Archive for the ‘Volcanic Ash’ category

New twists in teachers contract dispute

August 18, 2011

The state Ethics Commission is likely to take more flak from high places for its advisory ruling that led Sesnita Moepono, one of three members of the Hawaii Labor Relations Board, to withdraw from the prohibited practices case involving the Hawaii State Teachers Association contract.

The ethics determination was pretty much a no-brainer; Moepono’s husband is a student services coordinator in the DOE and a member of HSTA, giving her a direct financial interest in the outcome of the union’s attempt to overturn a state-imposed contract that hits members with 5-percent pay cuts and increased medical premiums.

Moepono has been open about the conflict and her integrity is not in question, but the ethics law is clear: “No employee shall take any official action directly affecting … a business or other undertaking in which he has a substantial financial interest.”

With Moepono recused, the remaining board members, Chairman Jim Nicholson and Rock Ley, will decide the case.

The three members are appointed with one representing management, one representing labor and the other representing the public. Ironically, Moepono was appointed by Abercrombie as the management representative, while Ley is the labor representative and Nicholson the public representative.

Hearings on the prohibited practices case were supposed to start this week, but got sidetracked by HSTA’s complaint that Abercrombie and the DOE engaged in improper ex parte communication with the board.

Nicholson and Ley rejected that complaint today and rescheduled the start of hearings on the main complaint for Aug. 25.

Governor must answer, ‘Where’s the beef?’

August 17, 2011

In his speech today updating constituents on the status of his “New Day” program, Gov. Neil Abercrombie once again did an excellent job of describing the major challenges that Hawai‘i faces.

But he still hasn’t gotten to the hardest part — prescribing specific remedies that a critical mass of Hawai‘i residents will support despite the sacrifices they will certainly entail.

The governor basically declared that he has state finances in the black and the wheels of government aligned more to his liking and is now ready to focus on a “gathering storm” that threatens Hawai‘i’s  future.

He identified the five elements of the threat as the massive debt we face with some $22 billion in unfunded pension and medical benefits owed public workers, soaring healthcare costs, our over-reliance on outside energy and food, inadequate support for education and social services, and the potential for huge federal funding cuts.

His solution, as always, was his “New Day” plan to create jobs around a sustainable economy, invest in our children and make state government more efficient.

Abercrombie encouraged everybody to join in the sacrifices and took aim at Hawai‘i’s status quo that he was long seen as part of.

“The status quo insists that we conform to the way things have always been,” he said. “It is obsessed with illusory short-term gain at the expense of long-term stability. It favors the few. It outflanks the middle class, and it marginalizes those who need help the most. It questions and casts doubt upon new ideas. It stifles creativity and limits opportunity.”

It’s hard to argue with his logic, but the devil will be in the details — of which he offered few.

Abercrombie’s biggest problem is that he’s burned much of the political goodwill he had after landslide victories over Mufi Hannemann and James “Duke” Aiona.

Part of it was unavoidable, such as his necessarily tough stand in union negotiations that angered some of the noisiest labor and “progressive” elements of the Democratic Party.

Demanding that his political base make the same sacrifices as everybody else should have won him points with moderates and progressives who have always been suspicious of him.

But Abercrombie unnecessarily antagonized them with missteps such as his pointless tizzy fit on the Pro Bowl, his decision to shroud judicial appointments in secrecy for no good reason and a perceived arrogance exemplified by his infamous “I’m not your pal” remark.

He needs to smooth over some of the self-inflicted ill feelings and regain political capital so that next year he can face a Legislature that disregarded many of his ideas this year from a position of greater strength.

If he’s seen as weak and lacking public confidence, it’ll be everyone for themselves and he’ll get little cooperation on the shared sacrifices he seeks.

HSTA flounders in labor battle

August 17, 2011

The Hawaii State Teachers Association is making self-defeating moves in its legal fight to overturn a state-imposed contract that hits teachers with a 5-percent pay cut and a greater share of medical premiums.

The HSTA’s complaint to the state Ethics Commission that Gov. Neil Abercrombie and the Department of Education engaged in illegal ex parte communication with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board backfired when the labor board delayed hearings on the union’s prohibited practice complaint to instead hear evidence on the suggestions of bias.

That’s not what HSTA wanted at all; it was looking to take a political shot at Abercrombie and the DOE and instead winds up on the defensive explaining itself to an unamused labor board.

The ethics complaint, over a letter the employers sent to the labor board suggesting directed mediation to resolve the dispute, has even some labor lawyers scratching their heads.

The administration also sent a copy of the letter to the HSTA, making it difficult to sell an argument that the employers were operating behind the union’s back.

The other questionable move was issuing subpoenas to have top legislative leaders testify before the HLRB on the budget they passed in April that assumed a 5-percent pay cut for the teachers.

The union argues that this locked in the pay cut before negotiations concluded, denying the teachers their right to collective bargaining.

It’s another legal stretch. The Legislature often must pass a budget before all labor negotiations are done and makes its best guess on labor costs. If negotiations turn out differently, the budget is adjusted.

HSTA leaders are acting like they think they have already lost the legal battle and are instead fighting a clumsy PR war.

Partying and writing don’t mix

August 16, 2011

I attended a family birthday celebration at Dave & Buster’s last night and got through it by consuming several Black and Tans, so instead of  trying to write, I’m going to leave you a video shot Saturday of Ilisa Peralta’s guitar students performing Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me.” My granddaughters Sloane, 8, and Nakaylee, 7, are seated front and center in their first public performance, and they rock.

An issue of congressional residency

August 15, 2011

I got a note from a supporter of U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa asking why her fellow Rep. Mazie Hirono hasn’t gotten as much scrutiny as Hanabusa over whether she moved into the district she represents.

The main reason is that, unlike Hanabusa, Hirono never promised she’d move if elected.

Last year’s election put Hawai‘i in a bizarre situation in which neither of our congresswomen could vote for themselves. Federal law requires only that representatives live in the state, not the district.

Hirono lived in East Honolulu in the 1st Congressional District when she was elected in 2006 to represent rural Oahu and the neighbor islands in the 2nd Congressional District. She never moved into the district she represents and is now running for the U.S. Senate.

Hanabusa lived in Ko Olina in the 2nd Congressional District when she was elected last year to represent urban Honolulu in the 1st Congressional District. Under heavy pressure on the residency issue from her opponent, Charles Djou, she pledged to move into the district if elected and kept the promise by renting a Kakaako apartment.

Hanabusa still hasn’t sold her Ko Olina home and it could be moved into the 1st District for the next election if the state Reapportionment Commission has its way, but a Hanabusa spokesman said she plans to sell the Ko Olina property and buy closer to town either way.

The residency issue came up in the 2006 Democratic primary in the 2nd District, but Hirono’s opponents, who included Hanabusa, never put enough pressure on her to elicit a clear promise to move. Here’s how I reported her position in a column before that year’s primary:

Hirono, the former lieutenant governor who lives in Honolulu, says she would like to move to the 2nd District, but stopped short of saying she actually will do so if her campaign succeeds.

At candidate forums, Hirono has expressed concerns about uprooting her 82-year-old mother, who lives with her, from her familiar surroundings.

“I’d love to live in the 2nd District, especially on one of the Neighbor Islands,” Hirono said. “My biggest challenge will be making a decision about where to live, because I enjoy each island for many different reasons.

“Of course, the reality is that if elected I would be living the bulk of the time in Washington, D.C., as that is where the job is.”

Hirono argued that “what matters more than where the member of Congress lives is that the representative is attentive to the people of the district, responsive to their needs.”

She was keeping to the same line in a recent statement to AP: ”As many know, my 86-year-old mother lives with my husband and me. Uprooting her from familiar surroundings to a new home would be too disruptive for our family.”

Hirono can be fairly criticized for choosing not to live among the constituents she represents, but it wouldn’t be fair to accuse her of breaking a campaign promise.

Les Kondo strikes again

August 11, 2011

Ethics Commission executive director Les Kondo will likely have an even bigger target on his back with state legislators after he shot down a posh dinner well-heeled special interests planned for Hawai‘i lawmakers attending the National Conference of State Legislators in San Antonio.

According to the Hawaii Reporter, the event was cancelled after Kondo advised hosts that the value of the meal exceeded the $25 limit set by the ethics law on what legislators can accept.

Sponsors of the dinner included the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce, Outrigger Enterprises, Hawaii Medical Services Association, Island Insurance, Coca Cola and the law firm of Goodsill Anderson Quinn & Stifel.

Lawmakers will no doubt be furious, as they were earlier in the year when a similar determination by Kondo kept them away from a dinner sponsored by a prominent Democratic power broker.

They tried during this year’s session to counter the Ethics Commission’s tough stand by passing a bill that would have allowed legislators and other state employees to freely accept and even solicit meals, travel and other gifts worth up to $200 from special interests seeking to influence them.

Kondo deserves credit for standing firm in enforcing laws protecting the public against the buying and selling of official influence. Wealthy private interests shouldn’t be able to use expensive freebies to gather and indoctrinate lawmakers in a way ordinary citizens can’t.

Some legislators are clearly gunning for Kondo — they barely allowed him to speak at one House Judiciary Committee hearing — but hopefully ethics commissioners will resist the pressure and back him up like the Campaign Spending Commission did with Bob Watada a decade ago.

If they do, Kondo and the commission have the potential to give a backbone to loosely applied ethics rules in the same way Watada did with campaign fundraising.

Bachmann debate turns crazy

August 10, 2011

The latest tempest in the political teapot involves a Newsweek cover photo of GOP presidential contender Michele Bachmann that some supporters say is unflattering and makes her look crazy.

Even liberal feminists from the National Organization for Women are denouncing as sexist the headline that proclaims the tea party favorite to be “The Queen of Rage.”

“The ‘Queen of Rage’ is something you apply to wrestlers or somebody who is crazy,” said NOW president Terry O’Neill.

Personally, I’m inclined to agree with my Facebook friend David Harada-Stone, who posted, “I’d be more worried that the sh** she says makes her sound crazy.”

But professionally, I know that references based on gender and race have high potential to inflame, distort and distract the discussion and feel Newsweek should have known better.

We learned the lesson in the 2008 presidential campaign, when columnists like Maureen Dowd of the New York Times took major heat over gender-based putdowns of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

I also got some grief from Clinton supporters about comments I made to the effect that we needed to expand the political gene pool and stop trading the presidency back and forth between Bushes and Clintons.

But they couldn’t get me for gender bias; I reviewed what I’d written about Clinton and found no references to her gender except “she” and “her.”

I don’t see it as political correctness to use neutral language on matters of personal identity to avoid inflaming sensitivities. It’s a common courtesy that makes the public discourse a little more civil.

Politics straight out of Toon Town

August 9, 2011

I’m reluctant to wade into the finger-pointing over who’s to blame for S&P’s downgrade of the U.S. credit rating, but one thing President Barack Obama said rang true to me.

The president said S&P’s move was “not so much because they doubt our ability to pay our debt … but because after witnessing a month of wrangling over raising the debt ceiling, they doubted our political system’s ability to act.”

The sad fact is that after standing as a beacon of stability in the world for most of our history, we’re becoming a politically unstable nation, unable to handle the most basic functions of government in an orderly and effective manner.

Our political system is a complex array of checks and balances that depends on compromise to get things done. It’s virtually impossible for anybody to have everything their own way, and when the parties refuse to compromise, the system breaks down.

We’ve come to play it as a game of sticking the other guy with the blame, but the collapse of the stock market in the wake of the debt crisis shows that this “game” has very real consequences — not only for the high-rollers on Wall Street, but for ordinary folks within pensions and 401k’s whose retirement depends on stable markets.

Of most concern is that the major players don’t seem to have learned anything from the trauma they’ve caused us.

Political money and passion these days flow to the extremes, where compromise is reviled, and the two sides are already revving up a 2012 national political campaign likely to take cartoonish demonization to a new level.

With so many voters disgusted and disengaged, I’m not seeing a path back to political stability anytime soon.

New hope in teachers’ labor dispute, or just hype?

August 8, 2011

It could be naive, but I’m going to take the offer of the Hawaii State Teachers Association to enter into mediation with the state in their continuing contract dispute as a sign of progress and not more posturing.

The teachers union is currently pursuing legal action against the state after Gov. Neil Abercrombie and schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi imposed the state’s “last, best and final” offer — a 5 percent pay cut and increased medical premiums — when negotiations hit an impasse.

It’s in nobody’s best interest to have the courts settle this dispute, and it’s encouraging that the union now says it’s open to mediation after the governor had said the same thing in informal comments last week on the Big Island.

According to Abercrombie, the state had reached a handshake agreement with HSTA negotiators along the lines of the contract imposed, only to have it rejected by the union’s board without putting it to a vote by teachers.

This suggests state and union negotiators were at least very close at one point, and it’s puzzling that HSTA never made a counteroffer stating its objections to what its negotiators had agreed to and indicating what it would take to satisfy the board.

Such a counteroffer should be the first step in any productive mediation process.

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.


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