Yes, from the tide pools of Hawaii to the oil baths of Azerbaijan.
Cabanilla and Takai joined more than 300 other people from the U.S., including members of Congress, former governors and political leaders representing almost every state. There were speeches, a ballet, fancy dinners and a gala.
Azerbaijan spent a total of nearly $8,000 on airfare, food, lodging and more for Cabanilla and Takai for a visit that lasted just a few days — the most expensive gift reported by any member of the Legislature in the past year.
Other legislators’ disclosure statements showed foreign trips as well, but less pricey ones. For instance, Sen. J. Kalani English went to Tahiti thanks to the Club de Madrid, a trip valued at $1,700. And Senate President Donna Mercado Kim went on a $3,000 trip to attend a summit in China that was paid for by the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Hawaii lawmakers are required to report any gift that they receive worth more than $200, or that might result in a fine from the state Ethics Commission.
Cabanilla and Takai said they aren’t particularly concerned about accepting such an expensive trip because it doesn’t violate their own personal ethics or state standards. They both said that they measure the appropriateness of accepting such junkets by weighing how the underlying donation might influence them.
“There’s nothing in the Legislature now that would directly benefit Azerbaijan,” Takai said, “so it passes the ethics concern.”
Cabanilla said that the most Azerbaijan could get from Hawaii is a resolution.
The convention in Azerbaijan was sponsored by the state oil company in collaboration with BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips, among others.
Takai, who heads the House International Affairs Committee, told Civil Beat on Wednesday that he flew to the small nation that borders Russia, Armenia, Iran and the nation of Georgia in part to gain a better understanding of where foreign fossil fuels come from since Hawaii is talking about weaning itself off imported oil. Azerbaijan borders the Caspian Sea, which has one of the world’s largest known oil and gas fields.
But Takai said that the trip was about more than oil. He also went to promote Hawaii and explore opportunities for tourism and education, he said, explaining that, “It’s important for us to build bridges throughout the world if we’re going to continue to prosper.”
Cabanilla, the former chair of the House International Affairs Committee, said the invitation came as part of a lobbying effort by Azerbaijan to improve its alliance with the U.S.
She said she went to try to bring business to Hawaii, be it through tourism, education or medicine.
Takai described Azerbaijan as a fascinating culture, very rich and tropical.
“It’s kind of like Hawaii, but along the Caspian Sea,” he said. “Azerbaijan is not quite understood by many in the U.S. and the country, through this conference, wanted to step up their efforts to educate elected officials and policymakers.”
Takai said he expects the conference to be an annual event, and for leaders of Azerbaijan to come visit Hawaii too.
Honolulu has a sister-city relationship with Baku, the Azeri capital where the convention was held. Takai said that he and Cabanilla represented the county since Mayor Kirk Caldwell was unable to go.
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