Welcome to Capitol Watch. Governor-Elect Neil Abercrombie is in transition mode, there’s new leadership at the Legislature and other government branches, and Civil Beat is reporting on all of it.
4:17 p.m. Akaka: Troops Don’t Like ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’
Daniel Akaka, a member of the Armed Services Committee, agrees with Dan Inouye that the U.S. military should repeal its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gay and lesbian soldiers.
“The Pentagon report shows that a large majority of our troops support the repeal of this policy, and that our military can implement this change while maintaining a high level of readiness needed to defend our nation,” Akaka said today, adding that the country would be “strengthened” by the change. “This repeal will bring us another step towards equality in the United States.”
Like Inouye, Akaka is a veteran of World War II.
3:22 p.m. Senators At Work
Democratic Senators held leadership and caucus meetings yesterday at the Capitol, behind closed doors as usual. The agenda was mostly housekeeping: working on a majority package of bills for the upcoming session, talking about revising Senate rules, even discussion of Neil Abercrombie‘s picks for department directors. Senate Democrats also plan a retreat Dec. 13.
Today and tomorrow, freshmen Senators Donovan Dela Cruz and Ron Kouchi are on Kauai to tour agricultural sights and talk to farmers about their concerns.
One other note: Some folks around the Capitol raised eyebrows over the selection this week of Dela Cruz’s sister, Donalyn Dela Cruz, as Abercrombie’s press secretary. It’s an unusually close relationship, they say, between the executive and legislative branches.
1:20 p.m. Inouye: Let Gays Serve Openly in Military
As the U.S. Senate deliberates whether to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, Dan Inouye — retired Army Captain and Medal of Honor recipient — says the time has come to reject the discriminatory treatment.
“In every war we have had men and women of different sexual orientation who have stood in harm’s way and given their lives for their country,” he said today. “I fought alongside gay men during World War II, many of them were killed in combat. Are we to suggest that because of their sexual orientation they are not heroes?”
Inouye’s comments come as the Pentagon has released a report summarizing reasons why “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should be repealed.
11:40 a.m. Illinois Poised To Approve Civil Unions
As expected, the Illinois state Senate today voted to approve a civil unions measure.
Gov. Pat Quinn, a supporter, is expected to sign the bill.
The civil unions bill would give gay couples many of the same rights as marriage. As in Hawaii, Illinois critics claim civil unions is marriage by another name and that lawmakers should have focused their energies on the state’s budget deficit.
9:44 a.m. No Kidding: Inouye ‘Influential’
Slate has named Dan Inouye first runner-up on its 2010 list of “80 Over 80,” the “most influential octogenarians in America.”
“As always, we’ve ranked these still-twinkling stars according to their power and importance, with extra credit given for energetic achievements post-80 and for being really, really old,” according to the article.
Mormon President Thomas S. Monson leads the list. Warren Buffett, George Soros and Clint Eastwood follow Inouye. Dan Akaka is not on the list.
Slom on Say
The lone Republican in the state Senate thinks the top Democrat in the state House will keep his job. “He still needs one vote, though,” says Sam Slom about Calvin Say, who is struggling to remain speaker. “But he could twist enough arms.”
Slom says important legislative business is on hold until the speaker question is settled, including setting the Legislature’s calendar and appointing a reapportionment commission to address population shifts in the two congressional districts and 76 legislative districts. The speaker would decide those matters along with Senate President Shan Tsutsui.
But Slom also thinks the House’s ugly division over speaker means it will be tougher for the majority party to push through tax increases — “and that’s good from my standpoint,” says the Hawaii Kai senator, who has never met a tax he didn’t despise. “I’m going to have fun next session.”
Belatti and Gabbard Tamayo Go To Town
House Rep. Della Au Belatti and new Honolulu City Councilmember Tulsi Gabbard Tamayo are co-hosting a Town Hall meeting tonight to discuss new ideas for bills before the start of the 2011 legislative session.
The meeting will be at Makiki Community Library, 1527 Keeaumoku St. at Wilder Avenue.
One issue likely to surface: Hawaii homelessness, which has recently increased in residential neighborhoods like Makiki.