Danny De Gracia: The Hawaii Legislature Is Missing The Boat - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.


One of the greatest dangers when holding positions of public trust is to be so intensely paralyzed by minor details that one neglects greater, more important things that can affect the lives of so many.

When I think about the direction that Hawaii is moving in these days, I’m reminded, allegorically, of the tragic story of Eastern Airlines Flight 401, a Lockheed L-1011 TriStar that was scheduled to land in Miami late at night in December 1972.

After an uneventful flight, the L-1011 was on landing approach when a green indicator light in the cockpit that should have lit up indicating the nose gear had deployed properly, failed to turn on.

In reality, the green light didn’t turn on not because the plane wasn’t fit to land, but because the $5 light bulb that should have lit up was burned out. The crew realized this when they removed the lens cover for the indicator light, but because they spent so much time trying to figure out how to replace the button, they became distracted and the plane crashed into the Everglades.

In many ways, this is exactly the kind of problem Hawaii leadership has struggled with over the decades, but has become all the more frustrating in recent days. The big picture is often sacrificed for minor pixels, and petty squabbles over tactical details undermine the strategic progress of our state.

We are almost to the midpoint of this year’s Legislature, and in spite of all the amazing progress we’ve made on COVID-19, with federal stimulus, and with some very idealistic new legislators elected to office, a session that should have been focused on big recovery and great hope has been squandered so far.

The public is well-aware of the stakes that Hawaii faces. Median housing prices on Oahu are skyrocketing, historic businesses as well as numerous small businesses are closing forever, and even with the restrictions on COVID-19 starting to ease, many locals are in deep trouble when it comes to paying off bills.

House members take their oath of office on opening day of teh 2021 legislature.
House members take their oath of office on opening day of the 2021 Legislature. They need to start hearing more bills and ramping up discussion of important issues. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

I understand that the Legislature had to be disciplined in its priorities, but the problem is we are being so stringent that we are missing key opportunities to move forward as a state. First Decking, the deadline in which bills needed to pass Second Reading and be heard, passed, and filed by their final committees, was Friday, and yet many bills are not moving fast enough that would help the public.

Consider a few examples:

  • House Bill 8, Relating to Food Security, introduced by Rep. Jeanne Kapela, would have bolstered agricultural production in the islands, giving farmers and island consumers food independence and a fighting chance in the war for local sustainability. This bill also has not moved since February, and is still waiting for a hearing in the House Finance committee.

And we still have not addressed the plight of Native Hawaiians, or even begun to remedy the historical struggles they have faced as a vulnerable, underserved population with little or no hope for progress in a land that bears their namesake.

President Joe Biden, echoed by U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, has said to Americans and Hawaii residents that “help is on the way.” The Hawaii Legislature, by contrast, has approached its duties this year with a “not so fast” approach to recovery and assistance to locals.

This is the worst possible time to be thinking small and acting small when it comes to piloting the ship of our state.

My recommendation to chairs at the Legislature is this: If a bill offers a solution for struggling locals, even if you don’t like it, hear the measure and pass it out so that your colleagues can vote it up or down on the floor. Don’t hold up important discussion. The legislative committee process is meant to develop ideas, not to screen progress.

The other thing that subject matter chairs should consider is submitting a waiver of their jurisdiction over bills. It is a well-known practice that chairs can “initial off” on having to hear bills and ask the Speaker of the House or the President of the Senate to drop their committee referral, thus making it possible for a bill to move faster. We need to take every possible step to hear, to vote, and to act upon bills that can make an immediate difference for struggling locals here in Hawaii.

If not for the $6 billion in federal stimulus Hawaii is about to get – $575 million of which is going to unemployment, and $226.5 million to rent and mortgage relief – we’d really be in deep kim chee with the way things are going at the big square building in Honolulu.

This is the worst possible time to be thinking small and acting small when it comes to piloting the ship of our state. Things are crashing here in Hawaii, and it’s time to stop fixating on details and start working on getting us to the better destination we all hope for and deserve to land on.


Read this next:

Denby Fawcett: Lingering Symptoms Compound The Tragedy Of COVID-19


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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.


Latest Comments (0)

Hawaii's legislative process is designed to prevent errors at the expense of taking advantage of opportunities.

sleepingdog · 4 months ago

This just confirms what most of us understand that while government can be the solution to our current crisis,  more often it perpetuates the problem.  

incredibles2 · 4 months ago

When the President of the United States presents a more coherent vision of what he wants the nation to do, than our own Governor in a equivalent address, you have to wonder where the problem really lies. Once again, it has nothing to do with the people in the room more than it is the vision that this state really needs to have from its elected executive leaders. Right now, we have our executive literally looking, as you said, at the lightbulb, or the minor pixels, than at the whole picture. Even in good times when crisis wasn't coming down like a tropical rain storm every day on this state, our leadership has lacked even the ability to present a vision of what they want Hawaii to be. Want to talk about going big, any one of these "leaders" coming up with that vision would be a huge sea change from where we are at now...the oarsmen not even being in sync with each other and the drummer at the front of the boat not having a clue as to what beat to keep to in order for the oarsmen to start paddling in sync.And forget about the helmsmen....they don't even know where to point the rudder. That is our State Government right now. 

Kana_Hawaii · 4 months ago

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