State Rep. Mark Takai, now in a tight race with former Congressman Charles Djou for the open seat in Congressional District 1, is being accused of voting to tax pensions.

In a new campaign spot, Djou attempts to score political points by claiming he has never voted to raise taxes but that Takai has. The spot contends that, among other things, Takai voted to tax pensions.

Djou’s ad is strikingly similar to a spot paid for by the American Action Network, a Republican super PAC registered in Hawaii as an independent expenditure committee.

But the ads are blatantly misleading.

Pension Tax attack ad Takai Djou

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Takai took several procedural votes on the bill in question, House Bill 1092, moving it to relevant committees. But he twice voted against a final bill involving pension taxes.

In its ad, the American Action Network cites a story in the Hawaii Free Press.

“Even weeks after angry kupuna and union members began crowding committee hearings to protest, Takai voted ‘aye’ for the pension tax bill HB1092 HD1 on Second Read, March 4, 2011,” the article said. “Four days later on Third Read he voted ‘aye with reservations’ for the same bill.”

The article continues: “Takai switched sides after the Senate refused to consider the pension tax.”

But conveniently leaving out the fact that Takai voted against the final pension bill is a deliberate distortion of the legislative process.

When the House introduces a bill, it’s customary for members of the House not to vote against it until it’s had time to go through relevant committees.  Before it’s sent to the Senate, there’s the Third Reading.  House rules dictate that a member voting no would be ineligible to sit on the conference committee should the bill be amended in Senate.  A no vote ties a Rep’s hands, while voting yes with reservations — as Takai did — still allows them the opportunity to change the bill.

The key votes come as a bill moves through final committees and the language becomes finalized. Those votes are the ones that can accurately gauge whether a particular legislator supported a measure.

Djou and the American Action Network are attempting to equate early procedural yes votes with full-throated support. That is, at best, disingenuous, and at worst, deceitful.

The Senate stripped pension language from HB1092 in a floor amendment offered on April 12, 2011. That was within days of the House Finance Committee adding almost the exact same language to Senate Bill 570.

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SB 570 was in the final stages of the process at the time.  It had already made it through the Senate, and only had to get through one conference committee and final vote before it was sent to the governor.

Takai voted no on that bill twice — once on April 8, 2011, and again four days later on April 12, 2011.

The AARP, which was one of the strongest opponents to the pension tax, took out an ad in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on April 28, 2011 to urge seniors to call and thank Mark Takai and others for opposing the bill.  The HGEA retiree newsletter did the same.

The claim that Mark Takai voted to tax pensions is seriously misleading and Djou and the GOP political action committee are leaving out important information that belies their arguments. While we’re tempted to label it a Screaming Lie — outrageous abuse of the facts — the fact that Takai took those procedural votes gives Djou and the super PAC just enough wiggle room that we instead rate this claim  Mostly False.

But to make that statement by willfully distorting procedural votes shows either an ignorance of the legislative process or a cynical bet on the civic ignorance of the voting public.

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