Posted tagged ‘Politics’

The political gods smile on Mufi Hannemann

September 7, 2011

After the embarrassing drubbing former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann took from Neil Abercrombie in last year’s governor’s race, who would have thought he’d have a chance to climb back into one of the state’s top offices just two years later?

But the 2nd Congressional District seat opened by Mazie Hirono’s run for retiring U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka’s job seems a golden opportunity for Hannemann to reclaim a choice spot on Hawai‘i’s political ladder.

The dismal 37.8 percent of the vote he received against Abercrombie was a stunning repudiation, and he’d have a lot to worry about if he had to go one-on-one against another top Democrat.

But this congressional race could draw a half-dozen candidates or more, and Hannemann would need only a plurality to win. If he held anywhere near that 37.8 percent, he’d win in a landslide; Hirono won a multi-candidate primary in 2006 with barely 20 percent of the vote.

Hannemann will have a substantial bankroll and likely a long list of business and labor endorsements that his current announced opponents — freshman City Councilwoman Tulsi Gabbard and veteran congressional aide Esther Kiaaina — will find difficult to match.

Former state Sen. Gary Hooser has also expressed interest, but he seems to have peaked with middle-of-the-pack finishes in the 2006 congressional race and last year’s Democratic primary for lieutenant governor.

No Republican candidate of any weight has emerged.

Unless there’s a surprise entry or Hannemann makes more of the foolish mistakes that did him in against Abercrombie, this race looks like his to lose.


A ‘waha’ state of mind

September 6, 2011

My last “serious” column before going on vacation was about Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s tendency to orate over and over about the state’s problems without having new progress to report in solving them.

A reader wrote in using a word to describe the governor that I haven’t heard since my days in Hilo High — “waha.” It technically means “mouth,” but carries a broader meaning of all talk and no action.

I started to see a pattern when the word popped up again in another e-mail containing what the reader said was an old Hawaiian saying:

Hana ka hoe (Work the paddle),
pa‘a ka waha (close the mouth).

These struck me as very profound words whose applicability went well beyond the governor to everybody in public life from the local City Council to the U.S. Congress — and maybe even those of us who comment from the sidelines.

As we come out of Labor Day supposedly renewed for the rest of the year, we’d make more progress toward getting past our differences and solving our stubborn problems if we all paid more attention to working the paddles.

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.

R.I.P. Herb Matayoshi

July 14, 2011

I was sorry to hear of the death of Herbert Matayoshi, a gentleman politician who served as Big Island mayor from 1974 to 1984 after earning his stripes as a leader on the County Council.

Matayoshi, 82, provided Hawai‘i County steady guidance through a period of major political transition, leading with an easy manner and an eye for detail.

While he preferred a low-key approach, he could display a flair for the dramatic.

When the council decided not to reconfirm his respected planning director Raymond Suefuji and corporation counsel Clifford Lum for no apparent reason other than to flex muscle, Matayoshi whipped up community outrage and made the council sit through hours of testimony in favor of his nominees that lasted long into the night.

Then, knowing that the votes wouldn’t change, he threw it in the face of council members by appearing as the last witness and withdrawing the nominations, denying them the satisfaction of the last word.

He gave the Police Commission a public dressing down after the panel called an illegal secret meeting to fire popular Chief Ernest Fergerstrom as he recovered from a stroke.

With his diverse business interests, even after retiring from politics Matayoshi remained a force in the community along with his wife Mary, an educator and volunteer who has been a major figure in her own right.

The couple passed on their passion for public service to their four children, who include state Schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi.

Visitation will be at 4 p.m. July 26 at Honolulu’s Borthwick Mortuary, followed by a memorial service at 6 p.m. An observance in Hilo will be held Aug. 15 at Church of the Holy Cross with visitation at 2:30 p.m. and a celebration of life at 4 p.m.

Guv agrees to pay losing bidders

July 13, 2011

The last batch of bills signed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie included one of the hold-your-nose gems of this year’s Legislature — HB 985, which allows the state to reimburse some losing bidders on public works projects  for the cost of preparing their bids.

The measure, which Abercrombie approved without comment, allows the state to spread around more money without evidence of public good to contractors who also happen to be generous campaign contributors to legislators and the governor.

The bill was introduced by Maui Reps. Angus McKelvey, Gil Keith-Agaran, Joe Souki and Kyle Yamashita, along with Kailua Rep. Pono Chong.

The reimbursements would apply to design-build contracts on projects worth $1 million or more, with the top three pre-qualified bidders eligible for repayment on the cost of preparing conceptual design drawings.

Sponsors said such welfare for losing contractors would encourage more small local companies to submit bids, but none of the House and Senate committees that approved the bill offered evidence that other jurisdictions have successfully used such methods to either increase the quality of competition or reduce contract costs.

Paying losing bidders is virtually unheard of in the private sector; reputable contractors view bid preparation as a cost of doing business and have it down to a science.

Testimony in support of the bill came mostly from architects, engineers and other consultants known to make political donations that obviously pay off nicely for them.

The measure was opposed by the City and County of Honolulu, which said, “Codifying a rigid process that destroys flexibility would be costly and disadvantageous.”

HB 985 received unanimous final passage in the House and drew “no” votes in the Senate only from Sens. Clayton Hee, Donna Mercado Kim, Sam Slom and Malama Solomon.

Dueling ex-mayors

May 26, 2011

Prominent politicians who lose their jobs can be forlorn figures while waiting for the next election opportunity.

Honolulu’s most recent former mayors, Mufi Hannemann and Kirk Caldwell, have been gamely trying to keep their public personas alive on Twitter since September, when Hannemann lost badly to Neil Abercrombie for governor and Caldwell was edged out for mayor by Peter Carlisle.

They started out posting a lot of dorky stuff like city news bites that really don’t cut it with the cool kids, and there’s still a lot of that.

From @KirkCaldwell recently:

– “Congratulations to Dana L. Nakasato, who received the Outstanding Citizen Award for her work in assisting the Honolulu Police Department.”

– “Good news for voters. The voting deadline for Neighborhood Boards is extended until 11:59 pm.”

– “Congratulations to Curtis T. Maeshiro, Civilian Employee of the Year for the second time in his 30-year career at HPD.”

– “Sorry for the late reminder that today is a City furlough day.”

– “Don’t be alarmed by the sirens. Just a test. If you hear them, everything is working.”

And from @MufiHannemann:

– “The Honolulu Police are asking for the public’s help in locating an escapee from OCCC.”

– “Big Island police searching for missing man”

– “Passing on a useful traffic alert: Onramp to H1 Westbound from University Av will be closed from 9–2pm today for guardrail maintenance work.”

– “The ‘Click it or Ticket’ campaign is kicking off today. Make sure to be safe and buckle your seat belt!”

– “It’s National Hurricane Preparedness Week. Is your family prepared?”

But they’re both showing signs of branching out a bit, as well. Hannemann is writing more about his gig with the Hawaii Hotel Association and promotes his new radio show playing pop classics, his Midweek column and his personal appearances.

Caldwell, who’s back to practicing law, tried the ultimate in Twitter cool by hosting a Corn Chowder Tweetup at the Mission Houses Museum Cafe. From the picture he posted, it looked like he got a respectable turnout.

Both are weighing their options for 2012, with Hannemann looking at a races for either the U.S. Senate or U.S. House and Caldwell pondering a U.S. House race or a rematch against Carlisle.

It would be fascinating if they ended up going head to head for Congress. Caldwell. a former legislator, was Hannemann’s managing director for two years and succeeded him as acting mayor.

They didn’t end on the best of terms; Hannemann accused Caldwell of dragging down his 2010 campaign and Caldwell thought it was more the other way around.

Pirates of the Campaign Trail

May 23, 2011

Light is always a good way to start the week, so when KITV posted a random pirate name generator in honor of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” opening, I couldn’t resist entering the names of some of our elected officials to see what it would spit out:

Gov. Neil Abercrombie: Shoutin’ Neil the Pain Distributor

Let. Gov. Brian Schatz: Swabbin’ Brian Chumbucket

House Speaker Calvin Say: Pennyless Calvin Dancer

Senate President Shan Tsutsui: Faceless Shan of the Scull Thieves

Sen. Daniel Inouye: Bacon Fat Dan of the East

Sen. Daniel Akaka: Saggin’ Dan the Snake Wrangler

Rep. Mazie Hirono: Puffy Shirt Mazie the Wealth Taker

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa: Ruthless Colleen Cannonballs

Mayor Peter Carlisle: Eye-Gougin’ Peter the Class Skipper

Council Chairman Nestor Garcia: Noseless Nestor the Horse Kicker

Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro: Decayin’ Keith the Mean

Was the Senate heroic or peevish on unfinished business?

May 12, 2011

State senators acted like there was something noble in their decision to rigidly enforce a procedural deadline, resulting in the Legislature adjourning with major business left unfinished.

According to news reports, Senate President Shan Tsutsui choked up as he thanked senators for backing a leadership decision to cut off conference committees at exactly the 6 p.m. deadline on their final day instead of letting them go on until midnight, as is customary.

As a result, the Legislature didn’t fund legal settlements the state agreed to, bringing a stern lecture from a federal judge, or pony up for security for the APEC conference we avidly courted. The UH medical school was cut off from tobacco funds and the pay bill for legislators, administrators and judges was botched.

There seems a growing certainly that a special session will be needed to clean up the mess, which makes you wonder about all the self-congratulation among senators.

Tsutsui described the sudden procedural fussiness as a blow for “greater transparency, openness, accessibility for the public,” while Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria called it a “sea change.”

I’m as much a supporter of transparency and openness as anybody, but I don’t get it. How is the considerable expense of a special session better than spending six more hours taking care of necessary business while they were already in session?

Some who follow the Legislature more closely than I do say it was mostly a display of senatorial pique at the House and Gov. Neil Abercrombie over some budget decisions senators didn’t like.

If there’s any validity to that, we should send Shan and Brickwood the tab for the special session and give them something to really get choked up about.

Abercrombie touts political diversity

May 10, 2011

In a speech to O‘ahu Democrats over the weekend, Gov. Neil Abercrombie raised the intriguing possibility of supporting a return to multimember legislative districts.

Hawai‘i had many multimember House and Senate districts until 1982, when a Republican reapportionment lawsuit forced a change to all single-member districts.

It was one of the biggest bonehead moves in local political history, as multimember districts with as many as four seats made it much easier for minority party candidates to get elected.

Before the change, Republicans had influential caucuses in both houses, often with enough numerical strength to force votes, pull bills to the floor and be a factor in Democratic organizational disputes.

Since 1982, Republican numbers in the Legislature have been so small as to render them insignificant; currently, they hold only eight of 51 House seats and one of 25 Senate seats.

But multimember districts don’t help only Republicans. They also bring fresh blood into the Democratic caucus by encouraging young activists, ethnic minorities and those who can’t raise big campaign funds. Abercrombie and former Gov. Ben Cayetano both benefited from running in multimember districts early in their careers.

“I doubt seriously I would have been elected in 1974 in the old 19th Representative District where more than 60 percent of the voters were AJAs and I was the only non-AJA running in the Democratic primary,” Cayetano said in his autobiography, “Ben.”

“Fortunately the 19th was a two-member district and the voters had choices. … Single-mrmber districts give well-financed incumbents a tremendous advantage over newcomers.”

Abercrombie said Saturday, “You can say, ‘Yes, there may be a big dog in this district here, but this little puppy wants to have a shot. And can you give me a chance?’ ”

We could use some more political diversity around here, and kudos to Abercrombie for bringing it up.

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