The debate and actions over Honolulu rail has exposed to its ugly core the current status of political leadership in Hawaii.  

In short, there is none.

Yes, the leadership in the state Senate and House came together with a funding solution for rail and, I suppose, in a twisted sort of way they should be commended for that.

But that solution came only after they were forced to act by overwhelming fiscal and political circumstances that left them no options.

This is not leadership. Leadership, by definition, is proactive, not reactive.

Speaker Saiki speaks to media with Senate president Kouchi, Congresswoman Hanabusa, Sen Dela Cruz and Sen Brian Schatz.
From left, state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, Senate President Ron Kouchi, House Speaker Scott Saiki and U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz announced a rail-funding bill before the special legislative session. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

Watch the hearings and you will see there is no vision, no high level of purpose, and certainly no bringing together the people of Hawaii in pursuit of the common good. 

No. Watch the hearings and you will see the bludgeoning of testifiers, members of the public and others, in pursuit of defending actions that were indefensible.

It is surrealistic, a bizarre theater of the absurd where everyone knows the deal has already been cut and nothing will change regardless what the public says at the microphone. The legislators know this, the public knows this, and even the media understands and reports that the deal has been made way before the hearing has even been called or the formal vote taken.

Yet, everyone still plays their defined role, acting as if the democratic process is truly at work and justice is being served.

All in pursuit of building a train. This is what I find indefensible.

Where is the special session to deal with affordable housing and the homeless? Where is the outrage and commitment from our political and government leadership on issues that have tangible impacts on working people on all islands?

Where is the special session to deal with affordable housing and the homeless?

The Legislature and the governor, who cannot escape his responsibility on this either, are willing to spend billions on a poorly conceived and ill managed train system, while thousands of Hawaii residents can’t even afford a decent roof over their head.

Where is the special session for these folks? Why is the Legislature unwilling to raise taxes on tourists to pay for affordable housing?

Our government just committed to spending $2.4 billion more on rail. This is enough to fully fund the construction of 10,000 new affordable homes/apartments, which would actually generate income, and, if located in existing urban areas, would do far more to alleviate traffic and help working people in Hawaii than this train will ever do.

As Civil Beat reported earlier, four smart and powerful guys (and one powerful woman) went into a room, discussed various options, met with the various powerful special interest groups about those options and then came out of the room announcing their solution.

They then browbeat down any resistance among individual legislators who might have wanted to “vote their conscience” (and against their proposal), rearranged any troublesome committee membership and referrals that might have got in the way of the democratic process, and last but not least held a series of faux public meetings prior to announcing their coup … er, solution.

Vision, Solutions, Morality

If we assume for a second that this is how government works (and I don’t believe it has to be this way), my question is, Why can’t the Legislature do this for affordable housing? Why can’t they find the time and make a commitment to increase the minimum wage to a true living wage?

That would be leadership. Elected leaders coming together with a common vision and proposing solutions for the problems facing real people, who are struggling every day just to survive.

In the faith community it is said that a budget is a moral document. How the public’s money is spent reflects the morality and character of a government and its leaders.

Spending even more billions on bricks and mortar in support of a train, while families across Hawaii live in poverty alongside busy roadways, with only blue tarps and wooden pallets for shelter is a travesty.

In 2018, many will be watching, and yes more than a few will be praying, that new leadership steps forward, and we can all put this sordid chapter behind us.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author