Archive for April 2011

Legislature proposes welfare for losing contractors

April 15, 2011

One of the more puzzling bills still alive in this year’s Legislature is HB 985, which allows the state to pay a “conceptual design fee” to some losing bidders on state contracts.

An amended version passed the Senate this week with only Sens. Donna Mercado Kim and Sam Slom objecting.

There have always been risks inherent in bidding on public works jobs, and there’s no legitimate public purpose in needlessly running up the cost of state contracts by paying off unsuccessful bidders for the cost of preparing their bids.

Rather, it seems a blatant attempt by lawmakers to give more of their political campaign donors a taste of the action at taxpayer expense — and at a time when the state is strapped for cash and others are in far greater need of a helping hand.

Hopefully this stinker will die in conference committee, where it’s headed after the House disagreed with Senate amendments.

***

Matt Levi is back on TV with a new series, “Hawaii Investigates.”

The first show, which looks into problems at the Hawai‘i Youth Correctional Facility, made its debut last night on KGMB and repeats at 6:30 tonight on KHNL.

Levi, a private investigator and former investigative reporter, first took cameras into HYCF 26 years ago and returns to talk to staff, young offenders and judges to see if conditions have improved.

The good news, he reports, is that there’s been significant improvement in both philosophy and management — especially since the federal government threatened to shut down the facility in 2005.

The bad news, Levi says, is that the issues with many of those incarcerated aren’t fundamentally criminal in nature, but the kids remain there at a cost of $131,000 per year because the courts have few viable — and cheaper — treatment options available.

“Hawaii Investigates” is produced by Hawaii Reporter.

Didn’t mean to slight Sen. Kim

April 14, 2011

After my column and blog item yesterday on the 2012 U.S. Senate race to replace the retiring Daniel Akaka, a couple of people wondered why I didn’t include state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, who has announced an exploratory committee, among the major Democrats looking at the race.

No disrespect to Kim was intended, but at this point it’s hard to see her contending against the other interested Democrats with experience in statewide races — Ed Case, Colleen Hanabusa, Mazie Hirono, Mufi Hannemann and Brian Schatz.

The recent SMS poll showed her barely registering a blip with only 3 percent voter support and light name recognition.

Besides, I’m not convinced Kim is seriously interested in running for the U.S. Senate. My guess is that her real interest is one of the U.S. House seats, where Kim would be a serious contender, if Hanabusa and/or Hirono go for the Senate.

With no House seat currently open, the easiest way to form a federal campaign committee and start getting her name out there is to do it for the open Senate seat and switch to the House later if the opportunity arises.

This is only speculation, of course, and I’m open to being corrected if somebody in the know tells me I’m wrong.

Case apology to Inouye pays off

April 13, 2011

Former U.S. Rep. Ed Case’s apology to Hawai‘i senior Sen. Daniel Inouye for the bad blood between them didn’t win him an endorsement in his new campaign to succeed the retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka, but it did apparently persuade Inouye not to actively oppose him.

In an interview with Politico, Inouye said he won’t take sides in the Democratic primary and will support whichever candidate the party’s voters select to run against the likely Republican nominee, former Gov. Linda Lingle.

“I’m a good Democrat, and I want to see a Democrat win that seat,” Inouye was quoted as saying. “Although some may characterize me as a political boss, I am not a political boss. I will not force anyone to run for this or that, and I will not take sides in the primary.

“This is for the voters to decide,” he said. “If the people of Hawaii decide Ed Case is going to be the nominee, I’ll vote for him. But most importantly, we need a Democrat to replace Dan Akaka.”

Case is the first Democrat to announce for the seat, but he’s likely to end up with a lot of company in the primary; also looking at the race are former U.S. Reps. Colleen Hanabusa and Mazie Hirono, former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz.

Inouye has held a serious grudge against Case since he ran against Akaka in 2006 against the wishes of the party’s establishment.

In last year’s special election to replace Neil Abercrombie in Congress, Case was the early Democratic frontrunner, but Inouye propped up Hanabusa to run against him and ultimately knocked Case out of the race.

Case returned the favor by campaigning against Inouye’s favored candidates for governor and Honolulu mayor, Hannemann and Kirk Caldwell.

Before he announced for the Senate over the weekend, Case visited Inouye in his Honolulu office to apologize and attempt to bury the hatchet.

“I came to ask whether we can put the past behind us and have a fresh start,” Case told Politico. “I think he accepted my [apology] graciously.”

I look further into Case’s Senate run in my column in today’s Star-Advertiser, “Tea leaves no easier to read after Case makes early entry.”

Trump plays the chump on Obama’s birth

April 12, 2011

At first, it seemed that GOP presidential wannabe Donald Trump’s embrace of the birther movement might lend new credibility to those who dispute that President Barack Obama was born in Hawai‘i.

But Trump is turning out to be such a numbnut that he may end up discrediting the asinine notion once and for all to all but the most hardcore Obama haters who wouldn’t admit his U.S. birth if the state provided a video of him popping out of the womb with Diamond Head in the background.

Responsible conservatives like House Speaker John Boehner have distanced themselves from Trump and the birthers, saying there is no reason to doubt the validity of of the certification by the State of Hawai‘i — under a Republican governor who campaigned for John McCain — that Obama was born here.

In a new interview with MSNBC, Dr. Chiyome Fukino, the former state health director under Linda Lingle, repeated that she personally examined all documents related to Obama’s birth and there is no question they are valid.

Fukino said the certificate of live birth the president received and posted on the Internet in 2007 is the same birth certificate anybody born here gets from the state. She and a spokesman for the attorney general provided the best explanation I’ve seen of the state’s records system.

There are moves in several states attempting to force Obama to produce a “long-form” birth certificate to get on the ballot, but it’s doubtful that federal courts would refuse to recognize the certification already provided by the state, which would be tantamount to cutting Hawai‘i loose from the union.

Trump also drew the ire of Obama’s aunt, Zeituni Onyango, who disputes as “a naked lie in the name of the Lord” the mad mogul’s claim that Obama’s grandmother said the president was born in Kenya.

Onyango says when she was a child, she remembers the family in Kenya receiving a letter from Obama’s father announcing his son’s birth in Hawai‘i.

Charles Djou climbs back in the saddle

April 11, 2011

Just three months after he all but swore off elective politics in a pouty exit from his brief stint in Congress, former Republican golden boy Charles Djou seems very much back in the game.

In January, he lashed out at the “Democratic machine” that wrested away the U.S. House seat he held for a few months and handed it to Colleen Hanabusa, saying, “Currently, I have no plans to run for any political office ever again.”

But his plans seem to have changed as he keeps himself visible giving speeches, sending out tweets and writing op-ed commentaries, such as yesterday’s in the Star-Advertiser urging Hawai‘i to modernize its civil service system.

He struck a similar theme in a recent speech on the Big Island, where the Hawai‘i Tribune-Herald reported:

Djou said the state is stuck in a plantation-era, 1950’s model of big government, big business and big labor unions. National government, other state governments and private businesses, meanwhile, are changing rapidly to focus on specialization, reduced size and transparency, he said, noting advances in communications technology is aiding that transition.

“Hawaii’s way of doing things is a very 20th Century way of doing things,” Djou said.

Djou, who has returned to law practice, hints he might be interested in running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Daniel Akaka if former Gov. Linda Lingle decides not to carry the GOP banner, but more likely he’s looking at another run for the House — especially if Hanabusa or her fellow Democratic Rep. Mazie Hirono go for the Senate seat.

In either case, he’s one of the few Hawai‘i Republicans articulate and marketable enough to credibly contend for the state’s higher offices and the local party is no doubt happy to have him back in action.

Wrestlemania, Washington style

April 8, 2011

The older I get, the less tolerance I have for contrived political melodramas like the fight in Washington over the federal budget.

President Barack Obama, the Democratic Senate and the Republican House have been playing brinksmanship for weeks over how much to cut, with the threat of a federal government shutdown looming in the background.

The closer they seem to get, the further apart they seem to be as the national political debate resembles the WWE more every day, with clownish men and women bulked up on partisan steroids playing to the gallery with intentions that have more to do with drawing political blood and ducking blame than setting national spending.

Writing a budget is one of the main responsibilities of Congress and six months into the year they don’t have a budget for this year, much less an orderly process underway for drafting next year’s.

It’s hard to disagree with our own Sen. Daniel Inouye that this is no way to fund a government, and the unbecoming circus puts me in a “wake me up when they make a decision” state of mind.

I fully realize that tuning out the foreplay can be a dangerous thing. I paid little attention to the chest-thumping leading up to the Iraq war because deep down, I didn’t believe George W. Bush would be stupid enough to start dropping bombs.

Eight years later, I still don’t believe it.

Will the HGEA contract set the standard?

April 7, 2011

It’s hard to say for sure without seeing the fine print, but the tentative agreement between the state and the Hawaii Government Employees Association announced yesterday by Gov. Neil Abercrombie seems a fair contribution by state and county workers toward reducing the state’s $1.3 billion deficit.

Basically, the 28,000 active white-collar workers represented by HGEA would swap their current deal of two furlough Fridays a month — the equivalent of about an 8-percent pay cut — for a straight 5-percent pay cut and six hours of personal time off a month. Workers would also pay 10 percent more of their health care premiums than they currently do.

The end of the disruptive furlough days that close state offices is welcome; the personal time off can be scheduled when mutually convenient and is far easier to manage without disrupting services.

The governor’s office said the deal saves the state about $65 million next fiscal year and $59 million the following year. If similar agreements are reached with other government unions it would increase the savings accordingly.

Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle and some legislators raised concerns that the savings weren’t enough, but it’s what Abercrombie said he was shooting for all along and a substantial bite out of public worker pay checks — within the ballpark of what workers in the private sector are facing.

The governor needs at least one county mayor to go along to enact the deal, and presumably he wouldn’t have announced it if he didn’t have one. Hopefully, more details will be released as that is sorted out so we can more fully evaluate the fairness of the contract to workers and taxpayers.

The HGEA contract usually sets the rough terms for blue-collar workers represented by the United Public Workers.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association, which can’t seem to settle contracts anymore without a lot of drama, could be trickier, and President M.R.C. Greenwood at the University of Hawaii could find herself in a pickle with a six-year faculty contract she agreed to that requires UH to soon repay professors for the labor savings of the last two years and give them raises in the final two years.

Greenwood was betting that the economy would bounce back and it hasn’t happened. She won’t find it easy to get cash-strapped legislators to give the semi-autonomous university general fund money to pay for her promises.

Getting my ash examined

April 6, 2011

My work flow lately has been rudely interrupted by a colonoscopy, which is quite a traumatic series of events when you include the unpleasant preparation and sweating out the pathology results in the aftermath (which thankfully resulted in good news in my case).

This is one of those medical procedures that when I younger, I always said I’d rather die from what they were looking for than submit to the exam.

But perspective and the urgency of the survival instinct change as you get older — not to mention that I’ve sadly seen friends and family members die from what the colonoscopy is looking for, and it’s not a pretty way to go at all.

So I lay on the exam table accepting my fate and waiting for the anesthesia to kick in as two doctors and three or four nurses stared at my posterior until they could have their way with me.

Before I drifted off, it occurred to me that some of the public officials I write about might have enjoyed a chance to do the inserting. (Oh, did I forget the lubricant? Oops.) I could have auctioned off the rights and cleared a little of the state debt.

I hate missed opportunities, but if I live that long, I’ve been warned I’ll be doing it all over again in about five years.

Where was the vetting on Maui judge appointment?

April 5, 2011

Just a few days after Joseph Wildman asked Gov. Neil Abercrombie to withdraw his nomination to be a Circuit Court judge on Maui because of unresolved business problems, Abercrombie yesterday sent the Senate a new appointee for confirmation in Rhonda Iwalani Lai Loo.

Wildman, a longtime friend of Abercrombie’s and once his legislative aide, stepped down because of more than $140,000 in federal tax liens against his former Honolulu law firm, where he is still an officer.

An Abercrombie spokesperson told the Maui News that the governor’s office didn’t do any significant background check on Wildman, relying on the vetting of the Judicial Selection Commission, which gives the governor four to six candidates to choose from.

The selection panel obviously didn’t do much vetting either; the person who first told me about Wildman’s tax problem said it took him 10 minutes to find it online when he became curious about the candidate’s background.

The quickness in naming a replacement suggests the governor’s office didn’t do much vetting of Loo, either, although she’s a safer choice as an established District Court judge and former prosecutor.

The skimpy background check is troubling, and part of the problem goes back to Abercrombie’s unfortunate decision to discontinue his predecessor’s practice — and that of the last two chief justices in making lower court appointments — of releasing the lists of finalists and inviting public comment before making appointments.

If Abercrombie had put Wildman’s name and the other candidates out for comment, surely the tax issue would have been flagged and a lot of embarrassment would have been avoided for both the governor and the candidate.

***

When Abercrombie yesterday appointed Kaua‘i Councilman Derek Kawakami to finish the term of former state Rep. Hermina Morita, his office didn’t release but three names the Democratic Party gave him to choose from, but provided the list when asked.

The other two candidates were Neil Clendeninn, a doctor on the island’s North Shore and Kilauea Realtor Foster Ducker.

DARE to prioritize public spending

April 4, 2011

I was sad to read that the Honolulu Police Department is drastically cutting back its popular 25-year-old DARE program — Drug Abuse Resistance Education.

One of my grandsons recently had a visit at his elementary school from DARE officers, and the anti-drug message clearly made a strong impression on him.

But listening to Chief Louis Kealoha explain the move, it made obvious good sense in this challenging fiscal environment to trim DARE back from the 120 schools it currently covers to about 40 schools that have the highest concentrations of at-risk students.

When budgets are tight, the chief said, core responsibilities have to be the priority — in the case of police, law enforcement and public safety. DARE doesn’t fall under the core; cutting funding there helps the department to maintain patrols in O‘ahu neighborhoods.

It’s exactly the right way to manage a shrinking budget, and it doesn’t happen often enough in public agencies, where there’s a constituency ready to fight for every nickel in state and county budgets.

Administrators can work diligently to cut at the edges while preserving the core, only to be thwarted by advocates for the programs being cut who are able to use political pressure to fend off change.

This has been especially prevalent in the Department of Education, where administrators attempting to make necessary cuts and consolidations have had to gird for drawn-out battles before the Board of Education that they’ve often ended up losing.

Everybody wants the DOE to set priorities, be more efficient and eliminate duplication — until it’s their school or program being cut.

With the new appointed BOE coming in this month, hopefully the decision-making process will be streamlined, less drama-ridden and sharply focused on serving the core responsibilities first.


%d bloggers like this: