Aloha Oe: A Report from the Legislature

Members of I Aloha Molokai visited the Legislature again last Wednesday and Thursday, the last days of the 2012 Session. On the Governor's orders, a majority of the House of Representatives had already stripped the cable bill, SB2785, of any language protecting Molokai. They then refused to meet in conference, which effectively ended public input. The Senate could have killed the bill by rejecting the House changes, but Senator Gabbard inexplicably decided to accept them. After touching base with our new friends Cynthia Thielen and Jessica Wooley, we then concentrated on the Senate.

On the way from the airport we got a spam from Senator Gabbard, excusing his actions and inviting everyone to come talk, as his door is “always open.” A few minutes later we knocked on his door, his aide turned pale, and we were told he would call us, which he never did.

IAM President Kanoho Helm described Wednesday as “diving for lobsters:” As we knocked on Senate doors, many members looked startled and scuttled into back rooms. We ended the day with eight promises to call; though only two were kept. Clearly delegations from Molokai are still a novelty at the Capitol.

We did manage good discussions with Senator Roz Baker and Senator Sam Slom. (We missed Senator Chun-Oakland, but were able to thank her after the vote.) Senator Baker, originally a strong critic of Big Wind, had come around to supporting the bill, even as gutted by the House, though she clearly had serious misgivings. She used the word “hope” several times regarding the bill's consequences, which showed her kind intentions, but is hardly relevant to lawmaking.

The Senate's only Republican, Sam Slom, is a happy warrior. He blasted SB2785 as a classic boondoggle, and laughed at its sponsors. On the floor of the Senate he delivered a blistering critique, scolding his colleagues for bilking the ratepayers in order to bail out our corrupt and inefficient utilities. Along with Representatives Wooley, Thielen and Riviere, IAM has no better ally in this fight; Mahalo to Senator Slom.

On Thursday we were able to meet with Senators English and Ryan, who made every effort to persuade us that the cable bill is harmless, that Maui will be the state energy hub and that tapping the Big Island's geothermal is the project's ultimate goal. They assured us that they will be watching the project, insisting on full environmental reviews, and fighting to keep windmills off Molokai. On the floor Senator English read a whole series of cautions and concerns into the record.

The big surprise was Senator Clayton Hee, who rose in opposition and proceeded to needle Senator Gabbard for arrogance, deception and fuzzy thinking. By the time Hee was done and the vote was taken, there were 10 “ayes with reservations” and three nos — Hee, Slom, and Chun-Oakland. Thus over half the Senate expressed serious doubts about this flawed bill, hardly the sort of ringing endorsement the Governor wanted; nor is it the ironclad promise of easy money big developers crave.

Our biggest disappointment was of course Senator Gabbard, who used his visit to Molokai and his conspicuous openness to vaccinate himself against our point of view. (Fact check: Gabbard didn't really come to Molokai to talk with the residents, it just turned out that way.) After bragging to his colleagues about his listening skills, he was blasted by both Hee and Slom for “listening but not hearing” and “listening without acting on what he heard.”

Gabbard's SB2785 “victory” was tawdry, painful for him and embarrassing for all friends of honest government in Hawaii. Perhaps his betrayal of Molokai was part of a deal with the Governor. It would be interesting to know what he got in return: Just what is Molokai worth in today's political market?

We left after the vote, but not before our IAM survey team deployed to the spooky fifth floor to fact check the height of the Governor's doors. As near as we can figure they are over 13 feet — high enough to admit a Carnival King on stilts, though still a bit of a squeeze for a Tyrannosaurus. One remaining mystery we must leave to the professional fact checkers: What's up with the knob in the center of one door's bottom panel?

We were told that the session ended with Senator Gabbard playing his guitar and singing “Aloha Oe.” We're very sorry we missed this. To atone, IAM members and allies have vowed to practice all summer, so we can join up this Fall in dedicating to all the Senators who pushed this terrible bill a rousing chorus of “Aloha Oe.”

About the author: Former college instructor, longtime Bay Area business owner, local official Martinez, Calif. in mid 90s, reviewer for SF Chronicle 80s and 90s, happily retired letting Molokai change me.

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