Lee Cataluna: We Need A New Dan Inouye - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

In this age of conspiracy theories, Hawaii has been relatively devoid of widely held beliefs of nefarious local forces working together in a tightly coordinated campaign to pull off some sort of complicated mission.

Not that local conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists don’t exist in Hawaii. Of course they do. However, those convoluted and dark ideas stay well to the fringes here, while taking root and spreading across the rest of the United States.

Perhaps Hawaii is not fertile ground for conspiracies because it would be a stretch to believe that level of sophistication. Local government is not that organized.

We have long bemoaned the lack of leadership in Hawaii, a pervasive problem that has only become more obvious and more dire during the pandemic. However, we also don’t have much in the way of organized or coordinated systems.

A good leader knows how to establish a good system, but a good system can move forward without a single boss telling everyone what to do.

Modern models of work and management come from the tech industry and are taught in STEM classrooms. This way of working champions the collaborative, power-sharing model of getting things done rather than a top-down organizational structure.

Ideally, in this approach, everyone takes responsibility for input and outcome, communication is open and effective, and work-teams build trust and support innovation. Power is decentralized. Leadership is shared. Synergy and “lateral thinking” are valued as practices that lead to greater achievement and higher purpose.

Hawaii doesn’t have that.

What has been laid bare during these months of crisis are government agencies that don’t communicate with each other, and outdated systems that work against attempts at efficiency or reform. There are multiple redundancies in some areas, and gaping holes in others.

Masked Senate members walk onto the floor before session begins at the Capitol in May. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

For example, contact tracing was sorely lacking in the first months of the pandemic. Then, rather than a coordinated effort, both the state and the city were doing contact tracing like it was a competition rather than a joint mission.

Then there were the times counties announced pandemic safety protocols only to have to walk them back when the governor’s office issued statements that they’d have to get more details on the plan, like they hadn’t heard about it yet.

Now, access to a vaccine feels like a game of chance, where those who know how to work the system can get the shots while everyone else is being told to wait their turn. There is no one coordinated, en masse vaccination effort, no central clearinghouse to make an appointment or check availability.

Front-line essential workers are getting vaccinated at their workplaces, but these are not the same essential employees who went to work during the total lockdown. These essential workers include legislators and their office staff.

Lack Of Leadership And Structure

It wasn’t always this way.

Hawaii’s legendary leader U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye died eight years ago, and no one has yet come up to take his place. He was not only a heroic figure and a respected political leader but had a vast support system throughout the community that he could tap to make things happen.

Inouye also had the ability to take people “out to the woodshed” and persuade them to step back in line, work within the program, and set aside differences for the greater good of the state.

Brian Schatz is now Hawaii’s senior senator, and though his influence is rising in the U.S. Senate, he is not Dan Inouye, a war hero who had the reputation of being a sort of godfather figure, both in terms of taking care of Hawaii and of possessing far-reaching powers.

Inouye could anoint junior politicians for higher office. He could decide where a big-dollar infrastructure project would be situated. If Inouye said something was going to happen, it was going to happen. He was a leader who had a strong system in place.

In Joe Biden’s first week as president, headlines across the country and across the world used the phrase “hit the ground running” to describe the team Biden brought with him into the White House, the structure he had already established within his team and the plans team members already had for their new jobs.

Hawaii doesn’t have that at all. Gov. David Ige doesn’t seem to talk to people. Rick Blangiardi walked into the Honolulu mayor’s office talking about having to learn the systems in city government. State legislators seem more siloed than ever this year rather than coming together in a unified plan.

There is no fodder for conspiracy theories about Hawaii government because there is no sense of a deep state working together. There’s little working together, and it’s all fairly shallow.

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About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

Latest Comments (0)

We are a one party state for some reason and this article lays heavy criticism upon the Democrats.  We need to identify why this is the case as one of the real reasons for our governing ineffectiveness.  To have a thriving government, we need both parties represented to balance each other. 

elrod · 2 years ago

E kala mai.  But not really.   I am still healing from his forceful push for Federal Recognition and the desecration of heiau in Halawa and Haiku valleys thanks to his gung ho environmental law exemption in Congress among others.  His frequent use of "done deal" to silence dissent still makes me cringe.  Let's just keep his name to those inanimate things. 

eolamauno · 2 years ago

Be sure to think of Inouye when you drive on our Highways.  Without him, they wouldn’t be there.   H-1, H-2, and H-3.

Spirit · 2 years ago

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