Archive for June 2011

Enough Abercrombie-the-hippie digs already

June 15, 2011

I got an e-mail yesterday from a fellow going off on Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s college days as “an unkempt, stinky, long-haired bearded hippie.”

I get at least one of these a week and can’t tell you how tired of them I am. Criticizing Abercrombie’s current performance is fair game — I certainly do in my column in today’s Star-Advertiser — but railing about how the guy wore his hair 40 years ago is at the bottom of the intellectual food chain.

It’s actually kind of pathetic if that’s the best measure one can come up with to stake a claim of superiority over somebody else.

Youth is a time for testing limits and I’m more suspicious of those who don’t than those who do.

And for the record, I was acquainted with Abercrombie in college and during his Super Senator days and recall him being reasonably well-bathed and not especially malodorous.

Any concerns I had about him back then were less about his appearance than his Abbie Hoffman mentality in which the theater seemed to matter more than the commitment.

Seeing him still so enamored of the cheap drama as a 72-year-old governor worries me.

O‘ahu, Big Isle wrestle for Senate seat

June 14, 2011

One of the biggest hot potatoes facing the state Reapportionment Commission is whether to count some 70,000 nonresident military personnel and dependents who can’t vote in setting legislative district lines.

Hawai‘i is currently one of only two states that don’t count them, along with Kansas, and the commission is taking another look at the issue.

The ramifications are significant: If nonresident military continue not to be counted, O‘ahu will likely lose a state Senate seat to the fast-growing Big Island, which would go from three senators to four.

But if the commission changes policy and counts military who can’t vote, the seat would likely be saved for O‘ahu, where most of them are based.

Counting the nonresident military could also give the state’s moribund Republican Party a slight boost by creating more districts around military bases, where voters tend to be a little more to the right.

Veterans groups are pressuring the panel to show the troops the respect of counting them even though they can’t vote here, as the federal government requires in setting congressional districts.

Some on O‘ahu are rallying around the idea as a way keeping the Senate seat on the island, but Big Islanders naturally take umbrage at a rules change that would deny them the additional Senate seat they feel they’re entitled to by an honest count of eligible resident voters.

Counting those who can’t vote, they say, leaves us with a skewed Legislature that doesn’t truly represent the electorate.

As one of my old friends in Hilo colorfully put it, “I do not know if I am
to grab my ankles now or a little later.”

Hanabusa can now vote for herself

June 13, 2011

To finish off a story we’ve been following, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa announced she’ll move into the 1st Congressional District she represents by renting a Kakaako apartment until she can sell her Ko Olina home and buy in town.

The new residence that she’ll use the one week a month she’s in Hawai‘i enables her to become a registered voter of the 1st District, and as far as I’m concerned, that satisfies her campaign promise to move into the district if she was elected over Charles Djou.

Hanabusa could have waited to see if Ko Olina ends up in the 1st District after reapportionment as some have speculated, but it would have been read as a broken promise that she didn’t need hanging over her head — especially if she jumps into the race to succeed U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka.

Making the move gives her bragging rights over fellow U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, a possible rival in the Senate race and a resident of the 1st District who never bothered to move into the 2nd District she represents.

If the Ko Olina home doesn’t sell — it’s listed at $1.25 million — Hanabusa can always move back if her circumstances change next year, but likely she needs to downsize her Hawai‘i housing to raise proceeds to help pay for an additional residence in Washington.

Govern your mouth, Mr. Governor

June 9, 2011

Geez, we we’re just talking about Gov. Neil Abercrombie blathering semi-coherently about homelessness and now he’s at it again — this time with a barely articulate rant against the state paying $4 million to the NFL’s wealthy owners and players to bring the Pro Bowl here.

Among his statements reported by the Star-Advertiser:

• “This happens to be an easy target because it is so stupid. You can’t do things like give $4 million to a $9 billion football industry and not give money to children.”

• “Right now you have this spectacle of these multimillionaires and billionaires arguing about how they are going to divide it all up and they come and ask us to bribe them with $4 million to … scrimmage out here in paradise.”

• “This is a values question. I am not really that concerned with what multimillionaires or billionaires or whatever they are, are able to — what do they do with all that? I mean, how many sandwiches can you eat?”

The governor’s unexpected tizzy fit totally distracted attention from what he called his press conference to promote — his early childhood education initiative.

And it reflected an immature prejudice that anybody who has money is inherently suspect (unless, of course, they’re giving their money to his campaign).

The Pro Bowl seemed an unlikely target of such over-the-top ire. It’s a quality event and local people enjoy getting to see their favorite football stars up close as much as the tourists do.

It seems to have a decent return on investment as far as such promotions go. According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, this year’s Pro Bowl brought in $28.15 million in unique visitor spending and generated $3.07 million in state taxes, not to mention the promotional value of putting Hawai‘i on national TV in the middle of the mainland winter.

It’s disingenuous and simplistic to suggest that booting the Pro Bowl would result in $4 million more going to education.

Which isn’t to say there’s no room for discussion about whether the Pro Bowl is a good investment for Hawai‘i.

But you don’t change policy by wildly shooting off your mouth; you do it by seeing what your constituents think and having an adult discussion with the various stakeholders who have devoted much effort to bringing the Pro Bowl here in the sincere belief that it’s good for business and good for Hawai‘i.

It’s difficult to tell sometimes whether Abercrombie is reprising the loudmouthed campus rabble-rouser he once was or channeling Frank Fasi without the charm, but either way it isn’t playing.

He won’t be taken seriously as governor of the state until he learns to govern his mouth.

Abercrombie needs to get past the bombast on homelessness

June 9, 2011

Returning to our lively discussion on homelessness from the other day, I thought the dedication of the Weinberg Foundation project in Waianae with 30 long-term townhouses and 20 transitional studios for low-income residents pointed up the challenge.

This is a good project. Lack of affordable housing is the root problem for most of Hawai‘i’s homeless, and building more housing that fits their needs is the single most important thing we can do.

But then Gov. Neil Abercrombie started talking, and his typical bombast threw up a lot of smoke without getting us any closer to a solution.

“Everything is going to change,” he declared. “We are going to end homelessness in the state. It’s a crime against humanity — this is Hawaii, this is paradise, there will be no homelessness in Hawaii.”

Calling it a crime suggests there are criminals at work, and I wonder who he thinks they might be.

Nobody set out with an intent to render thousands of people homeless; it just happened as a result of a sinking island economy that produces high housing prices and relatively low-paying jobs, and nobody came up with an effective way to stem the tide.

If the governor is pointing fingers, he’s been in high public office for more than 35 years and hasn’t exactly been at the forefront of finding solutions to homelessness.

The second part of his statement is another Abercrombie trademark — repeatedly making sweeping promises before doing anything to show progress, giving him a growing reputation of being all talk and no action.

All he’s done so far is announce a 90-day plan that hasn’t been particularly well received and seems more about getting the homeless out of the way for APEC than enacting long-term solutions.

Ending homelessness is a noble goal and it’ll be a major feather in Abercrombie’s cap if he pulls it off, but it’s easier said than done.

The Lingle administration sincerely thought that homelessness could be ended in 10 years and put serious effort into building shelters and transitional housing, but left office without making much of a dent in a stubborn problem.

Abercrombie’s own homelessness coordinator Marc Alexander admits that the path to a broad solution is not yet clear.

With that in mind, Abercrombie would well advised to tone down the sweeping indictments and inflated promises until he has some actual progress to report.

Rod Tam sentencing delayed again

June 8, 2011

Former City Councilman Rod Tam’s sentencing on public corruption charges was delayed again after he was slapped with more public corruption charges.

Part-time District Judge Randal Shintani postponed Tam’s sentencing on 26 counts of overcharging the city for meals until Aug. 16 after Tam pleaded no contest to eight new state counts of violating campaign spending laws by misusing campaign funds and falsifying documents.

Tam’s sentencing has already been delayed several times since his guilty plea on the original charges in November.

As usual, Tam was less than contrite in admitting and accepting responsibility for his crimes. Nevertheless, he is asking the judge to defer acceptance of his pleas, which could allow him to walk away with no jail time and no permanent stain on his record. Previous corruption cases involving elected officials have almost always resulted in jail time.

The evidence is compelling that Tam used his city expense account and campaign fund as personal piggy banks, covering his tracks with phony receipts and, in at least one instance, an apparent outright forgery.

The city expense account case involves some $15,000 in overcharges for meals at Honolulu restaurants. The campaign spending case involves personal purchases at local stores using campaign money, unsubstantiated meal reimbursements and failure to report campaign contributions.

Tam could face up to 14 years in prison, but a sentence that stiff is highly unlikely.

For comparison, former Councilwoman Rene Mansho was sentenced to a year in jail in 2002 after pleading guilty to theft of $20,000 in city money and $300 from her campaign fund.

In a 2001 federal corruption case, former Councilman Andy Mirikitani was sentenced to four years and three months for taking some $6,000 in bonus kickbacks from staffers.

Homeless plan or security sweep?

June 7, 2011

Stories in the local media about Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s 90-day homeless plan have mentioned the timing in relation to the November APEC conference, but have allowed for the possibility of loftier goals than removing the homeless from the view plane of Barack Obama and other world leaders.

Not so most of the stories circulating in the mainland media. The AP story that ran in the Washington Post and other major media laid the homelessness initiative directly at the doorstep of APEC:

HONOLULU — The laid-back tropical paradise seen in postcards and tourists’ photos of Hawaii has a less pleasant flipside: homeless people sleeping in tents near Waikiki Beach, men splayed out next to public bathrooms, drug addicts and drunks loitering at an oceanside park.

With President Barack Obama hosting a major Asia-Pacific economic summit in Honolulu in November — one that will draw dozens of heads of state and focus international attention on the tourist mecca — state leaders have begun pressing for solutions to solve a homelessness problem that’s as deeply entrenched in Hawaii as nearly anywhere in the country.

Abercrombie was quoted as saying it’s a “happy coincidence” that the plan will move many of the homeless out of Waikiki and the main city corridor before APEC.

Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz mentioned a moral obligation to help the homeless, but admitted APEC is a “handy deadline” to show some progress.

Mayor Peter Carlisle said the added police and security forces for the conference will be keeping a special eye on the homeless.

“Some of them are violent, some of them are mentally ill, some are so intoxicated you can’t roust ‘em,” he said. “And that’s something we simply just can’t tolerate during this particular period of time.”

The question is whether it’s motivation that really matters or results.

If the homeless are moved only temporarily out of Waikiki and the central city — or pushed to other locations where they’re just a problem for someone else — the program will be a disgrace by any measure.

But if the sweep finds actual solutions and services for a fair number of homeless and gets them into better situations for themselves and the community, do we really care what motivated the timing?

Djou makes sense on rail

June 6, 2011

Former U.S. Rep. Charles Djou took a break from the federal issues that have been his major focus of late and wrote a thoughtful piece in Hawaii Reporter on one of his pet local issues — Oahu rail transit.

Djou notes that the community is as divided as ever on the $1.3 billion project and argues it didn’t have to be that way if the Hannemann and Carlisle administrations had made any effort to build community consensus after the 2008 voter referendum that narrowly approved steel-on-steel rail.

In the months following the ’08 vote, the city squandered any goodwill resulting from the vote. Rather than reach out to proponents and opponents alike, the Hannemann administration, the majority on the City Council and the rail transit division charted a divisive path relying on the narrow mandate from the public to do as it pleased without regard to the nearly 50 percent of residents who opposed rail.

Since the 2008 election, the city has not adequately followed up with any broad outreach to the community in seeking consensus on rail. Instead of pausing to reflect and explain the costs of rail to the public, the current city administration and Council have brushed aside legitimate concerns by rail opponents.

Today, rail is embroiled in litigation and it appears the courts may ultimately dictate how rail gets done.

Djou, a former councilman, speaks with some credibility on the matter. He was the council’s leading rail opponent for years, believing the city couldn’t afford the expensive heavy-rail design being pursued.

But he respected the decision voters made in 2008 in favor of rail and shifted his focus from trying to kill the project to trying to improve it; he brokered the well-received deal to reroute the train past the airport instead of through Salt Lake.

Djou makes some good suggestions going forward.

As long as the city relies on a razor-thin majority favoring rail, it will subject success of the project to the whim of just 2 percent of the electorate changing its mind.

The city should alter its approach and start by making a stronger effort to include those who oppose rail in the decision-making process. …

The City Council should insist on transparent financial plans that clearly explain to the public what will happen to the project, and the city’s ability to finance the project if tenuous federal funding fails to materialize.

Decision-making should include all residents and not be limited to just the strongest rail supporters. …

If we want to move beyond constant squabbles, we need more consensus-building by city officials on this project. They need to understand that reasonable people can disagree.

Mayor Peter Carlisle blew a chance to improve public confidence when instead of bringing in some new faces with a more conciliatory tone, he kept on Hannemann’s top transit people who had lost their credibility with much of public and council because of their dismissive attacks on anybody who dared voice a contrary view.

The new transit authority that will soon be taking the reins has another chance to put a more open and accessible face on the project by bringing in some new players capable of involving a broader spectrum of the community in the planning.

They’ll only get one chance to make a good first impression.

Kapiolani parking raises hackles

June 3, 2011

Freshman Councilman Stanley Chang is in hot water with some of his Waikiki constituents for being slow to react to the Carlisle administration’s proposal to substantially raise parking rates around Kapiolani Park.

The administration is seeking to collect $2 million a year for park maintenance by raising meter rates around Kapiolani and Aala parks from 50 cents an hour to $1 and requiring that the meters be fed 24/7 instead of just during daytime. The higher fees would presumably be extended in the future to other parks such as Ala Moana.

The increases drew some opposition from Oahu residents who use the park and nearby beach as a place to enjoy relatively inexpensive time with friends and families.

But most of the outrage came from residents of the condos that surround Kapiolani Park, who have few other places to park.

The higher rates — and especially extending them all night — could cost them hundreds of dollars a month, which they regard as an unfairly steep budget-balancing burden placed on only a few.

Chang threw in with the opponents and announced this week that he had persuaded his colleagues to recommit Bill 30 to committee at their meeting today, but the critics complain that he was uncommunicative until now and voted for the measure on the first two readings.

They aren’t convinced that Chang’s colleagues won’t throw the junior councilman under a bus and plan to show up at the meeting to apply pressure.

Chang’s handling of the matter seems less than deft and it’ll be interesting to see if it’s just inexperience or the beginning of a pattern.

A hurricane of politics

June 2, 2011

It appears that a decade of drama over the Hurricane Relief Fund may be over.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a bill allowing him to take $42 million from the $117 million hurricane fund to help erase the budget deficit for this fiscal year — and to drain the fund entirely if more is needed.

The hurricane fund has been a subject of endless misunderstandings since it was created to provide windstorm coverage to Hawai‘i homeowners when private insurers left the market after Iniki.

It was funded with premiums collected from homeowners receiving state coverage, which ended when private insurers returned to the market.

Former Gov. Ben Cayetano proposed draining the hurricane surplus during the last recession, arguing that its purpose had been served and the funds should be diverted to other priorities.

He was shot down by opponents led by Republicans, who pushed for the surplus to be returned to homeowners who paid into the fund, a dubious proposition since they’d gotten the insurance they paid for and had no legitimate claim to refunds.

Opponents then shifted their argument to preserving the surplus to pay for damage to public facilities in a future hurricane, but that wasn’t the purpose set by the enabling legislation.

Finally, the argument became holding the money to resume state provided insurance if private insurers leave the market again.

It would be nice to leave a little money in the fund to jump start the program if necessary, but it would be mostly funded with new premiums from homeowners and $117 million is more than needed for a quick restart.

Bond analysts liked the cash reserve that the hurricane surplus represented for the state, but it’s difficult to justify leaving the money idle when the state has bills to pay.


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