Danny De Gracia: Give Visitors Something Worth Seeing At Hawaii's Capitol - 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.

Lawmakers should invest in more parking, beautifying the grounds and robust food options.

A great idea is picking up momentum this session to showcase our State Capitol in the form of Senate Bill 699, which would require the lieutenant governor’s office to administer and facilitate a Capitol tours program. There’s only one problem though: The State Capitol right now looks horrendous, and there isn’t all that much to show off or talk about.

There’s an old saying that goes, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” Appearances matter, first impressions count, and how things look ultimately impact how people interact with them. And when we go to the Capitol, we see a microcosm of what Hawaii has become: A brutalist, shabby, unappealing place behind on aesthetic upkeep that one is almost ashamed to show off to outsiders.

As much as I’ve hammered our elected officials in the past over Hawaii looking shabby, this is one area that isn’t entirely their fault. Over the years, the political optics of spending money on making the State Capitol building look nicer, let alone stay in good condition, is always distorted by superficial critics into making it seem like lawmakers want to construct some kind of cushy, opulent palace for the evil rulers of Hawaii.

Try to spend any money on fixing, improving or upgrading the State Capitol and I can already tell you what the rage testimony in opposition will sound like: “Do you have any idea how many (fill in the blank with your favorite victim population group) could be (fed/clothed/medicated or schooled) with that?” And, if that argument fails, someone will oppose it by saying that “it isn’t sustainable and is bad for the environment.”

What a doozy! Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn called it right when he said: “A statesman who wants to achieve something important and highly constructive has to move cautiously and even timidly; thousands of hasty and irresponsible critics cling to him at all times … Thus mediocrity triumphs under the guise of democratic restraints.”

Capitol pool on Diamond Head side with construction / security barrier, Jan 2022
The Hawaii State Capitol’s reflecting pool is a chronic source of consternation. (Chad Blair/Civil Beat/2022)

This is why everything that belongs to the state of Hawaii looks mediocre or awful, because we’d rather virtue signal with money thrown to the black hole of fuzzy causes than be value investors in wisely stewarding our facilities and resources.

But let’s be honest with ourselves, we’re not Middle Eastern oil dictators building monuments and mansions for self-gratification, we’re a tiny tourist state that needs to have something worthy of showing off. And one of the first things we need is a modernized State Capitol with things that draw visitors, engage the public and inspire Hawaii to come peaceably together in a temple of democracy.

It should be a no-brainer that State Capitol tours and a nice State Capitol are essential to our future success and world image. Beautiful government buildings, world-class visitor experiences, interesting things to look at and warm hospitality have been the hallmarks of enlightened republics for the last 3,000 years. 

Think Bigger And Build Better

I absolutely think that Senate Bill 699 should pass into law, but there needs to be a bigger, more strategic approach to giving people something worth visiting and worth experiencing when they come to our State Capitol.

For starters, invest money into making the State Capitol grounds look beautiful. As things stand right now, the gray wooden barrier around the reflecting pool looks brutalist, cheap and downright ugly. 

Tear down the wooden barrier, get rid of the perpetually swampy reflecting pool and turn the outer area around the Capitol into a landscaped garden with park benches. Why is this important? Because, just like a public college campus, having places where people can sit down, gather and talk is essential to learning and involvement. Ever been to a resort like the Hilton Waikoloa Village? They have massive gardens with plants, statues, walkways and seating areas. Why can’t our Capitol be just as good?

Senate Bill 733, another measure before the Legislature, asks the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to “maintain Hawaiian cultural centers.” What better place to put a new Hawaiian museum and cultural center than our State Capitol grounds? That way, tourists can learn about the host culture and history; local students can study civics and be immersed in Hawaiian special events; and legislators can be reminded of what they’re supposed to be protecting.

We need a bookstore at the State Capitol for visitors that sells history books and art, as well as memorabilia and State of Hawaii-branded items. An elementary school child should be able to go to our State Capitol for a tour and walk out with beautiful books, a fancy ball cap with the State of Hawaii seal on it, and a cool toy that has historical or educational value to it.

We need to have a food court with multiple restaurants or a cafeteria – perhaps similar to the U.S. Capitol – so that visitors can have something on-site to eat, and so that staff and legislators who work long hours don’t have to leave or order delivery. 

I’m glad state buildings have snack shops, but the State Capitol needs a full food court or cafeteria. Let’s draw people to the seat of government to create more interaction and networking with public officials, and what better way to do that with food and dining opportunities.

Last of all, and now I know I’m really going to upset some of you, but the State Capitol urgently needs to have a parking building so that people — especially elderly individuals, persons with disabilities and, yes, post-Covid sufferers like me — can easily park there to interact with legislators. 

Yes, yes, I know, some of you think the answer to everything is simply mass transit, shower facilities, and bicycle racks, but when you get seriously injured or disabled, lack of parking makes accessibility very agonizing. Stop being virtue signaling elitists and just provide parking so that more people can participate and visit the State capitol.

So please, let’s think big and build better. We need tours at the State Capitol. We need more interaction with legislators. And we need something that’s worth visiting and showing off. Hawaii is a tourist state. It’s time to have nice public spaces and public places again where people can make memories and learn about the wonder that is Hawaii.

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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)

Great idea, the state uses more millions of Federal CARES Act money to repair the capital grounds, then opens it to homeless campers, who's presence will be a daily reminder to our glorious state representatives, of their ever increasing population and problem. Secondarily, it will provide a vivid reminder for all the people to see their elected officials actually try to deal with a priority problem.

wailani1961 · 3 weeks ago

One last thought. Maybe it may be time to restructure DAGS? I don't know, but it's just a thought.

MichaelTada · 1 month ago

The City can manage/maintain all of the large water features at the Blaisdell Center, but the State can't do the same?

Kalama · 1 month ago

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