I am delighted to join Honolulu Civil Beat as the site’s managing editor, and I look forward to diving deeper with our staff into the issues that all of us living here face.
After barely a week here, I may be (not counting tourists) the newest, least local person on Oahu. But daily I discover much to appreciate about Hawaii beyond the obvious charms that attracted 8.3 million tourists here last year. I’ve been especially impressed by the generosity of spirit shown by so many people my family and I have met.
At the same time, almost every day I run into aspects of life in Hawaii that locals clearly accept as a given, for reasons that I struggle to understand.
Here, in increasing order, are the five things that – so far – I have found the most inexplicable:
In fifth place: Why does Hawaii turns its liquor-control agents into anti-dancing cops, threatening steep fines against most bars or restaurants – even ones with live entertainment licenses – that let their patrons move to the beat? And how on earth can the state have left these antiquated rules in place for years without even bothering to define “dancing?”
Saying “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it,” is no basis for making or enforcing a law.
In fourth: Gov. David Ige talks about protecting the environment. But some of his actions – or rather, inactions – seem to show that actually doing so falls far, far down his list of priorities. How else to explain, 10 months into his term, his continuing failure to appoint members to the state’s almost half-empty Environmental Council, and to other key environmental-protection positions?
In his first two years in office, President Barack Obama was severely criticized by Democrats for failing to fill hundreds of federal judicial vacancies. But Obama could counter that he’d been focused on passing the most massive health-care reform measure since Medicare and Medicaid, and on tackling the country’s worst economic recession since the Great Depression. What can Ige point to?
In third: The City and County of Honolulu must employ professional traffic engineers, because they constitute an entire division of the Department of Transportation. Doubtless they’ve inherited problems; but Honolulu’s street design, traffic signaling, turn lanes and highway on- and off-ramps appear to take the Brownian motion approach to getting vehicles from point A to point um, wherever.
Wow, is there room for improvement in this area. Traffic’s one saving grace is that Oahu drivers are so much more polite and accommodating than in most other places outside the islands.
In second: How can city, county and state officials on Oahu so severely misjudge ways to address the challenge of homelessness? It baffles me to see political leaders razing homeless encampments — and then confiscating impoverished people’s belongings and making them wrestle with red tape and high costs to get anything back.
Honolulu’s “sit-lie” law, which bans sitting or lying on sidewalks or public thoroughfares, seems both mean-spirited and unproductive. At heart, it is a way of telling homeless people: Stay out of sight, so we don’t have to be confronted by the fact we don’t give a damn about you.
These kinds of sweeps and policies of immiseration are common in banana republics. Is that really what Hawaii aspires to?
And, in first place: Many Hawaii officials seem to have forgotten the “public” part of “public information,” along with the notion that the free flow of information is vital for a democratic society.
As John F. Kennedy said in 1962, “a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is afraid of its people.”
Hawaii’s public-record laws received a grade of “D” in a recent analysis by the State Integrity Investigation (a project funded in part by the Omidyar Network — a philanthropic investment firm founded by Pierre Omidyar, publisher and CEO of Civil Beat, and his wife, Pam — and led by the Center for Public Integrity).
That grade, which ranks Hawaii among the six worst states, largely reflects the high prices state agencies charge to find and release records, and the costs of pursuing appeals when the state denies a request. As Civil Beat has documented, it also reflects the huge gap between what the law promises and how officials carry it out.
In practice, Hawaii officials often misapply the law, building barriers when they should be opening windows to the public.
In all five of these areas, I suspect that we as a society can do better. I hope to strengthen Civil Beat in its mission to help our public leaders accept rather than evade their responsibilities on these scores.
Are there aspects of life here you find more baffling or troubling than the ones I’ve listed? Please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s see what we can do about them.