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David Ige is the second least popular governor in the country. Kirk Caldwell’s approval ratings, which are barely better than the governor’s and lower than Donald Trump’s, are in a long, downward slide steeper and more treacherous than an Olympic bob sled run.
Here’s the reason: Both are offloaders, the governor with the telescope and the mayor with rail.
Offloading isn’t a well-conceived, good-governance delegation of authority. It’s a desperate dump.
It’s about having a load of dangerous, toxic political crud that you want to jettison — to make it someone else’s problem.
Political offloaders don’t want to show such fear or desperation. So they dress their offloading up with highfalutin’ terms like “delegation,” “expertise,” “new idea”, or the sweetest sweetie pie of them all, “Blue Ribbon Commission.”
But deep down — okay, not so very deep down — it’s about palming something off.
The essence of offloading is the Four D’s: dithering, dumping, deflecting and distracting. The trick is to keep this from being obvious because the political leader is supposed to be solving the problem, not pushing it off.
Thus the fifth D: disguise.
Let’s take a look at how Ige and Caldwell have offloaded, how they have tried to disguise this, and the bad things happening to both of them as a result.
From day one of the Thirty Meter Telescope standoff, when the protestors took over, the governor has essentially offloaded that issue to others.
That, um, is not exactly what he had led the public to believe was going to happen. Governor Firm and Steady. Mister Point Person.
But whoops! A political nanosecond after the protesters announced that they — surprise! — weren’t leaving, the governor was definitive no more.
Instead he adopted a strategy right out of a line in a Samuel Beckett play: “Let’s go.” “We can’t.” “Why not?” “We’re waiting for Godot.” Godot initially being Big Island mayor Harry Kim, the governor’s surrogate for courage and competence.
So time passes. Both sides accuse Ige of dithering and stalling. The governor’s response? Two more offloads, which have been gussied up with non-offload disguises.
The first is Ige’s attempt to re-offload by defining the conflict away. Turns out, he says, that the TMT struggle is not a lurching, twisting, out of control hazard.
Instead it is a teaching moment, in the governor’s words, an “opportunity” — “a unique opportunity to conceptualize a process reflective of and responsive to such a complex moment.”
Gosh, who knew?
The second disguised offload is a Blue Ribbon Commission that will take a look at all sorts of Native Hawaiian issues and come up with some form of “reconciliation.”
Blue Ribbon Commissions are great offloaders because the title “Blue Ribbon” is so classy and so, well, Blue Ribbon.
Blue Ribbon Commissions are classic offloading devices. They remove the need to take immediate action of any substance. Suddenly dithering and delay gets redefined as deliberation and cogitation. Something like this: The commissioners begin their deliberations with the first two agenda items: Who validates my parking? Do we get lunch?
Time passes. Much time. It deliberates and pontificates, seeking “input” and holding “listening sessions.” The commission issues a report, sometimes interesting, sometimes not, but in either case likely to be irrelevant and ignored.
Wasted time for the public, crisis averted for the offloader.
Rail has been Caldwell’s issue from virtually the get go. He has been the champion weaver of sunny, optimistic rail tales, the rail point person before the Legislature as well as the feds.
In 2010, Oahu voters passed a charter amendment establishing HART, a quasi-independent agency that formally took rail’s everyday project management and hiring out of the hands of the mayor.
There are lots of good reasons to believe that HART is a failed experiment, but the real point is that whatever powers HART has, politically rail is associated with the mayor. No escape.
But there has been an offload, not surprising since Caldwell plans to run for governor. With rail as a legacy?
Caldwell can’t escape the legacy, but recently he has tried a rhetorical offload by becoming a public critic of HART. After years of damage control Mister Look for the Sunny Side now expresses concerns and even pessimism about HART’s recent troubles.
His criticisms are well taken, but that’s not the point. It’s too late for Caldwell the Booster to become Caldwell the Critic.
His recent attempts to distance himself from HART seem self-serving and part of a not so subtle attempt to redefine himself as he tries to become Governor Caldwell.
The public sees this as what it is: a shady offload in a bad disguise.
As Ige’s and Caldwell’s down in the doldrums status shows, offloading is tempting but tremendously risky.
There comes a time when a politician simply cannot offload anymore. They own their respective issues. Politically it is too late to disown them. Anything they try is in effect an offload.
In Ige’s case, all his recent moves appear so hollow, naïve and tardy. Offloading as a sign of cluelessness, dithering, cowardice and incompetence.
The mayor, too, is no longer in a position to offload rail. His attempts to do so seem desperate and disingenuous. Offloading as a sign of expediency and oiliness.
For a politician is it worse to be seen as naïve (Ige) or sleazy (Caldwell)? Under the circumstances let’s call it a scoreless tie.
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