Danny De Gracia: Here's How Hawaii Lawmakers Can Do Better In 2023 - Honolulu Civil Beat

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.

For most Hawaii residents, this time of year is for holiday parties, vacation time, and much needed rest. But at the Hawaii State Legislature, this seemingly quiet period between sessions is when some of the most important moves are being made.

Opinion article badgeNew legislation is being requested, researched, and drafted at this moment. Budgets are being developed. Political appointments for office staff in the form of office managers, legislative aides and committee clerks are being finalized, if they haven’t yet been already hired. How 2023 will go for the residents of Hawaii is already being charted and determined before the general public even steps foot to testify in hearings.

If this all sounds complicated to you, that’s because it is. With a large turnover in this year’s legislature, there will be a sharp learning curve for many new legislators and new committee chairs. There will also be temptation to want to prove something, particularly for people who are coming into office for the first time.

And that’s the dangerous part.

As someone who’s been in Capitol politics since 2005, I’ve seen this movie many times. The political actors change, but the same drama and plot returns every time with only slightly different twists. But with so many challenges facing Hawaii and our world, we need to do things better this year.

Politics is difficult only because humans are difficult to deal with. But we can make the decision as mature, discerning adults to walk in enlightenment and cooperation. Our elected decision-makers can make this upcoming session a great moment for all of Hawaii, but it is going to take some ground rules.

Rule No. 1: Don’t Over-Legislate

The first temptation of newly elected legislators and newly minted committee chairs in the upcoming session will be to flood the process with bills seeking to make laws out of everything they or their special interest backers have ever wanted.

A considerable amount of virtue signaling occurs every session where legislators will often introduce bills that are intended to make a statement but not actually intended to become law. This also allows new lawmakers to beat their chests and look like champions, without actually accomplishing anything. It is also over-legislating, and it makes our process toxic.

We can’t have a “everyone who does things I don’t like will be fined or charged with a felony” legislative mindset in a place as small as Hawaii. That may sound hyperbolic, but it is how many bills introduced over the years basically are written.

The objective of our new legislature should be practical solutions that can be supported by the largest number of people. What we need is fewer and better bill introductions next year.

Rule No. 2: Be Honest

Some people have characterized lawmaking as sausage-making, where everything is stuffed into a meat grinder to make an odious yet edible product. As a former committee clerk, I tend to see lawmaking more like the dark side of Halloween, where one must inspect candy treats to make sure there are no dangerous objects hidden inside.

Hawaii State Capitol Building on the last day of legislative session.
State lawmakers should stop flooding the session with bills introduced on behalf of special interests, De Gracia writes. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

The malevolent forces of Hawaii operate in secret, slipping amendments into bills that are difficult to spot, changing good ideas into poisonous ones, and holding big things hostage to ensure the passage of very niche desires. Oftentimes, the public will never ever even know about these things, because most are not discerning enough to understand the legal implications or the power connections involved.

If you’re a state legislator, don’t be evil. The special interest groups approaching you behind the scenes to undermine policies, carve out regulatory exemptions, or funnel money on their behalf don’t care about you or Hawaii. Sure, you might get to be reelected a little easier, you might even later have a pathway to higher office, but the real winner of an evil alliance will never be you.

It’s not worth trading integrity for access, or destroying Hawaii so select people can benefit or get rich. Do your job legislators, be upright, and most of all, be honest.

Rule No. 3: Listen To Everyone’s Concerns

Here’s the hardest one. We often reduce the world into political or ideological camps and secure ourselves in one and shut out people we don’t agree with. But our elected officials should see themselves as ambassadors for the public, not activists for eternal reelection.

Agree to sit down and talk with people who have opposite opinions. Read the testimony of an ordinary private citizen with the same attention you’d give a lobbyist or agency director. Find out what’s really going by meeting with the people who are involved or at risk, not just listening to the people who love to hear themselves talk.

Our new legislators and leaders need to ask themselves on all things: Is this the right thing to do? Is it legal or moral? Would I like to be treated this way?

We have a fresh start in front of us. Why not do something good? Let’s make the upcoming 2023 session Hawaii’s best experience yet.

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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)

Rule number 2. No more gut and replace as evidenced by Civil Beat in Hu Honua monkey business by one bulying legislator in particular

Concernedtaxpayer · 1 month ago

Rule 3 should be rule number 1: Listen. First listen to yourself and then to whoever you are engaging with. In the listening, you will be aware of the intention present with it's solutions. Even in normal friendly conversation we don't listen by not allowing the speaker to finish his/hers sentence before we cut them off by our version of the story but only to be cutoff by someone else. Everyone's talking incomplete sentences. We don't know how to listen and in most conversations we don't. And, then there's the party rule so the politician are forced to go with the party rule vs what's best for Hawaii's citizens.

kealoha1938 · 1 month ago

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