Welcome to Capitol Watch. There’s a new governor, new leadership at the Legislature and other government branches, and Civil Beat is reporting on all of it.

5:23 p.m. Obama’s No Lame-Duck

As many are saying, such as NPR, the president ended 2010 on a high note — several, actually.

To wit: The repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the New START nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, legislation to fund extended health care for Sept. 11 first responders, the passage of an extension of the Bush tax cuts and jobless benefits, and a reduction in the Social Security payroll tax.

BTW: In his last press conference today before flying to Hawaii (he’ll probably be over Nebraska by the time you read this), Barack Obama mentioned Hawaii twice. The first was when he noted that many reporters had already begun to file stories from the islands ahead of the president’s trip. The second was this:

If we say that education is going to be the single most important determinant for our children’s success and this country’s success in the 21st century, we can’t have schools that are laying off so many teachers that they start going to four days a week, as they’ve done in Hawaii, for example.

Ouch.

4:29 p.m. Djou’s Last Days

The Associated Press reports that Charles Djou delivered his final speech on the floor of the U.S. House today.

He thanked his family and the voters of the 1st Congressional District, who chose him instead of Ed Case or Colleen Hanabusa in the May special election (but chose Hanabusa in November; she will be sworn in after the New Year).

Djou “reiterated his belief in limited government, a vibrant two-party democracy, and open and responsive public officials,” says the AP. “But he also said that voters have the final say.”

4:09 p.m. Akaka Defends His Dead Bill

Dan Akaka took to the Senate floor today to share his view on the failure to get the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act — the Akaka bill — passed. (You can watch the video here.)

Akaka blamed the bill’s demise in part on “a handful of my colleagues who oppose this measure put out a press release, fueling speculation that I was seeking to attach this bill to must-pass, end-of-session legislation…Let me set the record straight. This bill does NOT allow Hawaii to secede from the United States. It does NOT allow private lands to be taken. It does NOT authorize gaming in Hawaii.”

Akaka said ever since he introduced the bill 10 years ago, “it has been the subject of misleading attacks and procedural hurdles, and has never had the opportunity for an up-or-down vote here on the Senate floor…. I am deeply disappointed that we did not have the opportunity to consider this bill during the 111th Congress.”

The senator says he remains committed to the Akaka bill and will reintroduce it next year. Read his full comments here.

11:51 a.m. Obama Catches a Tailwind

CNN is now reporting that POTUS will arrive just before midnight tonight.

“Hawaii is five time zones behind the East Coast so Obama will now leave Washington at approximately 6:45 pm eastern on Wednesday after an end of the year news conference,” says CNN Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry.

CNN adds that the FAA will no doubt institute the no-fly zone to accommodate Air Force One.

11:16 a.m. Obama’s Red Eye to Oahu

The president, according to The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, won’t be arriving until the wee hours of Thursday morning. (Welcome home, Barry, but CB will be sleeping when you land at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.)

The arrival of POTUS between 2:45-4:45 a.m. is good news for commuters, however, as Hawaii News Now pointed out: Traffic won’t be tied up tonight between 5:30-7:30 p.m., the previous ETA for Air Force One. Anyone driving during rush hour these past few days — rain, Christmas shopping, potholes — will agree Honolulu roads have been plenty snarled.

The governor, meanwhile, begins a “working vacation” Christmas Day in Hana, Maui, that lasts until Jan. 3 — the day after the First Family flies back to D.C. Isolated Hana affords Neil Abercrombie even greater privacy then what Barack Obama will enjoy in Kailua.

9:44 a.m. Slom: America Is Gay

Republican state Sen. Sam Slom includes this observation today in his Small Business Hawaii News + Views e-blast:

Good news: America is now a bona fide homosexual nation! Hooray! That “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” vote last week, was teriffic, wasn’t it? The single most important thing we could do. And, it was so welcome by not only the GLT community, but most of the mainstream media and politicians who have lobbied so hard, so long, to put sexual preference right up there, ahead of a sound economy, more jobs, and a better business climate. Reasons to be so proud as our economy tumbles, the dollar falls and debt grows by the minute.

Senator Alarmed By HNL Rain Damage

Excerpts from an e-mail sent Monday to Amy Asselbaye, Andrew Aoki and other government officials by Will Espero, vice chairman of the Hawaii Senate Transportation and International Affairs Committee:

Today I arrived at the airport from a trip overseas. As I was walking to Customs, imagine my surprise to see the new corridor addition adjacent to the international arrivals leaking due to the rain. If I remember correctly, the new corridor opened about a month or so ago.

The photos I have attached show the stained tiles on the ceiling, buckets to catch the rain, and water accumulating in a light fixture. I was embarrassed for our state when I saw this poor workmanship as it was one of the first images visitors were seeing. Knowing the work was recently completed makes me disappointed in the quality of work that taxpayers are paying for.

I was also told the newly installed escalators in the new corridor broke down recently. They were not operating when I walked by…

I expect the contractor will be responsible to repair the damaged areas. What type of quality control is done during the improvements to make certain the work is done properly? Do state workers inspect the work with the contractor? Please explain how a new roof leaks after heavy rainfall?

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

No — thank you, senator!

Sens. Shimabukuro and Solomon

State Rep. Maile Shimabukuro fills the Waianae Coast seat left vacant by Congresswoman-elect Colleen Hanabusa, while Malama Solomon replaces Dwight Takamine in representing Hilo, Hamakua and Waimea. (State law requires that appointees live in the same senate district as the prior incumbent.)

Shimabukuro has represented the Waianae Coast district since 2003 and is an attorney with Legal Services Organization. Solomon is a former Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, spent 16 years in the state Senate and owns and manages a 1,600-acre ranch in Waimea, North Kohala and Hamakua.

There’s one more vacancy to fill — as well as Shimabukuro’s House seat:

“Senator Russell Kokubun (D-Hilo, Puna, Kau) will resign on Dec. 31, 2010, to become Interim Director of the Department of Agriculture,” the Abercrombie administration said in a press release. “Governor Abercrombie must appoint Sen. Kokubun’s replacement within 60 calendar days following the first day of vacancy after his resignation.”

New DLNR Boss Gets Sued

He hasn’t even been confirmed by the state Senate, but William Aila has already been named in a lawsuit.

It doesn’t mean he did anything wrong; department heads are frequently cited in lawsuits involving their kuleana.

In this case, plaintiff Kilakila O Haleakala and attorneys for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation have named Aila, the state’s land and natural resources board and department, the University of Hawaii and Chancellor Virginia Henshaw.

The lawsuit concerns UH’s plans for a massive telescope facility on top of Haleakala on Maui. Kilakila O Haleakala is a group dedicated to protect the sacredness of the summit.

HTA to Talk Marketing In Secret

The Hawaii Tourism Authority will enter into executive session at a special board meeting this morning at the Hawaii Convention Center. The topics involve “proposed brand logos for marketing purposes” and approving spending plans.

HTA meetings are open to the public, but board members are statutorily permitted to go behind closed doors “for the purpose of discussing information that is necessary to protect Hawaii’s competitive advantage and would impair or frustrate HTA’s ability to obtain information for a legitimate government function; is proprietary to a particular enterprise; or, the disclosure of which might be harmful to the business interests of the enterprise.”

Tourism officials have defended the executive sessions, saying what’s discussed could help rival destinations like Mexico and the Caribbean … even though HTA is supported by taxpayer money.


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