of the 18 members of the dissident faction led by Reps. Sylvia Luke and Scott Saiki that has prevented Calvin Say’s re-election as speaker.

If they’re so inclined, the Democratic Party and Abercrombie could appoint a replacement who would break the deadlock and give Say the final vote he needs to keep his job and organize the House. Or they could lend support to the dissidents by doing the opposite.

Solomon, an Abercrombie ally during her previous stint in the Senate, was selected for the seat in the 1st District, representing Waimea, the Hamakua Coast and parts of Hilo, over state Rep. Mark Nakashima and Kenneth Goodenow, a lawyer, former Hawaii County Clerk and onetime O‘ahu legislator representing Waimanalo.

According to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, other applicants who didn’t make the party’s cut were former mayor and state senator Lorraine Inouye, Hilo councilman Donald Ikeda and attorney Robert Marx, Abercrombie’s Big Island campaign co-chairman.

The governor still has to replace Big Island Sen. Russell Kokubun, who also joined his Cabinet.


GOP legislators knocked off the air?

December 28, 2010

Catching up on the mail bag, Republicans in the Legislature are up in arms about an apparent decision by Democratic legislators to shut down a room in the Capitol used by Olelo to film lawmakers talking about what’s going on with the Legislature.

According to Rep. Cynthia Thielen, Democrats and Republicans alike took advantage of the room on the 4th floor to communicate with their constituents, but that Sen. Clayton Hee, the new Judiciary chairman, raised questions about the room when he saw a group of Republicans coming out.

Thielen said the next thing Republicans knew, Hee was planning to take over the room, which Democrats say is needed for hearings.

Thielen said she and House Minority Leader Gene Ward will ask the House leadership to provide studio space for Olelo.

Said Ward, “Denying us the studio at the Capitol to inform the people of what is going on in the square building, after we’ve become a one-newspaper town with a collapsed number of TV stations, puts democracy in serious danger.”

With Republicans down to eight in the House and one in the Senate, Democrats would be well-advised to avoid looking petty and go out of their way to be sure the minority has a fair chance to make its voice heard.

Where’s the justice for Peter Boy?

December 27, 2010

I didn’t want to let the year end without directing attention to a couple of excellent stories in the Hawaii Tribune-Herald (here and here) about the unresolved disappearance on the Big Island nearly 13 years ago of 6-year-old Peter Kema Jr.

Peter Boy’s father, Peter Kema Sr., told police that on a trip to O‘ahu he gave his son to a woman whose whereabouts he couldn’t provide and whose existence police couldn’t verify.

Police and prosecutors believe Peter Boy was murdered and that they know who did it, as do the the child’s grandparents and siblings, who provided evidence of tragic abuse during the boy’s short life.

State social workers verified the abuse and have been harshly criticized for leaving Peter Boy with his parents despite clear signs that the family was seriously dysfunctional.

The case was reclassified from a missing person to a homicide a decade ago, but Big Island law enforcers have stumbled over each other pointing fingers and no charges have been brought. At this point point, police say the case isn’t cold, but prosecutors say they don’t consider it an ongoing investigation.

It’s simply unacceptable to continue bumbling about while Peter Boy is denied justice and his siblings, who were long ago removed from their parents, have no closure. You don’t get to “lose” a child under highly suspicious circumstances and not have to account for it.

Big Island prosecutors are notoriously skittish about bringing charges on high-profile crimes unless they feel they have an airtight case. If they’re not doing anything further to develop this case, it’s time to present the best case they have and let a jury decide.

It should be remembered that in the Dana Ireland murder case in the 1990s, Big Island prosecutors similarly dragged their okole for years in bringing charges.

When the family and community finally prevailed on them to file with the “weak” evidence they had, they got convictions.

If Big Island prosecutors are going to continue to be complicit in burying Peter Boy, perhaps it’s time for the state attorney general or U.S. Attorney to see if there’s a way in for them to bring justice to this little boy with the big smile that belied the harsh hand he was dealt.

Merry Christmas

December 22, 2010

I’m taking a break for a few days. Have a great holiday, everybody, and see you next week.

New leadership at OHA

December 21, 2010

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs begins a major transition today with Collette Machado expected to take over as chairwoman of the board of trustees from Haunani Apoliona after the board is sworn in for a new term.

Apoliona was first elected an OHA trustee in 1996 and has been the 30-year-old agency’s longest-serving chair at nearly 10 years.

She and her majority group are credited with leading OHA to an unprecedented era of stability and professionalism after two decades of chaos that made the agency a public laughingstock because of endless backbiting and drama that produced little benefit for the native Hawaiians OHA serves.

State Auditor Marion Higa, who gives out few compliments, noted the changed OHA in an audit last year that praised the new focus on collegiality and competent planning.

“In the past, board members often waged political battles to the detriment of the organization and its beneficiaries,” Higa said. “Within the last decade, the contentiousness that clouded the atmosphere within OHA’s boardroom has progressively cleared. … We found a much more stable and functional organization that is focused on its strategic mission.”

Apoliona began planning for a transition in the chair after former trustee Walter Heen made two unsuccessful attempts to depose her.

The change is expected to be mostly smooth, since Machado was a member of the majority group that Apoliona led. Oswald Stender, another ally, will continue as chairman of the committee that oversees OHA’s $380 million in assets.

During the Apoliona years, the trustees have focused more on policy-making, while leaving day-to-day operations to administrator Clyde Namuo and his team.

Machado, first elected in 1996 to represent Molokai and Lanai, previously served as a member of the state Land Use Commission and the Hawaiian Homelands Commission. At OHA, she’s chaired the Committee on Beneficiary Advocacy and Empowerment.

The agency faces daunting challenges in the new term, including dealing with the fallout from the apparent demise of the Akaka bill for Hawaiian political recognition and settling longstanding land claims with the state.

Sanity finally prevails on ‘don’t ask’

December 20, 2010

Now that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military has been repealed, we can reflect on the absurdity of a 17-year official national policy that was effectively to look the other way.

All signs were that the federal courts were going to strike down this dubious policy if Congress didn’t act first.

Given that, and the fact that the the Pentagon’s own study showed that a large majority of troops see no problem with allowing openly gay people to serve, it would be foolish for opponents to try to drag out the inevitable.

If we really care about the morale of our troops, the way to go is a smooth and measured implementation with plenty of education along the way.

It was sad to see opponents waving their arms and spouting tired arguments about how allowing gays to serve is a threat to combat troops — the same arguments that were once made about allowing military service by blacks, Japanese Americans and women.

It made no sense to to deny any of these classes of willing, law-abiding Americans the right to join in defending their country. Chalk this up as a victory for national sanity as much as gay rights.

The night before the holiday we don’t mention

December 16, 2010

I had a lovely time last night at my grandkids’ school Christmas show, which was actually called Winter Fest because you can’t say Christmas in public anymore without getting the PC police all up in your business.

Talk about a contrast; one of my girls played an elephant and the other played a kolea (which had a much more pleasant singing voice than I expected after some of the riffs I’ve heard around here).

It was very nicely done, with hula, Hawaiian legends and segments taken from “The Lion King” and “Rent,” but scarcely a mention of the 800-pound holiday in the room.

The sanitization has gone too far, and I can understand why it ticks Christians off. Nobody would blink at a slipped mention of Hannukah or Kwanzaa, and you can invoke the Dalai Lama until the cows come home. Putting a lot of religious dogma in these shows would be inappropriate, but the avoidance of mentioning Christmas at all is ridiculous.

I’m not a Christian myself, but I enjoyed it a lot when my grandson was at the school six or seven years ago and the shows ended with a UH music professor coming out to play Christmas carols on the piano while the audience sang along. Beautiful songs, beautiful moments.

And to my knowledge, nobody complained.

Dirty districting

December 15, 2010

I have a thing about political candidates running in districts where their residency is loose or worse.

The purpose of district representation is to have legislators and council members who can truly speak for the needs of the people in the district because they are one of them and have as much stake in the welfare of the district as their constituents.

If we’re going to allow candidates to easily parachute into districts in search of the best political opportunities for themselves, we may as well go back to at-large voting.

Obviously the voters don’t necessarily agree with me. Our last three open congressional seats have been won by candidates who didn’t live in the district in which they ran.

Tulsi Gabbard Tamayo easily won a City Council seat this year despite questions about her ties to the district, and in previous elections the late Duke Bainum won a council seat after moving into the district the day before the filing deadline and Charles Djou moved from Windward Oahu to East Honolulu to find an easier path to the council.

Which brings us to the current special election to replace Todd Apo in Council District I, where Makakilo residents Mel Kahele and Kioni Dudley admit to setting up quickie residences elsewhere in order to be eligible to run.

Kahele, who is using his daughter’s address, justifies himself by saying Makakilo used to be part of District I. And South America used to be connected to Africa.

Dudley rented an address after saying he was unable to find any other candidate actually living in the district who represents his concerns, a conceit that tells you something about his concerns.

Their residency is being challenged with the city clerk by one of the 12 other candidates, Matthew LoPresti, himself a short-timer in the district. It’s unlikely there will be a resolution  before the mail-in voting is done, leaving it to voters to sort things out.

R.I.P. Honolulu Symphony

December 14, 2010

Seeing the Honolulu Symphony die a long and painful death after enriching the community for over 100 years has been one low points of these recessionary times.

Not that the recession was entirely responsible for the symphony’s demise; it’s been on life support for years because of poor management and lack of support and survived this long only because of a $1.175 million gift from an anonymous donor a couple of years ago.

“Like libraries and museums, a symphony cannot be replaced overnight — it could take decades to rebuild such an institution,” the generous donor said.

It’s not only the loss of the concerts featuring an extensive repertoire of the world’s finest music, but the potential loss of outreach programs and private instruction that have touched 20,000 students a year and elevated the spirits of our community.

You have to ache for the musicians, who tried to stick it out despite a low-$30,000 base salary that often wasn’t even paid in recent years and would have shriveled to virtually nothing in the failed reorganization plan.

It was a disappointment that our public officials never recognized the importance of a professional symphony orchestra to the quality of community life and provided little support; the Legislature denied a grant at a critical time, the city kicked the orchestra out of the Blaisdell Concert Hall to cash in on a run of “The Lion King” and officialdom was mostly absent from attempts to save the symphony.

There’s some hope that with the Honolulu Symphony’s bankruptcy, the orchestra will re-form under a new and better-managed organization, but the challenge is daunting.

In the meantime, we still have Ballet Hawaii and Hawaii Opera Theatre, which both contract with symphony musicians, to keep a classical flame burning.
If you missed my last mention, here are a couple of symphony musicians trying to keep the hearth warm with lines of holiday cards with musical themes: Grin-n-Barrett Cards by Paul Barrett, the orchestra’s principal bassoonist, and Normzart Greeting Cards by clarinetist Norman F. Foster.

Will legislators follow Abercrombie’s lead?

December 13, 2010

Many in Hawai‘i assume that because Democrats control the governorship for the first time in eight years and have the biggest legislative majority in the nation, it’ll be smooth sailing and they’ll be able to pass anything they want.

Don’t be so sure; it all depends if they can agree on what they want to pass. Legislators are factionalized, jealously protective of their own power, have their own special interests to service and won’t necessarily be on the same page as the governor.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie so far has done his talking to lawmakers privately rather than publicly, which makes sense at this early stage as he strives for a collaborative relationship.

But sooner or later they’re going to butt heads on some major issue, and how he works his mojo will tell us a lot about how the next four years will go.

Much has been made of Republican Gov. Linda Lingle’s poor relationship with the Legislature, but relations weren’t much better during the previous Democratic administration of Gov. Ben Cayetano, who was frustrated by the refusal of lawmakers to rally behind his initiatives — particularly on economic revitalization.

Their lack of achievement in tough times helped lay the groundwork for Lingle’s election as our first Republican governor in 40 years.

Democratic legislators have been noncommittal, at best, on the initiatives Abercrombie laid out in his “New Day in Hawai‘i” plan, and there’s ample room for conflict on how to deal with a still-sluggish economy that’s expected to leave state revenues some $300 million short over the next two years.

But the new governor is exuding confidence that his more than 30 years of legislative experience at all levels of government will pay off in forging a partnership with the Legislature.

We’ll know soon enough.

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