Dear Hawaii Legislator:

I sat in your seat once, through eight years in the Hawaii Legislature and over four years in the U.S. Congress, and recently re-engaged in your Honolulu rail special session.

I joined many others in reaching out to you, participating in your hearings, watching your interactions, listening to your debates, trying to understand what was really going on. Some like me were familiar with your world, but for most this was their first encounter.

I believe that for the vast majority of us the experience was deeply disturbing.

Outrigger hotels Ed Case and board member on the Council on Revenues answers WAM questions at the Capitol.

Former congressman Ed Case is now with Outrigger Hotels and a board member of the Council on Revenues. He recently testified before the Legislature on the Honolulu rail project.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

To be sure, this was as difficult an issue as they get. High stakes, deep passions, old resentments, policy differences, no easy answers. True leadership doesn’t get any harder.

I saw leadership. Thoroughly prepared legislators sorting through complex policy issues looking for the best decisions. Truly welcoming and listening to public input, seeking information and solutions. Vigorously but professionally exercising oversight. Resisting the temptation to divisive grandstanding, thinking for themselves, focusing on the common good even against powerful constituencies.

That was, sadly, the exception. Instead what I saw were:

• Attacks on the personal and institutional credibility of public testifiers, a conscious destroy-the-messenger tactic designed to discredit and marginalize any position contrary to the pre-agreed one rather than legitimately consider and debate it.

• Thinly veiled if not overt threats of retaliatory political and legislative action against those inside and outside the Legislature daring to disagree.

• Thoroughly unprepared legislators who had not read testimony and did not know the basic constitutional and statutory foundation.

• A complete lack of respect for other government colleagues up to and including calling county officials liars.

• An unwillingness if not outright fear of openly debating the policy alternatives.

• An inability by legislative leaders to set an example, enforce decorum and curb legislator excesses or worse a conscious disregard.

• A clear motivation to settle various old scores and exploit divisions.

But what I mostly saw overall was arrogance and disrespect. Arrogance as in one classic definition of “an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions.”  Disrespect as in condescension or straight hostility to the public, colleagues, the process, the debate and the institution.

Your closing speeches were full of self-congratulations. You deserve credit for making a tough call. But at such a high and unnecessary cost to public trust and confidence in your leadership, to public willingness to engage you any further (if you want that).

Not even in my years in a dysfunctional Congress did I see this level of arrogance and disrespect, and here at home it is too reminiscent of Broken Trust now two decades back.

Perhaps some of you sensed all that as many speeches bemoaned declining public trust in government.  But that is your responsibility, your choice.  It is not up to the public to trust you regardless of your actions.

One may say, in the words of Captain Renault in Casablanca: “I’m shocked – shocked – to find that gambling is going on in here!” And some of all this is indeed a part of often difficult and messy government.

But not even in my years in a dysfunctional Congress did I see this level of arrogance and disrespect, and here at home it is too reminiscent of Broken Trust now two decades back.

I don’t excuse myself, for looking back now from the other side I greatly regret the instances when I was part of the problem. That’s water under the bridge for me, but it’s not too late for you.

You get the trappings of respect and trust when you are elected and too many mistake that for the real thing. But real respect and trust only come with your actions in office. As you look to another difficult session in 2018, I hope you choose to act both individually and together to earn the respect and trust of all.

Mahalo for listening.

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