Archive for August 2011

It’s already hold-your-nose time in the Hawai‘i’s U.S. Senate race

August 5, 2011

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee issued a couple of bizarre statements this week in Hawai‘i’s much anticipated 2012 U.S. Senate race, which so far has U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono and former Rep. Ed Case competing on the Democratic side for a likely match against former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.

In one missive, DSCC executive director Guy Cecil scolded Case for publicizing his campaign poll that purported to show him leading Lingle while Hirono trails the Republican.

“I don’t believe Mr. Case is being honest with this poll,” Cecil said. “It exaggerates support for him and for Lingle. It also contradicts polling we have done in this race that shows Hirono leading Lingle by 19 points.”

Who knows if Case’s poll was right or not, but it was done by an established pollster in Hawai‘i and the sample was taken months apart from the DSCC survey.

In any event, using polling data to underline your message is a standard campaign tactic, and since when does the national party get involved in an intramural squabble this early in the game?

It makes you wonder how the statement came to be issued. Did Hirono go crying to the DSCC for protection? Was it U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, a longtime Case antagonist, keeping his promise to remain neutral by having a surrogate do the dirty work?

Establishment Democrats don’t seem to get it that they shoot themselves in the foot with this kind of carping.

The more Hirono seems to need the protection of “the boys,” the weaker she appears. The more the party establishment acts afraid of Case, the more moderates in the party and independent voters like him.

Equally nonsensical was a separate statement by the DSCC’s Matt Canter attacking Lingle after she dipped her toe further into the race.

“Hyper-partisan Linda Lingle is trying to hide her long record as a partisan bomb thrower in order to go to Washington and rubber stamp the extreme Republican agenda that would end Medicare and give tax breaks to oil companies,” Canter said.

Over-the-top rhetoric may sound good in Washington’s overcharged political environment, but it just doesn’t play in Hawai‘i. This was proven beyond any doubt in last year’s race in the 1st Congressional District, when similar ultra-nasty and factually dubious attacks by national Republicans against Colleen Hanabusa helped her more than hurt her.

Lingle has an eight-year record as governor that’s fair game for criticism, but trying to portray her as a bomb-throwing GOP extremist won’t resonate with most Hawai‘i voters who know better.

She has a long-established record as a moderate within her party and has been derided as a RINO — Republican in name only — by conservative advocates of the extreme-right agenda locally and nationally.

Hardly a bomb-thrower, many of her failures as governor could be traced to an excess of caution.

The more the national parties involve themselves in our 2012 Senate race, the more Hawai‘i voters will hold their noses — and last year’s CD1 race showed that’s not a good thing for the side emitting the most odor.

Ethics chief in Legislature’s crosshairs again

August 4, 2011

Nobody knows how to paint a target on his back better than Les Kondo, executive director of the state Ethics Commission.

He got lawmakers’ noses seriously out of joint during this year’s legislative session when he told them that they couldn’t accept free tickets to a dinner hosted by a prominent Democratic power broker.

How dare he, they thought, and responded with a much-derided and ultimately failed bill that would have allowed them to accept or even solicit virtually unlimited travel and meals and other gifts worth up to $200 from just about anybody seeking to influence their actions.

Now Kondo has himself in legislators’ crosshairs again with his determination that private-interest members of task forces and working groups formed by lawmakers to help shape legislation can’t lobby the Legislature on the subject of the working groups.

This time they didn’t just think it, but actually voiced it. “How dare he tell us we can’t do that,” said state Sen. Rosalyn Baker.

Kondo is essentially subjecting members of the Legislature’s task forces and working groups to the same ethics rules that govern members of other state boards and commissions.

“Just because they label the group something else doesn’t mean it’s not the same animal,” he was quoted as saying in the Star-Advertiser. “You’re not supposed to be able to profit from the privilege of serving.”

That seems logical. The legislative task force that ignited the dispute — a working group on urban development established by Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz — required inclusion of representatives of the Hawaii Building and Construction Trades Council, the General Contractors Association of Hawaii and “any other interested stakeholders or entities, including but not limited to developers, architects, and contractors.”

Why should self-interested members of these shadowy working groups that exert so much influence on public policy get a pass from state ethics laws?

Rail car snag will show what HART is made of

August 3, 2011

I’d love to be a fly on the wall when the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation goes into executive session Thursday to discuss the city’s troubled $1.45 billion contract with Ansaldo Honolulu to provide and operate cars for the $5.3 billion rail system.

In two disturbing developments last week, the city admitted it made no reference calls to check Ansaldo’s spotty performance in other cities and Ansaldo’s parent company conceded the rail division has “structural problems” in producing rail cars for customers and may be sold if “urgent restructuring”  doesn’t solve financial and managerial problems.

The disarray involving a major contractor leaves unwelcome question marks hanging over the fledgling Honolulu rail project before construction is even started.

Further clouding the matter are challenges to the bidding process filed by two of Ansaldo’s competitors — Sumitomo and Bombardier — that could end up in court.

It’ll be the first test of what HART is made of; will the board deal forthrightly and independently with an unacceptable lapse of due diligence by the city, or will it join the city administration in putting a happy face on rail-related snags?

I have further thoughts on the rail car mess in my column in today’s Star-Advertiser, “City missteps cast doubt on direction of rail project.”

Cursive gets curt dismissal

August 2, 2011

Is anybody here greatly bothered that Hawai‘i public school students won’t be required to learn cursive writing under national core learning standards the Department of Education is adopting this year?

With students using keyboarding for more and more of their written communication, many schools are reducing emphasis on cursive to create time to teach higher priority subjects such as reading and math.

Critics complain that this will impede development of motor skills and make it impossible to read historical documents or take college exams that are written in script.

I respect the ancient arts as much as anybody, but we have to give the schools leeway in setting priorities or they’ll never have any. One of the problems in school reform has been endless mandates requiring the teaching of things there aren’t enough hours in the school day to teach.

I’ve made a living in written communication for more than 40 years, and except for my signature, I can’t remember the last time cursive was required of me. Historical documents are available in printed text on the Internet and it’s highly unlikely that today’s third-graders will ever have to take a college exam in cursive as tablet computers flood the campuses.

They get plenty of motor skill development from keyboarding, they’re plenty adept at block printing, and have you seen what some of those kids can do with their thumbs?

Each child can develop a personal cursive signature as an art project.

The new standards don’t bar the teaching of cursive, just make it a school-level decision rather than a universal requirement. That’s as it should be as we demand that schools focus on teaching the things most important for rich and rewarding lives.

A peek at Lingle’s Senate strategy

August 1, 2011

Former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle is still coy on whether she’ll run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Daniel Akaka next year, but in a speech last week she gave clues to the strategy she’ll follow if she takes the plunge.

According to a report by Derrick DePledge in the Star-Advertiser, she’s aligning herself with a group of former governors from both parties who have been a moderating force in the Senate.

“Governors bring a particularly different approach in the United States Senate than those people who have come just from the legislative side,” Lingle, who is considering a Senate campaign, told a luncheon sponsored by the conservative Grassroot Institute of Hawaii at the Japanese Cultural Center.

“They are less ideological. They are more practical. They are more agenda driven. They are able to put forth something they’d like to achieve and then move to do it because as governor you have to. You can’t hide behind a lot of other people.”

In other words, she’ll argue she can give Hawai‘i a voice in the Republican caucus that seems on the ascent in Congress, while at the same time working to moderate the strident conservatism of the GOP caucus that alienates many voters in this strongly Democratic state.

It’s similar to the strategy she followed in 2002 to become Hawai‘i’s first Republican governor in 40 years, de-fanging her Republicanism enough to successfully compete for moderate Democrats and independents in defeating then-Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, now a congresswoman who is running for the Senate.

The other Democrat who has announced for the Senate is former U.S. Rep. Ed Case, another veteran of the 2002 governor’s race who will argue that he’s better positioned than Hirono to hold the moderate Democrats and independents against Lingle.

Of course, much has changed since 2002; Lingle served eight controversial years as governor while Hirono has served quietly in Congress and avoided controversy. Case is still fighting the demons from his ill-timed run against Akaka in 2006.

Lingle has been enough of an ideological chameleon that she can portray herself anywhere on the spectrum she wants.

She campaigned for conservatives such as former president George W. Bush and the 2008 ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin, but has avoided embracing either the tea party agenda or the social agenda of the religious right.

On local issues, she’s also hard to pin down. She supported the Akaka bill hated by conservatives, but opposed the latest version that contains amendments proposed by the Obama administration. She let the excise tax for O‘ahu rail become law, but held up the project with a lengthy review of the environmental impact statement. She vetoed civil unions, but was careful not to join conservatives in demonizing gay couples.

She’s shown a talent in previous campaigns for framing the issues around her strengths, and Democrats would make a mistake to take her lightly because of early polls showing her far behind.


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