Dealing with corruption is our collective kuleana

Do you know firsthand of any corruption involving bribery of public officials or government employees occurring here in our community? I sincerely hope not, but if you do

It is our collective community’s responsibility to report if we know of or have witnessed this type of ugly and criminal betrayal of the public trust – it is our kuleana.

Likewise, it is the kuleana of our elected leaders to take action now, to rebuild that public trust, to further expose the wrongdoing, and to prevent it from reoccurring in the future.

Waiting around for the other shoe to drop, issuing statements of concern, or just looking the other way, hoping this will just go away is malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance.

You choose: Malfeasance occurs when the act is intentional, whereas misfeasance is completed accidentally. Nonfeasance is a failure to act when action is required.

There are many, many things that our sitting legislators can do today that would greatly improve the transparency and accountability of lawmaker actions.

Simply by amending their own internal rules the House and Senate could today:
*Ban the soliciting and accepting of campaign contributions during the legislative session.
*End the unilateral power of a committee chair.
*Require public votes to defer bills indefinitely, or to otherwise kill a bill.

It is the current practice of some committee chairs to solicit campaign contributions from prospective donors literally at the same time they are deciding to pass or kill a bill that impacts those same prospective donors. This, in my opinion, is unethical but currently not illegal.

The chair of a committee exercises nearly dictatorial power over the bills that are referred to that committee. A majority of the committee members technically can override the chair, but the process is such that such an act is considered adversarial and thus rarely acted upon. This concentration of power creates an environment that invites corruption.

Requiring a publicly recorded vote to kill bills ensures both transparency and accountability. The current system simply shields bad actors and bad actions from the public eye. As Senator English in the criminal charging file said, “It’s easy to kill bills.”

Two Hawaii legislators, former Senator Kalani English from Maui and Representative Ty Cullen from Oahu pled guilty yesterday to federal charges, admitting that they accepted thousands of dollars, trips, lavish dinners and more – in return for selling out the public trust.

They face up to 20 years in prison for their involvement in a scheme in which they accepted bribes in return for “fixing” legislation that benefited a private businessman involved in wastewater treatment and other enterprises.

It’s a sad time for those of us who believe in and are fighting daily to reinvigorate public involvement in the civic process.

In last week’s The Garden Island column, I praised Senate President, Kauai Senator Ronald Kouchi for showing leadership with regards to increasing the minimum wage.

Today, I implore upon Senator Kouchi, and all state legislators in both the House and the Senate to rise to this occasion and demonstrate the leadership our community and all Hawaii is desperately in need of.

Please, push back against what seems like a rising tide of public corruption by immediately championing and implementing the above 3 reforms. None require a bill, a hearing, or a task force to create and implement. All that is required is leadership and political will.

There is much more that can and must be done, but we need our lawmakers to lead.

The three points mentioned above are a start, but we must also implement term limits for state legislators, expand the public funding option for elections, increase regulation of lobbyists, and require state legislators to comply with the Sunshine Law.

About garyhooser

This blog represents my thoughts as an individual person and does not represent the official position of any organization I may be affiliated with. I presently serve as volunteer President of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A.) I am the former Vice-Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii. In another past life, I was an elected member of the Kauai County Council, a Hawaii State Senator, and Majority Leader, and the Director of Environmental Quality Control for the State of Hawaii - in an even earlier incarnation I was an entrepreneur and small business owner. Yes, I am one of the luckiest guys on the planet. Please visit my website AND sign up for my newsletter (unlike any email newsletter you have ever gotten, of that I am sure) - “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We’re afraid.” “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We will fall!” “Come to the edge.” And they came. And he pushed them. And they flew. - Christopher Logue (b.1926)
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