Neal Milner: Will Our New Governor Be A Truth-Teller Or A Truth-Skater? - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Neal Milner

Neal Milner is a former political science professor at the University of Hawaii where he taught for 40 years. He is a political analyst for KITV and is a regular contributor to Hawaii Public Radio's "The Conversation." His most recent book is The Gift of Underpants. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

I wrote this in Civil Beat almost two years ago: “How can this happen? How can three of Hawaii’s biggest projects — rail, the stadium, and the prison — be closer to down the toilet than up and running?”

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Those questions are still as relevant now as they were back then. It’s still happening, the same projects with the same time warp.

“Nothing has changed” puts too glossy a coat on it. Some projects have gone backwards and threaten to disappear.

The holiday gift from our leadership is Hawaii Political Time. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, like jewelry in those sexually suggestive “a kiss begins with …” TV holiday ads.

Those ads are filed with fantasy. So is Hawaii Political Time where delay is not delay and where comically awful screwups require patience, not accountability.

Citizens have their own fantasies. They’re called rationality. Average people assume that time is linear, progress is a real word, and that there is some relationship between deadline and reality.

They believe that government projects are meant to get done. They want explanations, not excuses, clarity and not obfuscation.

That doesn’t sound like a fantasy, but it is. “Done on time? In your dreams.”

Hawaii Political Time (HPT) is vaporous, surreal, opaque, ghostly and mysterious.

It’s abracadabra magical making, like getting us to cozy up to the idea that the less progress about the stadium, the greater the level of dream-state rhetoric there is about what’s supposed to happen.

“To dream the impossible dream.” The more the dream seems impossible, the louder HPT practitioners bellow out that song.

So, here we are. Stadium planning has gone into full retreat from who knows what to who knows where.

But so has the new state mental hospital, which has disappeared from the public’s radar, making it a huge success for practitioners of Hawaii Political Time.

To show you how bad things are and how little progress has been made, rail is the most successful of that bunch.

Sure, rapid transit is about as rapid as a sloth on Ambien, and the completion date jumps and jives. The hardest part, which makes the first stage seem like Playskool building blocks, is yet to come.

But at least HART people talk. A crummy report card is better than one that gets thrown in the trash before Mom and Dad can see it.

On the other hand, for all the public knows, the rooms at the state hospital are for rent on VRBO.

Hawaii Political Time, then, is an unwanted holiday gift — coal in the public’s stocking.

In return we need to decide what kinds of leaders deserve gifts from us. Santa uses naughty and nice. But naughty is too childish, and nice too goody-two-shoes.

Here are two categories that work: Truth-Tellers and Truth-Skaters. Those in the first get gifted. The second group gets a ragged piece of fossil fuel.

The new $169 million Hawaii State Hospital building has never fully opened. That’s making the Honolulu rail project look like a success. Anita Hofschneider/Civil Beat/2021

Truth-Tellers are definitive and candid. They set deadlines, constantly monitor, and keep the public abreast. If changes need to be made, announce them immediately. They don’t conceal problems, and they focus on work in progress more than future ideas.

Finally, Truth-Tellers understand how talking in grandiloquent dreamy terms is often used to conceal something bad with a cover of bullshit.

Truth-Skaters communicate big missteps as if they are really just tiny ones that we don’t need to worry about. Nothing to see here and don’t worry, be happy all wrapped in one.

And often they have special ways of talking, the purpose of which is to hide rather than seek.

You can hear this in the crisp, confident can-do cadence that Red Hill fuel tank Navy brass use to skip over what they won’t do or had no idea that it even was a do.

You can hear hyper-enthusiastic, big-picture language every time stadium plans gets Tasered.

Cockeyed optimism replaces reality. “Work and pray. Live on hay,” the preacher sings in the Joe Hill song. “They’ll be pie in the sky by and by.”

The tag line to that song is “It’s a lie.”

And you can hear it in our new governor’s “I’m rolling up my sleeves and starting to rumble right this minute” language when he talks about affordable housing.

It’s a reminder of how easily truth telling can slide into truth skating.

I think Josh Green is a very competent person with a capacity to get important things done. But he and the rest of us can’t be captured by the moment.

Green is good at getting people excited and raising expectations. That’s essential. It’s also the easy part.

Affordable housing of course has been a problem forever. Short-term, only a small percentage of people will benefit from any new housing policies because they take so long to implement and make only a small dent.

That’s if all goes well. Moving forward needs many pieces to fall into place, most outside of the governor’s direct control. Once they get started, these projects will need a load of monitoring and oversight.

Green is good at getting people excited and raising expectations. That’s essential. It’s also the easy part.

Truth-Skaters can and do spin out all kinds of nonsense about making rents substantially more affordable in a state with the worst affordability in the nation. Our keiki aren’t suddenly going to be rushing back because rents make this place affordable.

A Truth-Teller will have a housing plan with all the implementation nuts and bolts. But telling the truth also needs perspective and candor.

Like this: “Here is the policy. I am working with others to get it adopted and then put into action. You have my word that I’ll keep you up to date in a clear and honest way.”

“At the same time, you need to realize that there is no quick fix and maybe not even a long-term fix. Many of you will not directly benefit from this. Almost nobody will benefit for at least a few years.”

“I can’t promise that Hawaii will ultimately even come close to solving its housing problem. I can promise you will see some good results.”

“But we are a community. We feel rewarded when some people benefit from government even when we don’t ourselves.”

That’s no lie.


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About the Author

Neal Milner

Neal Milner is a former political science professor at the University of Hawaii where he taught for 40 years. He is a political analyst for KITV and is a regular contributor to Hawaii Public Radio's "The Conversation." His most recent book is The Gift of Underpants. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.


Latest Comments (0)

Another great article Neal. Hitting on all cylinders about the reality of local government. You mention the obvious projects that have failed to deliver, but what gets forgotten and missed are some of the smaller details of government work and if you can't get the small things right, good luck with rail or a stadium. Like whatever happened to the Pali Hwy. repaving project's 3 year completion date now stretching into year 4, even with the complete shut down of the Kailua bound side due to the landslide? And the most recent mystery of the ages, the Kaka'ako sink hole that has already shut down the intersection of Cooke and Halekauwila Sts. for 2 months and is expected to take 6 months and $8M to fix. That estimate is just that, a big guess, but we the public put up with these things as if it where the norm. We are fooled into believing that all cities work this inefficiently, when that is not the case. Being isolated has its benefits, but also creates ignorance for many that don't see that government can be run more efficiently.

wailani1961 · 1 month ago

Joseph Tainter: "In the evolution of a society continued investment in complexity as a problem-solving strategy yields a declining marginal return." We seem to be on the verge of global crisis based on our unwillingness to live within limits. We just reached 8 billion people on a planet that can only hold 4 billion at our rate of consumption. Hawaii is as Gavin Daw’s says "A Shoal in time" a tiny resource challenged speck in the vast pacific. Our physical environment and our mental worlds are in direct conflict. Capitalism is a dream factory built on rivalry, and extraction to convert every living system into "stuff" be it rail or stadiums or new real estate. A materialist culture without a spiritual core is a study in catastrophe. St. Augustine who lived to see the Fall of Rome discovered that human desires are disordered and so we suffer and create more suffering. The last 40 years of Gordon Gekkos : "Greed is good!" resounds over our politics captured by corporatism and money." Only an ordering of our desire by some higher love: beauty, truth , goodness can redeem us from chaos both individual and social.

JM · 1 month ago

As with all things Hawaii-political... hope for the best and prepare for the worst, and maybe get something in between. The difference between he and many previous governors is that he will actually have some financial room to make things happen. I don't think any would argue against Blangiardi being an improvement on Caldwell, for example, though he hasn't by any means made the earth move. One file I hope he does "fail" on is a new Aloha stadium... as in fail to even consider it.

SleepyandDopey · 2 months ago

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