Hawaiʻi politics: 3 ugly truths, 3 easy solutions

Will your state legislator be truthful with you when answering these 3 questions? Will they seek proactive and positive solutions or will they deny there’s a problem and look the other way?

Ask your Senator and your Representative directly via email:

1) Do some legislators solicit campaign contributions during the legislative session from individuals/entities that have issues/bills pending on which that legislator will be voting?

2) Do some Committee Chairs and their members meet in private, for the purpose of making a decision on matters referred to that committee?

3) Do some legislators, Committee Chairs, and/or members of legislative leadership kill bills based on personal and/or political reasons, not based on the content of the proposal?

If they answer yes, then ask them if they are prepared to support these solutions or do they have other alternative solutions to offer? If they answer no, they are lying to you.

In my experience gained through serving in the State Senate for 8 years, on the County Council for 8 years, and as a legislative policy advocate on the outside for another 8 years I believe that the manner in which the peoples’ work is being conducted today at the State Capitol is too often both unethical and illegal.

Perhaps it has always been bad, but it’s worse today than I have ever seen it. Or, it may be that it has taken me years to open my eyes to the political corruption, unethical, and illegal actions. In any case, things are bad.

Here are 3 actions that could be taken by the legislature to stop this unethical and illegal activity.

1) Ban the solicitation and acceptance of campaign funds during the legislative session. Many other States ban this practice. It’s not about banning events, it’s about banning asking for or accepting money during the legislative session.

2) Require the legislature to follow the State Constitution Article III Section 12. This is the 60,000-pound gorilla in the room: Too many decisions are made in the dark, away from sunshine and public oversight – and it’s against the law. The Hawaii State Constitution Article III, Section 12 states:

Every meeting of a committee in either house or of a committee comprised of a member or members of both houses held for the purpose of making a decision on matters referred to the committee shall be open to the public.

It’s common practice now for committee members, certainly the chairs, to meet in private “for the purpose of making a decision on matters referred to the committee.”

They meet in private, negotiate in private, and agree on the outcomes in private, emerging from the closed private meetings to announce the outcome, then formally vote at the public meeting.

This clearly violates the State Constitution and fosters a climate of secret deals being made in secret places. The publics’ business should be done in public.

3) End the unilateral power of a committee chair by requiring publicly recorded votes by committee members on decisions to hear, kill, or pass a bill. 

Some Chairs will kill a bill simply because a friend, colleague, or member of leadership asked them to do so. We know also that some do it for cash stuffed into envelopes, trips to casinos, and fancy dinners.

Chairs will kill bills by just not scheduling them for a hearing or if a measure is scheduled, they will kill it by simply stating that the bill will be “deferred”. In both cases, no public votes are cast by the committee affirming the Chair’s decision.

If a publicly recorded vote of individual committee members was required to kill a bill, then the unilateral power of the Chair would be greatly diminished, the democratic process greatly enhanced, and the attractiveness of bribery greatly reduced.

Yes, a majority of the members who sit on a committee can request and require a vote or a hearing. However, a legislator making such a request risks retaliation from the Chair. Making public votes to hear, kill or pass bills mandatory removes the very real threat of retaliation.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, approximately 25% of state legislative chambers across the United States, in both red and blue states, require committees to hold hearings on every bill referred to them or if requested by the sponsor. If the volume of bills is such that it makes hearing every bill impractical, the committee members themselves could caucus on and select which bills are to be heard, with their actions and votes tallied for public review.

The above proposals are not overly complicated or difficult to implement. Item #1 is easy. Item #2 and #3 require the adoption of a legislative budget and schedule to allow for the extra time and the additional staffing that may be needed.

Item #2 requires that lawmakers follow the law and comply with the State Constitution Article III Section 12.

What a novel idea. Lawmakers following the law.

Gary Hooser

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.) www.hapahi.org 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) - http://www.garyhooser.com/#four “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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2 Responses to Hawaiʻi politics: 3 ugly truths, 3 easy solutions

  1. Rob says:

    Well, you really threw down the gauntlet here. Aside from pledges of legislators, is there no other mechanism to force these changes? Would it take a constitutional convention to establish such a mechanism?

    • garyhooser says:

      I believe there are three ways, perhaps four. The legislature could pass laws governing each of these three areas and or through their own internal rulemaking they could change their rules and tell their members to comply. The Hawaii Supreme Court I suppose could weigh in on the Constitutional provision which is already in place and which the legislature is ignoring. And yes, a Constitutional Convention is another venue where changes can be made. Mahalo…gh

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