Chad Blair – Honolulu Civil Beat https://www.civilbeat.org Honolulu Civil Beat - Investigative Reporting Wed, 24 Apr 2019 00:37:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.0.3 Ige Assures Caldwell Of Ala Wai Flood Control Financing Plan https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/ige-assures-caldwell-of-ala-wai-flood-control-financing-plan/ Fri, 19 Apr 2019 10:01:01 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1328937 Hawaii Gov. David Ige is reassuring city leaders that the state remains committed to help fund the Ala Wai flood control project, despite the Legislature’s refusal so far to pass a spending bill for that effort. In a letter sent Thursday to Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Ige notes that the state will include in its biennium […]

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Hawaii Gov. David Ige is reassuring city leaders that the state remains committed to help fund the Ala Wai flood control project, despite the Legislature’s refusal so far to pass a spending bill for that effort.

In a letter sent Thursday to Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Ige notes that the state will include in its biennium budget debt service payments on the $125 million it eventually needs to contribute to the sweeping flood control project.

“Consistent with our agreement, I am committed to seek state funding for the local sponsor’s one-time share of the project,” Ige told Caldwell.

The move essentially keeps the state’s foot in the door: It allows it to commit some funding now, on debt service, while paying the lion’s share later. The $125 million represents the local match for Congress’ appropriation of $345 million for the project last year, received with the help of former U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.

Water levels due to King Tides along the Ala Wai Canal during a high tide at 3pm at the same time that Hurricane Hector was skirting south of the Hawaiian Islands. If Hurricane Hector hit Oahu, this compounded w/ the King TIde could have devastated and flooded Waikiki. 9 aug 2018

Water levels due to king tides rise along the Ala Wai Canal in 2018.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“For the state of Hawaii, whenever the federal government gives us $220 million to do a project, we think it is very important to move a project forward,” said Ford Fuchigami, the governor’s administrative director. “And that is the reason the governor and I put so much effort to come up with the $125 million to move this project forward.”

A spending bill for that local match, Senate Bill 77, died in this year’s legislative session after House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke asserted that the city had refused to sign a deal with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Caldwell took issue with that assertion in an April 11 letter to House and Senate leaders imploring that they provide the funding.

Army Corps officials have estimated that Waikiki, with its 54,000 residents and nearly 80,000 daily visitors, faces an annual 1% chance of a major flood that would cause $1.14 billion in damage to more than 3,000 structures. The neighboring low-lying communities of Moiliili, McCully and lower Makiki would face residual flooding, they said.

The issue stems from costly decisions about a century ago to create the Ala Wai Canal, destroying the wetlands that once absorbed rushing floodwaters and leaving heavy development in their place.

Caldwell said the funding was a matter of public safety for the Ala Wai basin, and that the island risked losing its federal dollars if it failed to provide the local match. Nonetheless, the Ala Wai project has met intense opposition among residents and schools in Manoa and other upland areas, where the Army Corps intends to create detention basins and debris catchment structures.

Caldwell was unavailable for comment late Thursday. House Speaker Scott Saiki declined to comment.

Ige’s letter to Caldwell was the second time in one day that the governor inserted himself into controversial matters pending before the Legislature. He also sent a letter Thursday to the leaders of the House and Senate asking them to reconsider House Bill 1326, the water rights measure.

The governor’s Ala Wai letter also states that the Army Corps agreed to allow the state to defer its payments until after the project was completed.

Read Ige’s letter here:

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Ige Calls For Reconsideration Of Water Bill https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/ige-calls-for-reconsideration-of-water-bill/ Thu, 18 Apr 2019 23:34:43 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1328863 In a significant development, Hawaii’s governor has directly intervened in the legislative debate over a water rights bill. On Thursday, Gov. David Ige sent a letter to leaders of the state Senate and House regarding House Bill 1326, which would extend water diversion rights for land company Alexander & Baldwin, other landowners, utility companies, small […]

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In a significant development, Hawaii’s governor has directly intervened in the legislative debate over a water rights bill.

On Thursday, Gov. David Ige sent a letter to leaders of the state Senate and House regarding House Bill 1326, which would extend water diversion rights for land company Alexander & Baldwin, other landowners, utility companies, small farmers and ranchers.

The bill is currently halted for this session, but Ige indicated that he wants lawmakers to take another look at it. He argues that House Draft 2 of the bill, which allows stream diversion for another seven years, is “fair and comprehensive.”

Governor David Ige Budget presser closeup1.

Gov. David Ige has told the Legislature he wants to save the water rights bill.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“Water is a critically important issue, and for this reason, there is a lot of emotion tied to decisions about water use,” Ige wrote. “However, it is clear that the law cannot be applied in a discriminatory fashion, that all water permittees and applicants must comply with the law and that the law cannot be specially enforced against some permittees and applicants but not others.”

The governor continued:

Given the timing and circumstances, H.B. No. 1326 addresses these issues for all impacted users in a fair and comprehensive manner. For this reason, I encourage us to continue the conversation and to discuss facts and how we can all move forward to ensure that our State is able to provide the resources needed to support farming, ranching, clean energy production and access to water for drinking and other important public uses.

Cindy McMillan, the governor’s communications director, confirmed the letter was sent but said “the administration has no further comment at this time.”

House Speaker Scott Saiki said in a statement, “The Governor’s statement clarifies some of the practical and legal questions that have been raised surrounding revocable water permits and H.B. 1326 … At this point, it is up to the Senate to determine whether to act upon H.B. 1326.”

Senate President Ron Kouchi later issued his own brief statement, saying, “We will continue communicating and working with the governor and the administration on addressing this issue.”

A spokesperson for A&B declined comment.

But Marti Townsend, director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii, said via email, “I take this as a serious betrayal of our trust. This is like throwing gasoline on the dumpster fire that A&B started and the Farm Bureau was fanning in order to create public panic — all for A&B’s $62 million.”

Sierra Club Director Marti Townsend says HB 2501 This bill seeks to circumvent a recent court ruling against Alexander & Baldwin’s diversion of millions of gallons of water from East Maui streams. 3 may 2015

Sierra Club Director Marti Townsend said the governor has overstepped his authority by intervening in House Bill 1326.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Townsend, who met with the governor Wednesday to explain the Sierra Club’s position, was referring in part to a rebate that is part of A&B’s sale of land in Central Maui to Mahi Pono, which plans diversified agricultural development. A&B has disputed the Sierra Club’s characterization of the sale.

Townsend argued that Ige has overstepped his authority.

“This is an abuse of the governor’s position,” she said. “He is trying to influence legislation to circumvent the courts. Honestly, his administration has had three years to fix this problem and did next to nothing. And now they are calling this an emergency? It’s a manufactured crisis all to serve A&B’s interest.”

The Senate has until April 30 to pull HB 1326 to the floor from the two committees where it died two weeks ago. The 2019 session concludes May 2.

‘Misinformation, Antagonism’

Ige’s letter states that recent hearings on HB 1326 “generated significant activity from the media, special interest groups and others. In this process, misinformation found its way into the public conversation and antagonism among lawmakers grew to the point that this important legislative measure was tabled.”

In response, the governor said, he asked his administration to analyze the implications of not enacting the bill.

(The entire letter is reproduced at the end of this article.)

The administration concluded that the impact of the proposed legislation “is widespread.”

Ford Fuchigami, Ige’s admistrative director, analyzed HB 1326 and advised the governor to push for its passage.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

“The law must promote fair water distribution throughout the State of Hawaii,” Ige’s letter says. “To this end, the proposed legislation sought to ensure that the law applied consistently to all those who have permits to divert water for farming, ranching, drinking, clean energy production and other important uses.”

Ford Fuchigami, Ige’s administrative director, conducted the analysis, which is seven pages in length and includes appendices. It includes a summary of the 2015 court case (currently on appeal) that led to the Legislature in 2016 extending water use by A&B and the other companies for three more years.

Fuchigami said that 2016’s Act 126 “is not a fix to help only A&B.” Rather, he calls it “necessary legislation to address the uncertainty that the law and statutory process … creates for all water permit holders.”

Fuchigami concluded: “I believe that the absence of a statutory amendment to Act 126 (Session Laws of Hawaii 2016) will have adverse effects upon existing permit holders for the disposition of water rights.”

Read Ige’s letter below:



April 18, 2019, letter from Gov. Ige to Hawaii Legislature (Text)

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Two Ethics Reform Measures Clear House-Senate Conference Committee https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/two-ethics-reform-measures-clear-house-senate-conference-committee/ Thu, 18 Apr 2019 10:01:20 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1328721 Two ethics reform bills have been approved by a House-Senate conference committee while a third remains afloat. But another measure, this one changing campaign finance laws, is on hold as lawmakers try to settle their differences. The lead conferees on the bills are the respective chairs of the House and Senate judiciary committees, Rep. Chris […]

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Two ethics reform bills have been approved by a House-Senate conference committee while a third remains afloat.

But another measure, this one changing campaign finance laws, is on hold as lawmakers try to settle their differences.

The lead conferees on the bills are the respective chairs of the House and Senate judiciary committees, Rep. Chris Lee and Sen. Karl Rhoads.

Late Wednesday afternoon the conference committee approved House Bill 170, which clarifies how the state’s laws on fair treatment — not unduly using political influence — and conflict of interest laws apply to legislators and task force members. Its passage this session now appears certain.

State ethics Commission Director Dan Gluck. 11 aug 2016

State Ethics Commission Executive Director Dan Gluck proposed a measure that would exempt task force members from having to file financial disclosure statements.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

HB 170 is supported by the League of Women Voters of Hawaii, Common Cause Hawaii and the Hawaii State Ethics Commission, which proposed it.

“This bill clarifies that task members who are often appointed for their specialized expertise aren’t required to file financial disclosure statements,” the commission’s executive director, Dan Gluck, said Wednesday. “It also clarifies that they are not treated the same as state employees for the purposes of the ethics code.”

Gluck said that task force members are often individuals who are appointed for limited purposes because of their experience. Having them subject to the same requirements as full-time state employees could discourage qualified applicants, he said.

‘Modest Changes’

Two other measures that are part of the Ethics Commission’s package of bills are also advancing.

On Wednesday, the Senate agreed to the House’s changes to Senate Bill 144, meaning that the bill is almost certainly headed to Gov. David Ige for his signature.

SB 144 calls for repealing restrictions on obtaining transcripts of public contested hearings, requiring proof that violation of the state’s lobbying law was committed negligently, and allowing the Ethics Commission to levy a fine as part of a settlement agreement.

In written testimony, Gluck said SB 144 makes “modest changes” to enforcement of the state’s lobbyists law and “harmonizes” the law with the state’s open records law.

A third measure from the commission, House Bill 169, remains in conference committee.

HB 169 bill clarifies provisions of the ethics code by eliminating the “double filing requirement” of gift disclosure statements, reduces an “unnecessary administrative burden” on Ethics Commission staff by only requiring records to be kept for six years after the filing date of each financial disclosure statement, and eliminates language that restricted access to transcripts from contested case hearings.

The bill also calls for providing flexibility for participants mandated to enroll in ethics training sessions.

In the report approving HB 169 as it moved through the House earlier this session, Rhoads wrote that the Judiciary Committee found that “under existing law, certain provisions of the State Ethics Code contain inconsistencies, inefficiencies, and overly burdensome administrative requirements.”

Decreasing Transparency?

Action on House Bill 164, part of a package of bills submitted by the state’s Campaign Spending Commission, was delayed for at least another day.

Lee told Rhoads that the House plans to submit a compromise bill known as a conference draft. But the CD1, as it is called, is still being worked on.

HB 164 is intended to tweak campaign finance laws to make it easier to disclose who is spending money on political advertisements.

Hawaii Campaign spending commission Executive Director Kristin Izumi Nitao speaks in support of Les Kondo during Hawaii State Ethics Commission meeting. 27 may 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission Executive Director Kristin Izumi-Nitao urged lawmakers to reject surprise changes made to one of the commission’s bills.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“Your Committee finds that the democratic election process benefits from transparency in campaign advertising,” the latest report on the bill reads. “Your Committee further finds that well-funded political action committees are capable of influencing elections to a significant degree. This measure will increase transparency and provide additional clarification to campaign advertising laws.”

But HB 164 was altered so significantly by the House in February that the commission’s executive director, Kristin Izumi-Nitao, ended up testifying against her own bill. She said in written testimony that the House amendments “will actually decrease transparency in campaign spending in elections.”

Izumi-Nitao pointed to the 2018 general election in which a couple spent $30,000 on Facebook ads to support multiple candidates on Maui. The law required them to report whenever they spent more than $2,000 on ads.

Contact Key Lawmakers

Under the amended House Draft 1, however, the reporting requirement would be eliminated. There would also be changes to when the disclosures would have to be made.

As well, the HD1 as crafted by the House Judiciary Committee would exempt legislators as well as all other candidates from filing electioneering communications statements.

Izumi-Nitao urged the lawmakers to revert back to the original bill.

Gary Kam, the Campaign Spending Commission’s general counsel, told Civil Beat that the original bill merely sought to clean up language in the state law on electioneering communications.

For example, current law only requires reporting on campaign mailers that go out at bulk rates. The commission wanted the law to apply to all mail rates.

The commission’s goal was to make it easier for people to file statements with the commission every time they spent more than $2,000 on political advertisements, including on social media.

Kam said he did not understand why the bill was changed.

“I never recall any side taking one of our bills and switching something out to actually reduce transparency,” he said, referring to the HD1. “The commission would never do that.”

The Senate last month amended HB 164 more to the commission’s liking, making sure language on electioneering communications was retained. But lawmakers also added additional reporting requirements that Kam described as burdensome.

People who spend more than $2,000 to advertise for a candidate already have to report that within 24 hours after the ad buy. The Senate Draft 1 requires weekly reporting as well.

It is these differences and others between House and Senate versions of HB 164 that need to be cleared up if the bill is to pass this session, which ends May 2.

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Chad Blair: Why, Tulsi, Why? https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/chad-blair-why-tulsi-why/ Wed, 17 Apr 2019 10:01:00 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1328469 This Saturday will mark the 100th day of Tulsi Gabbard’s campaign for president. The question now is, how many more days before she throws in the red, white and blue towel? Because the candidate of aloha is getting little of it from voters and donors nationwide. The most recent public opinion polls have Joe Biden […]

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This Saturday will mark the 100th day of Tulsi Gabbard’s campaign for president.

The question now is, how many more days before she throws in the red, white and blue towel? Because the candidate of aloha is getting little of it from voters and donors nationwide.

The most recent public opinion polls have Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders still leading the Democratic primary pack with Gabbard, the U.S. representative from Hawaii, far behind in the 1% range with the likes of Andrew Yang, Julian Castro and a half-dozen other declared or would-be candidates.

Meanwhile, Gabbard’s presidential campaign pulled in $1.95 million during the first quarter of 2019, far less than established candidates like Sanders and charismatic contenders like Beto O’Rourke and Kamala Harris. And they all entered the race after Gabbard announced she was running Jan. 11.

Tulsi Gabbard campaigning in Iowa on Feb. 21.

Team Tulsi

Gabbard’s rejection of political action committee money no doubt limits her cash haul. The FEC reports show she raised just over $1 million from small donors giving less than $200.

But that pales in comparison to Sanders, who took in more than $18 million in the first quarter of 2019. CNN reported that 84% of individual contributions to the Vermont senator and democratic socialist were for less than $200.

Gabbard’s biggest donor was herself: She transferred $2.5 million into her presidential account from her congressional campaign committee. Put another way, a lot of people who contributed to Gabbard’s previous campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives are now paying for Tulsi 2020, as her campaign is called.

Gabbard’s FEC filing for her Tulsi Now committee shows that she has appeal across the country in terms of campaign contributions. But not much comes from Hawaii. Of the 2,078 itemized receipts for Gabbard, only 114 — or about 6% — came from Hawaii.

In addition to her parents Mike and Carol Gabbard, who donated the maximum to their daughter, Hawaii donations include $1,000 from Danny Kaleikini, who is identified as “Ambassador of Aloha” on FEC receipt disclsoures. Lois Mitsunaga, a structural engineer with donor-friendly Mitsunaga and Associates, gave $2,700.

Gabbard has not been a passive campaigner. She has spent a number of days each in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and California. She was in Alabama for Bloody Sunday remembrances. And she has eight “meet and greets” scheduled this week back in Iowa and appearances Friday and Saturday in New Hampshire.

She says she has reached the threshold of 65,000 individual donors needed to participate in the Democratic debates.

Tulsi Gabbard campaigning in New Hampshire on Feb. 17.

Team Tulsi

But the media are not paying attention. An April 5 story in The New York Times mapping out where Democratic candidates had been in March did not include Gabbard, even though she had been in some of the same places as other candidates.

The Times did mention Gabbard on Sunday. But it was in an article titled, “The Many Reasons to Run for President When You Probably Don’t Stand a Chance.”

Gabbard made some news when she criticized the U.S. Justice Department’s indictment of Julian Assange, saying it puts the U.S. government on a “dangerous and slippery slope” in its treatment of journalists and all Americans.

But the critique rings hollow for a politician who often does not respond to media requests and who, in a plea for campaign donations just last month, accused the “mainstream media” of “anti-Tulsi bias” and ignoring or smearing her campaign.

That’s rich for someone who has appeared on national television more than 100 times since being elected to Congress, according to tallies kept by CQ’s Newsmaker.

To her credit, Gabbard has honed her message as the candidate of peace. She talked about that with Chris Matthews on MSNBC recently and used it in a pitch for contributions Sunday:

Tulsi’s run for president is rooted in the belief that our country urgently needs a commander in chief who is willing to be our warrior for peace, and who will stand up to a corrupt foreign policy establishment and military industrial complex, end regime change wars, halt the advance of a new Cold War and — most importantly —  bring about a new era of peace and prosperity for every single one of us.

The problem for Gabbard is that foreign policy is not the defining issue of 2020. It’s who can beat Donald Trump. And the answer to that question is wide open.

The latest Democratic flavor of the month is Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana. Buttigieg’s meteoric rise has got to gall Gabbard. Like her, he is a military veteran. He is also younger than Gabbard and a Rhodes Scholar and a graduate of Harvard and Oxford.

Though Gabbard blasts the media for “anti-Tulsi” bias, she has appeared on national TV nearly 100 times since being elected to Congress. She is shown here appearing on “Hardball” in April.

And he’s gay.

Gabbard is now an LGBT rights supporter, but has been criticized for espousing anti-gay rights sentiments earlier in her political career.

Meanwhile, Sanders is hot, having released 10 years of tax returns, unlike Trump (and, as of yet, Gabbard).

Anything could happen to change the dynamic of the race, of course.

Gabbard could give a boffo performance in the debates. Vice President Biden could say and do more inappropriate things. Trump might bomb Iran or invade Venezuela. Seventeen of the 18 Democrats (and counting) currently running could drop out en masse.

Or maybe Tulsi Gabbard might decide that representing Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District isn’t such a bad gig after all.

That’s certainly the view of state Sen. Kai Kahele, who is gunning for the job with a quarter of a million bucks on hand and endorsements from heavy hitters.

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Honolulu Mayor To Legislature: Let’s Partner On Fixing The Ala Wai https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/honolulu-mayor-to-legislature-lets-partner-on-fixing-the-ala-wai/ Tue, 16 Apr 2019 03:27:02 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1328309 Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is asking leaders of the Hawaii Legislature to provide millions of dollars to mitigate flooding of the Ala Wai canal. It’s something that Gov. David Ige first asked for back in December, when he requested $125 million for Ala Wai flood control, but the bill to do it has hit a roadblock. […]

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Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is asking leaders of the Hawaii Legislature to provide millions of dollars to mitigate flooding of the Ala Wai canal.

It’s something that Gov. David Ige first asked for back in December, when he requested $125 million for Ala Wai flood control, but the bill to do it has hit a roadblock. The money represents the local match for Congress’ appropriation of $345 million for the project last year, received with the help of U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.

Caldwell, a former state legislator, sent a letter April 11 to Senate President Ron Kouchi, House Speaker Scott Saiki, the state’s congressional delegation and other government officials.

“I urge the Legislature to provide the funding that is the local match required by the Army Corps of Engineers,” Caldwell wrote Thursday. “At stake is the public safety of the communities this flood control project is designed to protect, the economic impact to Waikiki and local business, and the lives of local residents who will be exposed to potentially dangerous flooding in the future due to a warming climate.”

Ala Wai Canal brown water after Darby. 25 july 2016

The Ala Wai Canal after a rain in 2016. The canal is at risk of massive flooding that could cause major damage to the tourist mecca of Waikiki.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

A House spokeswoman said House leaders were not available to respond to media inquiries as of late Monday. Inquiries to the Senate communications office went unanswered.

Caldwell used his letter to reaffirm the city’s position on the Ala Wai Flood Risk Management project. The mayor said the city will sign an agreement with the federal government — one that is still being negotiated — and that it is committed to “take on” future operations and maintenance responsibilities for the project.

“The city requests that the state sign on as a partner, too,” Caldwell wrote, adding that the city and state “verbally agreed” that the state would provide local matching funds.

Without the funding match, the mayor said the feds won’t fund the project, either.

At the time of Ige’s initial request, state Rep. Sylvia Luke, chair of the House Finance Committee, expressed concern about the $125 million allocation.

The amount would satisfy the federal requirement for about 35 percent in matching funds. But the request amounts to about 10 percent of the state’s $1.3 billion capital improvements budget request.

Luke said at the time that even if the state did provide the funding, Honolulu residents would be stuck with ongoing repair and maintenance.

Senate Bill 77, which proposed spending the $125 million, moved through the Legislature with little opposition. Supporters included Rod Becker, Ige’s director of Budget and Finance, and Robert Kroning, Caldwell’s head of Design and Construction.

But SB 77 never received a hearing in Luke’s Finance Committee and is dead for the session.

Language in the bill illustrated how serious a major flooding of the Ala Wai might be:

According to the United States Army Corps of Engineers, a major flood could damage three thousand structures, require more than $1,000,000,000 in repairs, and severely impact Hawaii’s economy.

The 2003 Economic Contribution of Waikiki Report indicated that in 2002, Waikiki-based visitor activity accounted for $3,600,000,000, or forty-six per cent, of the tourism industry’s total contribution to the gross state product.

The Legislature could find other ways to appropriate the money, but Luke told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser last week, “Now that the city has reversed its position and is refusing to sign, the state is not in a position to even be looking at any kind of funding.”

“The city needs to sign first before we even entertain any kind of funding.”

Caldwell disputes that notion.

“The city did not waver or change its position, and any statement to the contrary is false,” he said in his letter, which is dated the day after the Star-Advertiser article was published.

Read Civil Beat’s series Ala Wai Canal: Hawaii’s Biggest Mistake?

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Hawaii Loses Leading Civil Rights Advocate Joakim ‘Jojo’ Peter https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/hawaii-loses-leading-civil-rights-advocate-joakim-jojo-peter/ Fri, 12 Apr 2019 10:01:56 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1327415 Joakim “Jojo” Peter grew up on an island that was home to about 500 people and had no electricity, spending his childhood fishing with his grandfather and listening to stories about his family history. Years later, Peter became an author and a champion for social justice in Honolulu whose influence spanned the Pacific Ocean. Peter […]

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Joakim “Jojo” Peter grew up on an island that was home to about 500 people and had no electricity, spending his childhood fishing with his grandfather and listening to stories about his family history.

Years later, Peter became an author and a champion for social justice in Honolulu whose influence spanned the Pacific Ocean.

Peter died Monday in Honolulu. He was 54.

Peter dedicated his life to advocating for the rights of immigrants and people with disabilities. He was an educator, scholar and community organizer known for his hard work and humility.

In Hawaii, he fought negative stereotypes about Micronesians and advocated for equal access to health care.

We Are Oceania Jojo Peter speaks during festival held at the East West Center.

Joakim “Jojo” Peter from Chuuk encouraged students at the 2018 Micronesian Youth Summit to have pride in themselves and in their culture.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

He was also a former radio disc jockey with a great sense of humor who loved coffee and Zippy’s.

“Leave a message, or sing a song,” his voicemail greeting said.

Peter grew up on Etal, one of the Mortlock Islands in Chuuk State in the Federated States of Micronesia. He was known to fondly call the Mortlocks “the center of the universe.”

He attended Xavier High School, a Jesuit school in Weno, Chuuk. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Guam, two master’s degrees in history and Pacific Island studies and a doctorate from the University of Hawaii in special education. Along the way, he inspired a generation of Pacific Island scholars and spent 15 years working at the College of Micronesia.

Peter co-founded numerous organizations to help the Micronesian community in Hawaii and beyond, including the one-stop center We Are Oceania; COFA-CAN, a local advocacy group; and COFA-CLAN, a national advocacy group. Most recently he worked at the educational nonprofit Pacific Resources for Education and Learning helping Micronesian families understand their rights.

Citizens of Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia come to Hawaii through an agreement known as the Compact of Free Association, or COFA, which allows them to live and work freely in the U.S. and gives the U.S. military control over the Pacific nations’ airspace, land and surrounding waters.

But despite being long-term legal residents, COFA migrants lack access to many safety net programs including Medicaid, food stamps and federal disaster assistance.

With his appointment to the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, Peter became the first citizen of a COFA nation to serve on any Hawaii state board or commission.

Jojo Peter helped others from Micronesia enroll in health insurance in 2015 in Kalihi.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Peter’s nomination by Gov. David Ige prompted the Legislature to amend the law that by omission barred COFA citizens from serving on boards or commissions.

“Jojo Peter was a valuable member of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, and he will be missed,” Ige said through a spokeswoman Wednesday.

The governor plans to appoint another person to take Peter’s place on the commission, but many say his death creates a void that won’t be easily filled.

Josie Howard, who co-founded We Are Oceania with Peter, feels lost in his absence. She likened the emotion to canoes in Micronesia that have two posts and “without one of them, the canoe is not operable.”

“He has been the voice for Micronesians out here in Hawaii,” she said.

Larry Reigetal, a master navigator from Lamotrek, Yap who lives on Guam, says that now that Peter has passed into the realm of their ancestors, their shared cultural traditions dictate his name shouldn’t be spoken, let alone shared with the outside world.

But he thinks if he asked Peter about that, he would say, “‘Heck, man, do it!'”

Reigetal was one of Peter’s high school classmates and says speaking about Peter honors him by furthering his lifelong battle for social justice.

“He now becomes one more guiding star with our ancestors to sail by,” Reigetal said. “We will carry on their legacies of making a difference.”

Inspiring A Generation

Mary Hattori remembers the day when she nearly quit pursuing her doctoral degree. She walked out of a classroom and ran into Peter, who persuaded her not to give up.

“We need more Pacific Islanders, more Micronesians with advanced degrees,” she remembers him saying.

Hattori went on to become a professor at Chaminade University. She worked with Peter to give talks at local high schools to inspire Micronesians and collaborated with him on the annual Micronesian Festival. He was supposed to emcee the May 11 festival at Bishop Museum.

Celebrate Micronesia at the Honolulu Museum of Art School. 28 march 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Peter was an emcee at past Micronesian festivals, and was scheduled to do it again this year.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Hattori says Peter was driven to help those less fortunate than him.

Peter’s doctoral dissertation recounted the struggles of Chuukese families who sought health care in Hawaii for their disabled children.

Hattori says she is among a generation of scholars inspired by Peter.

James Viernes from the University of Hawaii’s Center for Pacific Island Studies is another. He says Peter had an ability to bridge cultural differences and garner respect both in Micronesia and in the U.S.

“Jojo was always thinking about his family, he was always thinking about his islands, he was always thinking about his region,” Viernes said. “The community and the region at large is in a massive state of mourning.”

Widespread Impact

Peter’s death has resonated on the mainland as well. Joe Enlet, the consulate general for the Federated States of Micronesia in Portland, says he and organizers in Hawaii, Oregon, Texas, California, Arizona and Arkansas almost cancelled their COFA-CLAN meeting this week but decided the best way to honor Peter would be to continue.

“It’s just so difficult to put into words the depth of his influence on people who are advocating and people who care about Micronesia and the Pacific Islands as a whole,” Enlet said.

He said Peter taught him to “think about the issues for Micronesians beyond the political arrangement that we have with the U.S. but to look at it as a human issue and what it means to the fabric of humanity.”

Peter spent his last weekend speaking at Civil Beat’s #BeingMicronesian event at the Honolulu Biennial, where he discussed militarism and colonialism in the Pacific.

“We are part of the community,” he told the audience. Despite efforts to isolate Micronesians or define them separately legislatively, “We are part of the community, so we do as much as we can to contribute.”

James Skouge, who co-wrote Peter’s autobiography, “Coconut Ratz & Kung Fu Cowboys: Tales of a Pacific Islander’s Childhood,” says Peter’s overarching philosophy was, “We are only strong in community.”

He would take TheBus from his home in the Mayor Wright public housing complex to homeless shelters to help Micronesians ineligible for Medicaid sign up for health insurance. Sometimes that meant waiting until there was an accessible seat available on the bus.

“He wasn’t ready to leave this world,” Skouge said. “He had lots of unfinished goals and dreams.”

According to Peter’s friends, those dreams included writing a book about Micronesian history told from the perspective of Micronesians; establishing a Micronesian charter school in Hawaii; going fishing on the reef in the Mortlock Islands; and spending one more night sleeping on the sand in Etal under the stars.

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Chad Blair: Inside The Legislature’s Backroom Brawl Over A Water Rights Bill https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/chad-blair-inside-the-legislatures-backroom-brawl-over-a-water-rights-bill/ Thu, 11 Apr 2019 10:01:36 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1327518 As opponents of House Bill 1326 were making a lot of noise in the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday and chanting things like, “The people have spoken, the public trust is broken,” the state Senate was behind closed doors in its chamber-level quarters trying to save legislation extending the right of Alexander & Baldwin and others […]

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As opponents of House Bill 1326 were making a lot of noise in the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday and chanting things like, “The people have spoken, the public trust is broken,” the state Senate was behind closed doors in its chamber-level quarters trying to save legislation extending the right of Alexander & Baldwin and others to divert water from East Maui streams.

In the end, the 24 Democrats were not sure if there were nine votes to pull HB 1326 out of the joint committee where it died April 4, or 13 votes to pass it and send it up to the governor’s office this week.

Some senators were pushing a version of the bill known as Senate Draft 1. That version took A&B, one of Hawaii’s oldest and most powerful companies, out of the equation but allowed several utility companies, farmers and ranchers to access state water (the public trust referenced above) for three more years.

Others preferred the House Draft 2 that extended the right of A&B and all the companies with revocable permits to divert stream water from East Maui for another seven years.

Senate President Ron Kouchi presides over a floor session Tuesday. Some senators are considering various options to revive a water rights bill that was supposedly killed at the committee level.

Blaze Lovell/CivilBeat

In addition to A&B, which holds four revocable permits along with East Maui Irrigation Co., the other companies seeking lease extensions are Hawaii Electric Light Co., Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, Kapalala Ranch, Kuahiwi Ranch, Wood Valley Water and Farm Cooperative, Edmund Olsen Trustee and East Kauai Water Cooperative.

Because of a deadline Thursday to advance bills, Tuesday may have been the best chance to revive HB 1326. Some say the bill is now officially dead.

But others say the Senate may try yet again during one of the 12 floor sessions remaining before adjournment May 2.

Drama, Then Nothing

What happened in caucus comes from more than a half-dozen people closely following HB 1326, including several lawmakers.

They were granted anonymity so that they could speak freely about sensitive discussions in the Senate caucus held before Tuesday’s floor session began at 10 a.m. and a second caucus called by President Ron Kouchi just after 11 a.m.

I happened to be in the Senate gallery when all this went down, although I didn’t fully understand what was happening until later. But I did get a tip that something was about to happen.

On the Senate floor papers were delivered to the clerk and then to the member’s desk — a floor amendment for HB 1326. I looked up to see employees of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms whispering quickly to one another. I also saw that several sheriffs from the Department of Public Safety were on hand.

It turned out to be a false alarm. But it could happen again.

The Latest

The fight over HB 1326 in the Senate comes with several related developments.

On Monday, KITV’s Brenton Awa reported that Gov. David Ige met with the attorney general and members of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources “to find out what comes next” after the bill died last week.

Awa said that Ige’s administrative director told him that the state “will not renew any revocable water permits for small farmers and ranchers” when they expire this year.

More than 100 farmers and ranchers on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island are dependent on the continued water access called for in HB 1326 this session, the Hawaii Farm Bureau says.

Hawaii Farm Bureau

“Ford Fuchigami tells us something has to happen by the end of this legislative session to fix the issue,” Awa reported. “The governor is expected to talk with both the House and Senate next.”

Fuchigami’s public pronouncement came as a surprise to some senators who felt that it was unprecedented for the executive branch to insert itself into the legislative process to issue an ultimatum. Others said it was in fact very appropriate for the governor, the AG and the DLNR to be involved in crafting a solution.

There is the possibility that Ige could issue an emergency proclamation to resolve the legislative impasse, but that seems a big stretch. The water rights bill hardly rises to the calamity of a natural disaster, although it is certainly a political crisis.

And it is important.

The Alexander & Baldwin building in downtown Honolulu.

Flickr: billsoPHOTO

A widely shared goal in the islands is to move Hawaii toward a self-sustaining state so that it one day will not have to import nearly all of its food and energy.

That must be done in accordance with core constitutional provisions and statutes that guide the use of public resources.

A&B wants to continue diverting water to Central Maui, where it recently sold former sugar cane lands for $262 million to a company called Mahi Pono. The plan is to cultivate diversified food and energy crops. 

Special Session Unlikely

Ige could also call the Legislature into special session after the current session ends. That, too, seems unlikely.

The most likely option is for the Senate to salvage some sort of compromise. But many are worried about the precedent of employing rarely used procedures such as pulling a bill to the floor. What if that happens to other bills that die in committee, such as Senate Bill 686 calling for the legalization of marijuana?

If senators also choose to pull a bill, the so-called “nuclear option” could lead to a “nuclear war,” as I heard it described, in which there is a shakeup in leadership.

Compromise legislation could potentially come with the help of the House. But some representatives are angry that the Senate botched the deal while some senators are angry that they are the ones having to do all the heavy lifting as the House stays largely out of the spotlight.

And, there are plenty of senators who just want the whole thing to go away because it has become too toxic.

Meanwhile, senators are receiving emails this week from individuals urging them to reconsider. They read in part:

We respectfully and urgently request that you please pass a measure this session so farmers and ranchers don’t lose their access to the water they need to produce the food and agriculture we want in Hawaii …

This is not about A&B, this is about the future viability of agriculture in our state. Without an extension of temporary water permits, farmers and ranchers on revocable permits will not have legal access to water at the end of this year …

And, according to the Maui County Department of Water Supply, more than 80 percent of Upcountry Maui water comes from streams in the East Maui watershed and without the EMI permit to access and deliver that water for use by Mahi Pono’s diversified agriculture in Central Maui, water may not be diverted to the county water treatment facility and then on to Upcountry residents and farmers.

It’s not clear where all the emails are coming from. One of the senders of emails I was able to obtain is identified as Steven Horio of Kukui Sausage. Another is identified as Sylvia Smith.

What is clear is that someone wants a water bill to pass ASAP.

There is one other possible outcome: For the Legislature to do nothing at all with the water rights issue.

It’s not clear whether that might result in lawsuits when Act 126 — the 2016 legislation that extended the water rights use for three years — expires June 30. A&B is already the subject of a court case on appeal, something that resulted in adopting Act 126 to help the company out.

It’s not clear whether the water would just stop flowing come Dec. 31, when the permits expire, though some senators have said they find that unlikely.

But this is the first year of the Legislature’s biennial session, meaning any bill that didn’t make it can be picked up again starting in January.

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Minimum Wage Increase Among Hundreds Of Bills Moving Forward https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/minimum-wage-increase-among-hundreds-of-bills-moving-forward/ Wed, 10 Apr 2019 04:19:35 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1327211 Bills increasing Hawaii’s minimum wage, decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, enacting all-mail elections statewide and requiring the state to license midwives advanced at the Legislature on Tuesday. Several hundred bills were approved in the House of Representatives and the Senate. What was not voted on, however, was a bill to grant land company […]

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Bills increasing Hawaii’s minimum wage, decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, enacting all-mail elections statewide and requiring the state to license midwives advanced at the Legislature on Tuesday.

Several hundred bills were approved in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

What was not voted on, however, was a bill to grant land company Alexander & Baldwin and others a seven-year extension to divert public waters in East Maui and elsewhere. House Bill 1326 could still be voted on by the Senate, but nothing has been scheduled.

Thursday is the “second crossover” deadline for measures to remain alive this session, which concludes May 2.

The Senate gallery Tuesday was filled with supporters of a minimum wage increase and opponents of a water rights bill.

Chad Blair/Civil Beat

Many of the bills that are moving will likely need further work in the two-week conference committee period that begins Monday. That’s where conferees of both chambers try to iron out their differences on amended legislation.

By this point in the session, many bills have already failed to gain traction, while others still await votes.

Among the bills that have died are ones that would have prohibited motor scooters on the pathway between the Capitol and Iolani Palace, required the release of the identities of inmates who die in jails or prison, and created an independent authority to oversee the state’s airports.

But a bill taxing real estate investment trusts appears ready to go to conference committee. Same goes for legislation requiring the disclosure of the names of suspended or discharged police officers, and a bill creating an oversight commission for the state’s correctional facilities.

Two Minimum Wage Bills

Senators unanimously approved House Bill 1191  to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2023 and to $17 an hour for full-time workers employed by the state. It would also provide an income tax credit to help small businesses impacted by the wage hike.

Sen. Russell Ruderman, a Big Island businessman, told his colleagues that he hoped the wage would grow even higher.

The issue is now headed for conference committee, because the House passed another minimum wage bill with no details as to how much and when it would increase.

Rep. Aaron Ling Johanson speaks in support of a minimum wage increase Tuesday.

Blaze Lovell/Civil Beat

A previous version of Senate Bill 789 would have raised the wage to $15 an hour by 2024. But the version the House passed now has blank dollar amounts.

The new version also creates a separate schedule of minimum wage increases for employers that are not required to provide health coverage for part-time workers but still do. But those dollar amounts are blank as well.

The bill also bans employers from paying people with disabilities less than the minimum wage.

SB 789 passed the House on a 42 to 9 vote with representatives Lynn Decoite, Sharon Har, Sam Kong, Sean Quinlan, Calvin Say, James Tokioka, Val Okimoto, Cabanilla Arakawa and Gene Ward voting “no.”

Some opponents cited concerns that a minimum wage increase would adversely impact small businesses. The current measure lacks a tax credit for small businesses that previous versions included.

Rep. Lynn DeCoite was one of nine representatives voting against raising the minimum wage.

Blaze Lovell/Civil Beat

“We are not a business friendly state,” DeCoite said, later adding that businesses should determine who is worthy of receiving higher pay.

Others worried over how the proposed two tiers of minimum wage increases would play out.

Rep. Aaron Ling Johanson, who supported the measure, said on the House floor that the amendments could help defray Hawaii’s high costs of living and doing business.

Johanson, who chairs the House Labor Committee, added the health care and disability provisions in March.

“This is a multifaceted problem that takes a multifaceted solution,” Johanson said.

Licensing Midwives

Senate Bill 1033 would require midwives to obtain a license by 2020. Similar measures have failed in past sessions.

The measure has been contentious in recent sessions, and it was again on the House floor Tuesday.

Rep. Gene Ward, one of six Republicans in the 51-member chamber dominated by Democrats, opposed the bill. He said regulating midwives would be governmental overreach and that the bill doesn’t offer a clear path to licensure.

Rep. Gene Ward said Tuesday that requiring midwives to be licensed would be governmental overreach.

Blaze Lovell/Civil Beat

Several lawmakers shared anecdotal stories they heard or even experienced involving malpractice by midwives.

Rep. Chris Lee recounted the story of an obstetrician he knew who had to tend to a pregnant mother who was hemorrhaging after she was treated by a midwife.

“How many dead babies, how many dead mothers does it take to change things?” Lee said.

Ward criticized proponents’ use of anecdotes, as well as the apparent lack of in-state data regarding midwifery.

Rep. Ty Cullen, citing national data, said death rates are higher in states that don’t license midwives.

A 2009 study of 1,000 births by Canadian researchers found that at-home deliveries could be just as safe as those in hospitals if the midwife performing the birth was credentialed.

There was also concern that the bill could sweep cultural practitioners into its regulations. House lawmakers previously amended the bill to create different measures to regulate those types of birth attendants by 2023.

The bill would also create a legislative task force to study at-home births.

Supporters say regulating midwives is no different than doing so with any other medical practice.

“Ultimately, I feel very strongly that whenever we have issues that touch on health services, I think licensure is importation,” said Rep. Dan Holt.

Taxing Vacation Rentals

Lawmakers eager to gather tax revenue from the state’s flourishing, yet mostly unpermitted, vacation rental sector passed legislation that would require websites like Airbnb to collect and pay taxes on behalf of short-term rental hosts.

The House and Senate approved separate bills. Attempts to enact similar measures have failed in past years, but lawmakers said they believe they have a better chance of succeeding this time.

Many Hawaii vacation rentals are operated illegally, making tax collection challenging. The transient accommodations and general excise taxes the short-term rental operators must pay are levied by the state.

Rep. Richard Onishi, chair of the House Tourism and International Affairs Committee, said the four counties are making progress in crafting laws and rules to better regulate vacation rentals. The state’s role, he said, is to make sure government is getting its tax revenue.

“We’re trying to capture the taxes from people that are doing the business in Hawaii, which is the state’s responsibility,” said Onishi.

Voting Reforms Still Alive

State representatives also voted to move forward with several voting measures, including automatic recounts and ranked choice voting for some primary races.

Senate Bill 216 would require an automatic recount in races where the margin of victory is less than 0.5 percent or 100 votes. The measure received little attention on the House floor Tuesday, and it cleared both chambers with almost no opposition.

The House had made minor changes to the bill April 3. If the Senate agrees with the changes, the bill could soon go to Gov. David Ige to be signed. The Senate, meanwhile, approved a proposed constitutional amendment in support of the vote recount requirement.

Ranked Choice voting also still has a chance. Senate Bill 427 would enact the voting system for special federal elections and vacant county council seats.

The House also passed Senate Bill 412 and the Senate passed House Bill 1485, both of which would automatically register anyone to vote who applies for a driver’s license. 

In the Senate, 23 of the chamber’s 24 Democrats (Michelle Kidani was absent) approved a bill enacting all-mail balloting statewide by 2022. There would still be voter service centers to allow for walk-in voting and to help voters with special needs.

Senate Bill 1248 also calls for the state Office of Elections to publish and distribute voting pamphlets. Kurt Favella, the only Republican in the Senate, voted “no” on the legislation.

But another election-reform bill, requiring candidates for U.S. president and vice president to make public their tax returns, was rejected in the Senate.

Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole complained that, because House Bill 712 would also require candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and county mayors to disclose their tax returns, it might discourage some people from running. Keohokalole said it could have a “chilling effect.”

HB 712 died in a 15 to 10 vote.

Water Rights Bill Stopped For Now

It’s uncertain if HB 1326 will ever be heard in the full Senate, but the visitor gallery was filled with many opponents of the bill who argue it unfairly favors the land company Alexander & Baldwin.

In his brief introductory remarks, Ruderman told his colleagues he hoped they would keep in mind the title of a Spike Lee film.

“Do the right thing,” he said, generating whoops and applause from the gallery.

Outside in the Rotunda, protesters could be heard chanting, “Hey, hey, ho ho, corporate greed has got to go.” Some held signs stating “You can’t sell what you don’t own — Ola i ka wai.”

Many people at the Capitol wore stickers opposing the water bill.

Chad Blair/Civil Beat

That translates as “water is life” in Hawaiian.

At the end of the Tuesday floor session, Senate President Ron Kouchi addressed reports that House leaders are pressing Senate leaders to bring HB 1326 to the floor for a vote, even though it died at the committee level last Thursday.

“I want to speak for the record to the members of the Senate that I received no communication from the speaker to exert pressure on myself on scheduling of this bill or any other matter related to this bill,” Kouchi said. “And I am disappointed that that would be speculated about without better confirmation of the facts.”

With that the Senate adjourned, causing some in the gallery to boo and at least one to proclaim, “Do your job!”

Afterwards, the Sierra Club of Hawaii and others who oppose HB 1326 exulted in their temporary victory but promised to keep a close eye on developments.

“We have collectively kicked A&B out of the Capitol,” said Sierra Club director Marti Townsend.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Chad Blair: Possible Resurrection Of Water Bill Has Capitol Abuzz https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/chad-blair-possible-resurrection-of-water-bill-has-capitol-abuzz/ Tue, 09 Apr 2019 10:01:07 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1327136 The Hawaii state Senate may — or may not — vote on the most talked-about bill of the 2019 session Tuesday when it gathers for a floor session at 10 a.m. As of late Monday, the betting was that House Bill 1326 — which would allow the fabled former Big Five company Alexander & Baldwin, […]

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The Hawaii state Senate may — or may not — vote on the most talked-about bill of the 2019 session Tuesday when it gathers for a floor session at 10 a.m.

As of late Monday, the betting was that House Bill 1326 — which would allow the fabled former Big Five company Alexander & Baldwin, small ranches, farmers and utilities to continue to hold stream water diversion rights for another seven years — would not be heard Tuesday.

For one thing, everybody at the Capitol and a lot of folks outside are talking about it.

Among the rumors: Senate bills might be held hostage by the House if the measure that started in the House is not passed by the Senate; the confirmation of one or more Ige administration nominees may be imperiled by legislative horse-trading; and coveted capital improvement projects — that is, money for things in lawmakers’ districts — are being leveraged.

Officially, the Senate leadership is not talking. The 24 Democrats spent much of the day in caucus, where about 260 bills are being considered for passage Tuesday and Thursday.

House leadership isn’t saying much either, although House Speaker Scott Saiki did issue this statement Tuesday morning in response to reports that representatives might be trying to sway senators:

The report that the House leadership is pressuring the Senate to advance HB 1326 during its floor session is not true. At this point, it is entirely up to the Senate leadership to determine how it wants to proceed. Whatever the leadership decides, it is important that the Legislature be civil and reasoned, rather than divisive.

This much is certain: The Senate needs just nine votes to pull HB 1326 from the Water and Land and Ways and Means committees, where the measure was killed in dramatic fashion last Thursday.

It would take some arm-twisting and rule-bending, but it is possible. What if, say, the bill to establish an airport corporation received fresh support from the legislators who have helped kill it the last two years in a row?

Alexander Baldwin Chris Benjamin and right, Senator Kalani English share a moment after press conference. HB2501. maui water. 20 april 2016

Alexander & Baldwin CEO Chris Benjamin, left, and Senator Majority Leader J. Kalani English share a moment after a press conference in 2016 to announce the most-recent agreement to extend water diversion rights.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

It also takes just 13 votes to pass the last version of HB 1326 — the House Draft 2 that has Finance Chair Sylvia Luke’s blessing — and send it straight to Gov. David Ige. Some neighbor island senators are especially keen on helping the people in their district affected by the legislation.

If the Senate does not do this Tuesday, it can still do it later this week and anytime it holds a floor session right up until April 30. The session is scheduled to end two days later.

Supporters of the bill don’t want to see it to go to conference committee, or to have the House vote on it again. They just want the measure passed.

There are also bruised feelings among lawmakers. Some are hailing Sen. Kai Kahele, who proposed carving A&B out of the bill, as a hero to farmers, ranchers, some Native Hawaiian groups and environmentalists. Others see him as grandstanding, not a team player and with his mind already focused on running for Congress.

Senator Kai Kahele before lunch break. 2 may 2017

Sen. Kai Kahele’s move to cut A&B from the water rights bill resulted in its dying Thursday — but will it be resurrected?

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

While it is difficult to dust fingerprints on why certain bills die, I can tell you that two bills authored by Kahele regarding the makeup of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents were recommitted to House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke’s committee Friday, one day after the same committee passed it. That effectively keeps the bill from going to conference committee for further consideration.

Another Kahele bill, this one establishing a Statewide Sustainability Division within the Office of Planning, is now headed to conference committee because the House and Senate can’t agree on how it’s written.

All this happened the day after the water bill drowned.

People are also grumbling about potential conflicts of interest for certain lawmakers — you know, so-and-so’s uncle or cousin or whomever that is working for you-know-who.

Finance Chair Sylvia Luke questions mayors in joint WAM Finance Meeting.

Finance Chair Sylvia Luke at a budget hearing with her Senate colleague, Ways and Means Chair Donovan Dela Cruz, center.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

HB 1326 is complicated. Water management is complicated. How the Legislature works is complicated. But the right to divert public water for private purposes is important.

A&B has been diverting water for decades, from East Maui where taro farmers complain they are being robbed and to Central Maui where A&B no longer farms sugarcane but where the company sold land to a company called Mahi Pono.

Critics including the Sierra Club charge that the A&B stands to lose $62 million if the water does not continue to flow, while A&B calls that a “red herring” and contends that rejection of the bill would harm the future of diversified agriculture.

Finally, there is this: A&B’s political action committee gave $111,350 to state and county officials during the last two election cycles.

A&B executives also donated $80,225. CEO Christopher Benjamin gave $37,500. Stanley Kuriyama, the chair of the board of directors and a former CEO, gave $86,875.

Now, why do you think they gave money to politicians? Because they admire their campaign platforms?

Civil Beat reporter Blaze Lovell contributed to this story.

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Ed Case’s ‘Talk Story’ Has Aged Well https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/ed-cases-talk-story-has-aged-well/ Mon, 08 Apr 2019 10:01:03 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1327026 Immigration. Health care. Government shutdowns. Historic preservation.   U.S. Rep. Ed Case listened to voter concerns about these and a host of other issues as he led a talk story session at the Campbell High School cafeteria in Ewa Beach Sunday afternoon. For Case, who was re-elected to the U.S. Congress last year after a […]

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Immigration. Health care. Government shutdowns. Historic preservation.

 

U.S. Rep. Ed Case listened to voter concerns about these and a host of other issues as he led a talk story session at the Campbell High School cafeteria in Ewa Beach Sunday afternoon.

For Case, who was re-elected to the U.S. Congress last year after a 12-year absence, it’s his way of hearing what’s on the minds of the people who sent him to Washington, D.C. — an invaluable opportunity to get “the vibe” of folks back home, as he put it.

It’s also his chance to bypass emailed newsletters and social media to tell them what he’s been up to in the nearly 100 days since he’s been back in office.

It has been an eventful period and includes the longest shutdown in history of parts of the federal government and the release of the report from special counsel Robert Mueller.

What Case wants the people of the 1st Congressional District to understand is that work continues in D.C. in spite of the perpetual “noise inside the bubble” that hovers over the capital.

Congressman Ed Case Talk Story at Campbell High School.

Congressman Ed Case talking story at Campbell High School Sunday afternoon.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Case said he would talk for 30 minutes before taking questions, but he spent closer to an hour. There was a lot to talk about: the problem of dark money in politics, the crisis of climate change (Case “believes in the science”), his concern that an unnecessary border wall with Mexico will take federal dollars way from Hawaii (he estimates that close to 20% of the state budget is federal money), that “tens of millions” lack health care nationwide, that the national debt is $4 trillion larger than it was when he left Congress.

And then there is the matter of Donald Trump.

Congress 2.0

The president came up Sunday when Lindsay Desrochers of Kapolei raised the issue of national leadership. She said she agreed with Case that Congress is a co-equal branch of government that must serve as a check on the executive.

What, Desrochers asked Case, would he do if the Mueller report turns out to be much more damning than the brief summary issued by U.S. Attorney William Barr?

Case actually had a copy of the summary on hand, and he told Desrochers that he wanted to see the full report. At present, he is in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s camp that there should not be a rush to impeachment.

But, should the report reveal unacceptable behavior on the part of the president, Case made clear that it was the responsibility of Congress to act responsibly.

“I am not shy about exercising that responsibility if I feel it’s warranted,” he said.

Congressman Ed Case Talk Story at Campbell High School.

Several dozen residents of the 1st Congressional District were on hand for the Ewa Beach talk story.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Soon after, another woman in the audience expressed essentially the opposite view on Trump, defending his presidency and criticizing his critics. I asked Case afterwards whether the Mueller report came up a lot at his other talk stories this weekend.

“Not as much as I thought,” he said, adding that he heard from both Trump defenders and detractors. “The common theme was clearly a concern about how our government is functioning.”

That concern is precisely what prompted Case to run last year to replace Colleen Hanabusa, who lost her bid for governor.

“I think my overall conclusion is that I feel I have been on the right track in general, and this is a gut check on that after almost a hundred days,” he said.

The talk story in Ewa Beach ended with applause from the several dozen in attendance — even from those who expressed different positions than their representative.

From Makapuu To Kahe Point

Case, a Democrat, began his most recent trip home on Friday going on three local television stations to talk about his talk stories. Just hours after he finished up in Ewa Beach on Sunday, around 3:30 p.m., he flew back to the nation’s capital.

Campbell High was the fifth of five stops on Case’s first talk story tour in a district that runs 40 miles long and 10 miles wide. They began Friday night and continued over the weekend at public school cafeterias downtown, in Aina Haina, in Kalihi and Waipahu.

CD1 stretches from Makapuu in the east to Mililani heading north, and through Ewa, Kapolei and Kahe Point in the west.

The common theme was clearly a concern about how our government is functioning.” — Ed Case

It is a district, as Case points out, that is diverse not only ethnically but also in terms of income and resident origin. It is home to veterans and universities, the seat of state government and the heart of the tourism industry. There are some 700,000 people that call CD1 home.

Case, who today spends the majority of his time 5,000 miles away in D.C., travelled home often from late 2002 to early 2007, when he last served in Congress. He then represented the 2nd Congressional District, which covers the other half of Oahu and the neighbor islands.

The cover of Honolulu Weekly, March 12, 2003.

Case is the only member of Hawaii’s delegation that has represented both seats. And, while he has lost several other bids for the House and the U.S. Senate, he got to Washington before Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

Talk stories are not unique to Case.

Schatz will kick off a series of town halls starting in Kauai later this month. Hirono hosts talk stories on Tuesdays in her D.C. office for visiting constituents, sometimes twice a week, depending on who’s in town. A spokesman said Hirono maintains a “robust public schedule” when she’s home “where she speaks with constituents on a regular basis.”

And a spokeswoman for Gabbard said the congresswoman has held “talk story town halls” over her time in office on the four largest Hawaii Islands as well as holding “telephone town halls” with Gabbard and “subject matter experts on various topics of interest.”

Then, And Now

But Case’s personal outreach stands out.

He held 175 talk stories during his last tour of Congress, or about 40 a year. He estimates that he spent on average about six months each year either in D.C. or somewhere besides Hawaii, five months back home and one month on airplanes.

That sounds about right.

Back in March 2003, when Case was a freshman lawmaker in D.C., I tagged along on his talk story circuit one Sunday as he covered Windward Oahu with stops in Laie, Kaneohe, Kailua and Waimanalo.

It’s instructive to compare how some topics on the minds of voters back then are still around today — North Korea, taxes, the deficit — and ones that have washed away with the wave of time — ice, Iraq, the Akaka bill.

As polarized as America now is under Trump, Case reminded people that things were pretty polarized under George W. Bush, too. And the nation was on the cusp of war.

Here’s what I wrote for the now defunct Honolulu Weekly at the time in describing the mood at Case’s talk stories:

The very notion of their country launching a preemptive strike was anathema to most residents, but few saw how it could be avoided at this late date. Every time Case brought the topic up, the room hushed. Standing with hands clasped, or raising his arms to make a point, Case said he believed Saddam Hussein was a “serious threat” but he also stressed that he did not know whether Saddam possessed the kinds of weapons Bush says he has, or whether he would ever attack the U.S.

“He’s not a clear and present danger,” he said.

Case also described the Washington of 2003 as different as well.

”The air is tense with security alerts and the potential for war,” he told listeners. “We’ve been warned to be vigilant, cautious, discreet. We’re told not to put bumper-stickers on our cars, to vary our routines. There are guards everywhere, plainclothes people talking into their sleeves. It’s a way of life now. We’re going about our business, but these are very tough times in Washington.”

A week after my story appeared, the United States invaded Iraq.

Flash-forward to today and Case says he and many of his colleagues continue going about their business. It includes working on the upcoming appropriations package and making sure lawmakers are helping with casework for constituents in their home states.

But what is also different is that Case, never one to hold back his point of view, is today even more comfortable in his skin.

“When I first started out in politics I felt that I needed to know everything — and, ironically, back then I didn’t know as much but I felt I needed to know,” he said. “Now I know just a ton more but I am less shy about saying when I don’t know it.”

The post Ed Case’s ‘Talk Story’ Has Aged Well appeared first on Honolulu Civil Beat.

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