Looking the other way is not an option

Drinking from a fire hose, blind-folded with both arms tied behind your back. This is a description that comes to mind when folks ask me to describe what it’s like working in the legislative arena as an advocate.

The need for citizen advocacy is great. The urgency of the moment for our community, and for the planet – is palpable.

The task is daunting at best and I applaud the many across all islands who take the time to enter this arena daily during the annual legislative session (mid-January to the first week in May), and throughout the year at the local and national level.

I have been blessed really. Representing Kauai in the Hawaii State Senate for 8 years (4 as Majority Leader), was an invaluable and incredibly fulfilling experience. Serving on the Kauai County Council for 8 years, likewise provided me with an opportunity to make a difference and a comprehensive education as to the workings (or not) of local government. The time I spent working with Governor Abercrombie as Director of Environmental Quality Control (OEQC) gave me additional experience from an administrative perspective. For all three opportunities, I am deeply grateful and the experience gained was both valuable and incredibly fulfilling.

Having spent nearly 20 years working on the “inside”, I now spend my hours on the outside, working with grassroots advocacy groups and individuals. Today, while also doing occasional consulting work, my life is mostly spent sharing my experience as a volunteer advocate, helping to train and support other policy advocates.

In the legislative world, most will have a “subject matter focus” and the people and organizations with whom I work primarily focus on issues pertaining to environmental, economic and social justice.

A healthy democracy requires an informed and engaged citizenry. Unfortunately, our democracy on both the local, state and national levels – is not healthy.

For evidence of our democracy in decay, one need only look at the enormous gap between the ultra-rich and the vast majority of people who slave away at multiple jobs earning just barely enough to get by.

If more evidence is needed, take a walk in the mountains or along the coast. There you will see our dead and dying streams, and our shorelines littered with plastics.

Anyone still not convinced of the decline should look into our criminal justice (or rather injustice) system – half the people in jail today are poor people awaiting trial because they cannot afford bail. Many of our incarcerated are there as a result of “victimless crimes” such as drug addiction, mental illness, homelessness (yes, in much of Hawaii being homeless is a crime). Rich people and corporations don’t go to jail, they simply pay their fines and hire expensive lawyers.

The answer of course and the solution to this madness is that citizens must take responsibility and ownership of our policy, our politics and ultimately our government. Abandoning the control and decision-making to those who are elected, without our active involvement as citizens, is an abdication of our personal responsibility as human beings.

We are responsible for the condition of the world and we cannot simply blame the politicians.

Yes, we are busy. But too bad, too sad – you will get no sympathy from me. I also am busy and have children and grandchildren and bills to pay and a yard to mow, and plenty of stuff to do – other than sending in testimony, following the process or meeting with my elected representative

The world is literally burning. Every year there are less fish in the ocean. Instances of various illnesses attributed to environmental causes (cancer, autism, etc) are growing at alarming levels, and our friends and neighbors are increasingly living under blue tarps, sleeping on pallets and under bridges. There but for the grace of God go each of us.

People slave away at starvation wages as a result of a conscious public policy decision to keep our minimum wage below that which is needed for a human to survive. Our own government has determined that $17 per hour is a “substance wage” for a single person working 40 hours a week. Our State legislature has decided that $10.10 per hour is sufficient. While legislators themselves will be getting their raises they continue to refuse to increase that of those at the very bottom of the economic ladder. Let them eat cake is the message sent.

The “affordable housing” public policy solutions (bills) being presented now at the legislature are essentially a collection of “giveaways to developers and landowners”.

The solutions being offered are “developer incentives” that reduce environmental protections, make development permits “automatic” and increase the urbanization of agricultural lands. In return for these government concessions (read public giveaways), the developers must promise that at least 50% of the homes they build will be sold for approximately $800,000 or less, targeting people who earn 140% of the median income in Hawaii. This is what our policymakers consider “affordable”.

Deliberate public policy decisions are responsible also for stream diversions and the subsequent killing of our mountain streams, caused by large agribusiness and others. Rather than pass and enforce public policy that says sufficient water must remain in the stream to keep it alive and allow downstream users to also use the water – public policymakers too often yield to big money and big landowners who simply want to “bank” as much water as they can for as long as they can.

The present challenges facing our local, state and national community are the result of conscious public policy decisions made by policymakers over time. As citizens, we have the power and the responsibility to affect those policy changes to the benefit of people and the planet. We can collectively change things for the better if we collectively take our responsibility seriously and invest the time and energy needed.

Voting is important but it is not enough. Full participation in our government requires becoming educated on the issues and the process, offering testimony via email or in person, and speaking out in public forums. It also requires people to put their names forward to serve on boards and commissions, to run for election to public office, and to help others campaign and win an election.

I encourage all to think about the options and to take action.

“Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted, when we tolerate what we know to be wrong, when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy or too frightened, when we fail to speak up and speak out, we strike a blow against freedom, decency, and justice.” Robert F. Kennedy

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Hawaii is not Iowa – Essential info on our upcoming Democratic Presidential Primary

The news is finally coming out of Iowa!  Well, not really.  I’m guessing it will be several more days before the final, final, final results are announced.

Full disclosure: Though I am Vice-Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai’i, this column is not written for or on behalf of the Hawai’i Democratic Party – but is my personal and individual voice only.  

Note: I could write here also about the Hawai’i Republican Party process to select their Presidential Candidate, but they have canceled it for 2020, preferring to maintain their support for the recently impeached (but yes, acquitted), incumbent.

The reality in Hawai’i is that our government is dominated by elected officials at all levels who are members of the Democratic Party.  Conventional wisdom says that you must be a Democrat to win here in a state legislative race.  This results in the status quo with many, some would say a majority who are “DINO’s” (Democrats in name only). But that story is for another time.

Back to Iowa.

Those that follow the news, know that Iowa’s presidential caucus process was a mess, a veritable debacle as many are calling it.

Hawai’i Democrats will be taking our turn at the “presidential primary/caucus/preference-poll” event – on April 4th – via a different process.

If you are a registered Democrat you will be mailed a ballot and you will be allowed to vote in Hawaii’s Presidential Preference Poll, choosing between up to a dozen Democratic candidates who have been campaigning across the United States for the past 12 months or longer.

Many residents think they are Democrats simply because they normally vote in the regular Democratic primary elections.  This is not the case – You have to actually go to the Democratic Party of Hawaii Website and sign up to be a member of the Party to be considered a Registered Democrat and thus qualify to vote in the April 4th, Hawaii Presidential Preference Poll.

All the info to join the Hawai’i Democratic Party is here: https://hawaiidemocrats.org

Register to vote here: https://olvr.hawaii.gov

The Democratic Party process in 2020 will be by mail-in ballots, with a limited number of polling stations open on the final day -April 4th.

To participate in the first round, residents have to be both registered to vote in the State of Hawaii AND be registered members of the Democratic Party of Hawaii – by February 18.

The second round of ballots will be mailed to those who register after Feb. 18th and prior to March 8th.

While people can also register to vote, enroll with the party and vote in person on April 4, polling locations will be limited and thus people are strongly encouraged to vote early and vote by mail.

Those who are not sure if they are a member of the Party, or have moved during the past year, are encouraged to register again just in case.

In order to avoid the fiasco that was Iowa, Hawai’i residents who intend to participate in the Democratic Party of Hawai’i Presidential Preference Poll (presidential primary) must become informed and share the info with friends and family.

  1. The Democratic Party of Hawai’i Presidential Preference Poll will be conducted mostly by direct mail.
  2. To participate residents must be registered to vote in the State of Hawai’i and must be actual members of the Democratic Party of Hawai’i (not just people who normally vote democrat).
  3. People that are registered Democrats by February 18th, will receive their ballots in the mail first.
  4. Those that register late but before March 8th will receive their ballots also in the mail during the second mailing.
  5. For everyone else, there will be limited polling places available for “walk-in” voting (and registering) on the final day of April 4th.
  6. This election will feature “ranked-choice voting” allowing voters to list their preferred candidates from 1 – 3.

So please, let’s avoid Iowa.  Register to vote and register with the Democratic Party of Hawai’i now, before February 18th – then vote by mail early.  That is if you want to participate in our democracy and help choose the next president of the United States of America.

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Testimony on Pesticide​ Bills needed TODAY – Tuesday,​ Feb. 4th

URGENT call for testimonies! Three important bills are being heard at the State Capitol tomorrow Wednesday 2/5 in the House Agriculture Committee (9am Conference Room #312). SO TESTIMONY MUST BE SUBMITTED TODAY.

Click on links to read the bills, make up your own mind and submit testimony.

It’s best to submit testimony via this testimony link  – but if you have trouble logging in and navigating the system, you can use this email address: AGRtestimony@capitol.hawaii.gov

Support HB2114 – increases fines for pesticide violators

Support HB1665 – bans glyphosate statewide

Oppose as written and suggest amendments HB2565 – proposes an amnesty program for Restricted Use Pesticides that is good for small residential users but could be a massive “give-a-way” and literally “get-out-of-jail-free” card for the large chemical companies who will transfer the cost of disposal to the public, and avoid fines and penalties.

Please submit testimony by the end of today, February 4th so your voice can be heard at tomorrow’s hearing! The HEARING NOTICE is HERE and is the best “one link” source of information to these Bill’s.

More info on the bills is below, but you are encouraged to read the bills via the links above.

SUPPORT: HB 2114 will require the Department of Agriculture (DOA) to issue a first warning whenever there is a pesticide violation. This is an important step in improving incident record documentation. DOA then must issue a fine for subsequent violations, such as improper or illegal pesticide uses. The bill also increases the fines associated with violations giving the department the ability to fine violators more appropriately for severe and repeated violations. If you submitted testimony last week for Friday’s hearing PLEASE RESUBMIT testimony for this new hearing date!

HB2114 is an important step towards protecting our people and environment from exposure to toxic pesticides. We need more transparency and higher penalties for pesticide use violations, so they are not simply a “cost of doing business” in Hawai`i. Please support raising the maximum fines for pesticide violations and better records and reporting. Despite the huge risks associated with exposure to improper pesticide use, pesticide misuse has, and continues to occur within the State and poses a threat to adjacent communities, our keiki, the environment, and farmworkers.

SUPPORT: HB 1665 is a statewide glyphosate ban. This bill would ban the use of all herbicides with glyphosate as an active ingredient. The science is clear on the dangers of glyphosate. Please support a ban on products containing glyphosate as an active ingredient.

OPPOSE – Offer Amendments: HB 2565 establishes an amnesty program for the disposal of Restricted Use Pesticides (RUPs). Although we absolutely support the safe disposal of RUP’s and the intention of the bill to provide easy and safe ways for small individual users to dispose of RUPs, this measure needs to ensure that this is used appropriately and that large agrichemical corporations operating in Hawai`i do not use this as a way to offload their responsibility of disposal onto state government and taxpayers.

Here’s how you can help:
Show up and provide oral testimony for these bills this Wednesday at the State Capitol in Honolulu, House Conference Room # 312 at 9AM

Thank you!

3 testimony pesticides

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Legislative Primer #101 – the basics

A testifier stated at a recent legislative hearing, “I’m very happy to participate in this process because I was born in a country where this is not possible.”
With this very sobering thought in mind, I encourage all to take ownership of our government, learn about the issues and participate in the process.
The Hawaii 2020 legislative session is off and running.  The official “60-day” session will actually last until May 7, where it will be “sine die” unless formally extended.
Thousands of bills have been introduced, hundreds of public hearings will be held over the coming months, and at the end of the day upon approval by the governor 200 to 300 of these bills will pass into law.  Most of the measures debated and passed will be “tweaks and adjustments” to existing law.  Some will be consequential but many perhaps most will be not.
Although some bills may appear at first glance to be insignificant to the majority of us, they very well may be critically important to specific individuals, groups or a particular class of individuals (various professions, etc).  It’s also safe to say, that whenever a bill is passed into law, someone’s ox is gored.  There is a price to pay for every piece of legislation, and there are two or more sides to every argument for and against.
Living on a neighbor-island, our participation as citizens is limited to emailing testimony, and or meeting with our own District State Representative and Senator.  During the legislative session, our Senator and Representative will spend the majority of their time at the State Capitol on Oahu which means our direct communication is often limited to telephone and email.
But make no mistake about it – your voice matters.  It especially matters to your District’s Representative or Senator who depends on your vote to be reelected.  And it matters to the Chair of the Committee hearing the bill, who will at the end of the day “tally up the testimony” into neat piles labeled “support and oppose” – numbers matter.
An essential tool for anyone who desires to embrace their civic responsibility fully is the Capitol website, https//www.capitol.hawaii.gov (editor note…please spell out).  This website provides access to all legislation and can be searched by “keyword” (agriculture, tax, education, drugs, etc) and by “bill number” (HB19XX or SB19BB, etc).  HB stands for House Bill and SB for Senate Bill.  Bills are proposed laws.  Once a bill is passed by both “bodies” (House and Senate) and signed by the Governor, it becomes law and is considered an “Act”, and given yet another number.
Once a bill number is identified, the bill can be read in its entirety on the Capitol website.  In addition, automatic hearing notices can be requested and testimony provided – from this same website.  In addition, a complete record of the bills “progress” through the system is also easily accessible, including copies of all testimony and a complete record of all votes cast by legislators.
First, determine your priority issues, then do a “word search” and locate the bills that might interest you (hint choose those with a 2020 date. Next, request hearing notification of those bills, and when hearings are scheduled – submit your testimony!  
Another option – you can request to be notified of all hearings being held by a specific “subject matter committee”, say agriculture if that is where your interest is.  Then, every time the agriculture committee schedules a hearing (on any and all bills) you will be automatically notified and provided an agenda (where you can review/read all bills).  If the committee agenda contains items of interest, then once again the option to present testimony is available and easy to implement.
To further sharpen your ability to target issues especially important to you, consider joining an organization that shares your “subject matter focus”.  For example, the Sierra Club is the main organization for general issues pertaining to the environment.  There are many different organizations covering a wide range of subject matter and most of them have “legislative committees” who track and monitor legislation that impacts their particular focus.  These committees will do much of the homework for you and send you “action alerts” when issues come up that need attention such as testimony etc.
I encourage all to take ownership of your government, visit the Capitol website, join an organization that you can support and begin engaging in the civic process.  It’s much easier than you might think, it can be fun and entertaining, and your testimony and your involvement can truly make a difference.
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Essential info for all advocates – Know who your district legislator is.

Please put this information on your refrigerator so it is never lost or forgotten.

A universal truth in politics – people (voters and constituents) who live in the district are more important to elected legislators than anyone else. When people in the district call or email or visit in person, legislators pay attention. Read: The Legislature: Hierarchy of access and influence –

How to find out who your district State Senator and district Representative is:

Go here: https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov
Look in top right-hand corner and see “Find your legislator”
Enter street name
Click “go”
Note this system is “fickle” and it is important that the information is entered exactly as the government records have it. Sometimes it is “Road” or it could be “Rd” or “RD” or “Street” etc

Plan B: If the above search function is not working for you, then click on the below links and scan the list searching for the Senator or Representative who represents your general geographic area.

State Senator https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/members/legislators.aspx?chamber=S
State Representative https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/members/legislators.aspx?chamber=H

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Testimony needed now to protect brand integrity for all Hawaii grown coffee

Aloha Friends, Family, and Supporters of Hawaii Grown Coffee – on all islands,

Urgent Action Alert – Your testimony is needed now to protect brand integrity for coffee grown on all islands.  Read background on the issue HERE The battle to preserve brand integrity and another excellent article printed in Civil Beat HERE Hawaii’s coffee blend law deceives consumers (Civil Beat)

Please help today (and no later than Tuesday at 4pm, January 28th) and submit testimony in support of HB1886 Relating to Coffee Labeling. This bill states that coffee cannot be labeled and sold in Hawai’i as a Hawaii Coffee Blend (or identified as any regional coffee – Kona or otherwise – grown in Hawai’i) – unless at least 51% of the coffee in the package is actually grown in the region specified on the label.

Further, HB1886 requires that the “non-Hawai’i grown” coffee also
be identified on the label so consumers are fully informed as to the product they are purchasing.

The hearing agenda and testimony instructions (scroll down) are contained within Hearing Notice that is linked HERE.  You may also read the bills etc on this link.

Please sign-in to submit testimony via the capitol testimony portal accessed via the hearing notice (best option), or email your testimony direct to AGRtestimony@capitol.hawaii.gov

*There are 4 bills relating to coffee that are on the agenda.  While HB1886 is the top priority, all are important.  If you are familiar with the issues, please also submit separate testimony in support of these other items.  All can be reviewed in detail on the Hearing Notice.

The hearing for HB1886 is scheduled for 8:30am Wednesday, January 29th, and testimony is due no later than 4pm Tuesday, January 28th.

It is okay to keep it very short; submitting any amount of testimony is better than nothing.  See sample testimony below.

Thank you for your time and willingness to help create positive change for our Hawai’i Farmers.

Note: It is important to put: “Testimony in strong support of HB1886” in the subject line.

Sample Testimony 

Please use your own words and tell your own story if possible, and paraphrase at the minimum.  Do not simply cut and paste.

Dear Committee Chair Creagan and Members,

I am a (farmer, consumer, resident) and reside in (list your district – Kona, Kapaa, etc) testifying in strong support of HB1886 – Relating to Coffee Labeling. The current law says that blended coffee can be labeled “Kona Blend, Ka’u Blend, Maui Blend, Kauai Blend, Hilo Blend, etc” even if it has as little as 10% of the actual coffee grown in that region in it. The rest can be no-name coffee from anywhere around the world. The new law would require at least 51% of the coffee used be from the named region and the remainder of the coffee origin/origins be identified.

The reasons this is important are:

1. Misleading labeling is fraudulent – consumers should be able to trust the labeling.

2. Use of the name without requiring the content exploits the region and deprives farmers of income.

3. Low quality coffee is being sold under a prestigious name and results in lowering standards and damaging the brand.

The blenders, many owned by large mainland companies, strongly oppose this change because they are making a fortune selling cheap low-quality coffee as “Kona” or Ka’u” to unsuspecting customers. This would never be allowed for California Wine, Kentucky Bourbon, Idaho potatoes, Georgia peaches, Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, or any number of products worldwide.

Hawai’i needs to step up and protect the brand integrity of its premier coffee brands that are grown throughout the islands. Thank you for your positive consideration and passage of HB1886.


“who you are – farmer, coffee lover, business owner etc),
Remember – All Hawaii Coffee Farmers Benfit From Passing a 51% Minimum Requirement for Blends!

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$13 in 2024 is not a “good first step”. It’s actually a step backward.

Anyone working 40 hours a week, deserves to earn a wage sufficient to provide a dry and safe place to sleep, 3 meals a day and basic health care.

Readers who do not agree with the above statement might as well stop right here. I acknowledge there are those who agree but differ on “the way to get there”. For you folks, I welcome the discussion and even more so welcome your tangible, specific suggestions on how in fact we “get there”.

The Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DEBDT) has determined that for a single person without children the hourly wage needed to simply “subsist” is approximately $17.50 per hour (plus or minus depending on the island, etc). Note this is the State of Hawaii’s official “subsistence wage” and includes no-frills whatsoever…just the basics of staying alive.

Hawaii has the second-highest homeless rate per capita in the entire United States.

Our current minimum wage sits at $10.10 per hour and nearly 50% of our residents live on the very edge of poverty.

Almost everyone is working two jobs or more, simply etching out a life devoid of the “extras” so many of us take for granted. Thank god we have our warm weather and beautiful natural environment to help get us through the days.

Recently, Hawaii House and Senate leaders, with the support of Gov. David Ige, announced a list of proposals intended to support Hawaii’s low income working families and those at the bottom end of the economic ladder.

With much fanfare, they announced as a “good first step” their plan to increase Hawaii’s minimum wage to $13 per hour by 2024.

Let’s do the math. In their own press release, the Legislature and the Governor talk of studies that show how single individuals and families are struggling to make $28,296/77,052 a year.

Unfortunately, the $13 an hour they propose by 2024 doesn’t actually add up to helping anyone get even to that lowest threshold. $13 an hour, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year add up to only $27,040. The inadequacy of the $13 per hour offer is even more apparent when you calculate the inflation which will accrue between now and 2024.

Remember, a subsistence wage NOW is $17.50 per hour and nearly half of our population lives on the edge of poverty.

And here we are listening to the magnanimous offer of $13 – in 2024.

A little historical context is also in order:

  • 90% of the legislators attending the press conference and the governor himself has in the past said publicly they supported at least $15 an hour.
  • The official position of the Democratic Party of Hawaii is in support of a $15 per hour minimum wage (and yes virtually 100% of the political leadership in Hawaii is a Democrat).
  • And the most recent “position” of the Hawaii Senate (via HB1191 SD2) was $15 per hour by 2023.

So no, $13 per hour in 2024 is not a “good first step”, unless of course, the intent is to step backward. And no, the “other elements of the package” (tax credits and housing initiatives) do not replace the basic need to pay people fair wages for a fair day’s work.

“A good first step” is allowing legislators to publicly vote on what a clear and strong majority have said they publicly support, which is at least $15 per hour.

An even better first step would be passing a measure that reaches the $17 target and includes annual cost of living increases. That is the step Hawaii’s working families need and the only step that will ensure they eventually achieve a true living wage.

My thought (and a perverse hope I suppose), is that the governor and the legislative leadership in the House and Senate, perhaps viewed their announcement as the start of a conversation only, and starting at $13 per hour is simply a negotiating position.

Small businesses that fear negative impacts from having to increase their workers’ wages need only look at the recent history in Hawaii for reassurance.

When Hawaii’s minimum wage was increased from $7.25 to $10.10, there were no increases in bankruptcy, no increases in unemployment and no increases in inflation (outside the normal trend).

It is well past the time that everyone in Hawaii who works 40 hours a week can afford a dry safe place to live, eat 3 meals a day, and go to the doctor when they are sick. Anything less is immoral and unacceptable.

HB2541 has now been passed by the House Labor/Finance committee’s at the unacceptable level of $13 per hour in 2024.

Even if you have already sent other emails in the past to your legislator and others, please join me in contacting your Hawaii Representative TODAY and share with him/her in a courteous and professional manner your thoughts on why $13 is not enough and encourage him them instead to put all Hawai’i on a solid path to a true living wage.

First published in The Garden Island Newspaper on January 22, 2020.


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