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A Sad, if Not Unexpected, Day

I woke up this morning to sad, if not unexpected, news. My candidate for the Democratic nomination for President, Bernie Sanders, has suspended his campaign.

In response to a friend’s disappoint this morning, I wrote this:

I’m equal parts angry and sad.

I didn’t see a path forward for Bernie, so I’m sad not angry he’s dropped out. But I AM angry at the persistence of a social-political structure that will claim victory and do little more than inch forward.

It seems the liberal-democratic establishment learned little from 2016 and I do fear Trump will wipe the floor with Biden.

Continue reading The Struggle Continues

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Sunshine is the Best Disinfectant

“Sunshine is the best disinfectant” ~Justice Louis Brandeis

On March 16 of this year, Governor David Ige issued a Supplementary Proclamation to the previously issued Emergency Proclamation in response to the COVID-19 crisis. There’s been some to-do about Governor Ige’s decision to suspend Hawaii’s Sunshine Law in the wake of the Coronavirus emergency.

This proclamation, among other things, suspends Chapter 92 HRS and Chapter 92F HRS. Chapter 92 deals with public agency meetings and records and is generally referred to as “Hawaii’s Sunshine Law”. 92F deals with the Uniform Information Practices Act commonly referred to as UIPA or the open records law.

The suspension of these two laws has generally gone with little or no push-back from the public. Though some have raised concerns.

Continue reading Open Government & COVID-19

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When the working-class thrives we all thrive.

Friends Come in All Shapes, Sizes, and Opposing Political Ideas

Years ago I worked for a small insurance agency. The owner and agent is a long-time capitalist.

This former employer and friend of mine loved to talk politics with me. And I with him. He believes when the government gets too involved, when there are too many regulations, too many taxes, it means less freedom.

I staunchly disagreed with him and there were times when our debates would go on for hours. Much to the chagrin of his wife and business partner, who would often scold both of us, “stop talking politics and get back to work!” I adore both of them.

Entrepreneurs Don’t Necessarily Have More to Gain or Lose

The reason I am starting with this story is because whenever I think about labor issues like a Living Wage, or Paid Family Leave, etc. I am reminded about something he said to me once.

Talking about employees versus business owners, he would say owners always take a lot of risk when starting their own business. His implication was that owners, more than employees, shoulder more risk and so deserve greater reward when the business succeeds. I would ask him how well he thought his business would be doing if he didn’t have me there. Would he be as successful?

And I would ask him what he thought would happen to me if his business closed. Being successful, he’s managed to build up savings and equity over the years so that if the business took a turn and he was forced to close down, he’d have a safety net on which to fall back. I, on the other hand, being both young and not making a lot of money, had no savings. No safety net. I would have to rely on Unemployment Insurance to fill the gap until I found another job.

The Hawaii State Legislature is Business-Focused, Not Worker-Focused

Over many years working on increasing the Minimum Wage, I’ve heard primarily one concern from opponents. One reason to oppose any increase in the Minimum Wage; businesses would suffer. Unemployment would increase.

Despite a preponderance of evidence to the contrary, these talking points persist. When policy-makers worry more about optics and politics than facts and figures, there’s a problem.

Years and years of research tells us increasing the Minimum Wage doesn’t cause an increase in unemployment. And it doesn’t necessarily lead to business closures. Some of this research is beginning to be done on $15 with similar outcomes….

In fact, a higher Minimum Wage can be GOOD for employers (even small businesses). It can increase employee happiness and productivity and reduce employee training and turnover costs for employers. Win-win. And a higher Minimum Wage can help level the playing field against big corporations when trying to recruit new employees.

Despite the high cost of living in Hawaii. Despite the fact that people are moving away from Hawaii for better chances at a good life. Our policymakers have done little-to-nothing to address this. Their solution to these problems is to reduce regulation, lower taxes for businesses, and to try to incentivize new industries.

But none of this addresses the income gap in Hawaii, nor does any of it address the fact that too many minimum wage workers are living in poverty. Literally. No one who works full-time should be in poverty. No one.

Don’t You Know; Trickle-Down Doesn’t Work

The neoliberal democratic majority at the Legislature worries about how businesses are faring. They worry about the burden of GET on businesses. And they worry about regulatory burdens. Regularly they decry the plight of businesses in Hawaii and twist themselves into knots trying to do more.

But where’s the knot-twisting when it comes to the plight of working people?

For the now-defunct Superferry as well as Honolulu’s HART train wreck (pun intended), Legislators went to extraordinary lengths to raise funds and side-step regulatory necessities. It happened so fast you’d think the fate of the State depended on them.

But what about the fate of people who are one bad day, one accident, one missed paycheck away from living on the street? Skyrocketing unemployment, they scream! Small businesses will suffer, they exclaim!

On Minimum Wage, Paid Family Leave, Affordable Housing… the list goes on and on, our neoliberal legislators are convinced, despite mountains of evidence, that businesses are what drive the economy. In fact, consumer spending is one of the biggest economic indicators there is; when workers earn more money, they spend more.

When the working-class thrives, we all thrive. Its long-past time legislators remembered that fact and made working people their priority.

*This piece was previously published by Civil Beat. I also wrote early last year about the minimum wage fight here.

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Sorry for the Inconvenience

On the day before Thanksgiving this year, Civil Beat published a Community Voice piece by Representative Gene Ward (House District 17). The article, entitled “Hawaii’s Status Quo Government Isn’t Cutting It,” takes to task Hawaii’s Democratic Party-dominated political establishment for contributing to voter apathy, for perpetuating wink-and-nod dealmaking, and for not handling the tough issues.

The Democratic Party of Hawaii is Not to Blame. Neither is More Republican Elected Officials the Solution.

As an active member of the Democratic Party of Hawaii who has served on the State Central Committee (SCC) for nearly a decade, I can say with a good deal of confidence that it isn’t the Democratic Party that’s running Hawaii’s state government. Rather, it’s elected officials and appointees who pass themselves off as Democrats.

There are undeniably good politicians who do stand by and up for the Party’s platform and guiding principles. Sadly though, far too many merely drape themselves in the Democratic banner for the purposes of getting (re)elected.

Ask any engaged member about how the Party’s legislative agenda has faired in the last several cycles and you’ll quickly learn that the (Democratic) Majority Caucuses of the House and Senate do not represent the will of the Democratic Party of Hawaii.

(Read: My Speech to the Maui County Convention)

That Hawaii’s Government is dominated by a supermajority of too many who simply call themselves “Democrats” is a problem. But Representative Ward would have you believe that part of the solution to our State’s woes is to elect more Republicans. This wouldn’t solve the problem so much as remove the cloak from some who are not truly Democrats. Hawaii’s Republican Party just clings to life not because the Democratic Party is dominant. But because they have wholly failed to prove themselves a reasonable alternative.

That the Hawaii GOP nominated Trump in their 2016 Presidential Primary should be evidence enough they are out of touch with most voters in Hawaii. There is no easy path for them to regain even some modest power without acknowledging this obvious shortcoming. Blaming Democrats for that won’t solve their problems (just as blaming immigrants for social and economic woes has done nothing to improve the lives of Americans).

But Gene Ward Does Raise Some Points Worthy of a Closer Look

The “Democratic” majorities in the House and Senate believe they have support for their neoliberal and small incremental approach to our most challenging problems because they keep getting reelected. Forget the fact that far too many of them have gone unchallenged for far too many election cycles.

Rep Ward rightly points out that “more than half (56%) of those polled said politicians don’t listen and don’t have high moral standards (51%)”. And why should they listen when they believe they can whatever they want and continue to get reelected?

When push comes to shove, the Hawaii State Legislature will work hard to the benefit of special interests. They bent over backward to support (illegally) the Hawaii Superferry. And they went to extraordinary lengths to see Honolulu’s rail project is sufficiently funded. Or support the illegal taking of water by Alexander & Baldwin.

But when it comes to the highest cost of living, the highest rate of homelessness, the lowest teach pay or helping struggling working-class families, they do nothing. They obfuscate and deflect. They kick the can down the road. Maybe they think if they put off dealing with these problems long enough they’ll solve themselves.

When voters don’t think politicians are responsive to their needs, they do one of two things. Either they disengage (don’t vote, don’t write testimony, etc.) crying, “what’s the point”. Or they go the other direction, as we’ve seen in the case of the TMT, the Kahuku wind farm, or the Sherwoods development. They rise up and fight back in dramatic fashion.

Gene Ward is spot on when he says, “you’re missing the point if you think Mauna Kea is purely about a telescope”. It’s about a people who feel they’ve been ignored, are tired of it, and are taking action.

Turning “Protesting Into Voting” is Part One of the Solution

Voting matters. In state and local elections, it matters even more. Winning margins can be incredibly small; as little as a couple of hundred votes, or less, can be the difference between an incumbent winning re-election or not.

Next year Hawaii will conduct its elections entirely by mail-in ballot. This will make it easier than ever to vote. No requesting an absentee ballot. No having to remember when Election Day is or where you’re supposed to go to vote. Ballots will be delivered by mail directly to voters, who can complete them and simply put them back in the mail. No muss. No Fuss.

Even if you are discouraged by the current state of affairs in Hawaii, you should vote. I’d say this goes double for Native Hawaiians who feel like second-class citizens in their own homeland. Voting won’t magically set right old wrongs. But it will send a strong signal that sitting on the sidelines is no longer a viable strategy. Whether you’re camping on Mauna Kea, or standing in front of trucks in Kahuku, or supportive of those efforts, it’s time to make your voice heard in a meaningful way. Register and vote.

Run For Office Yourself. Or Encourage and Support Others to do so.

Of course, if incumbents have no challengers then there’s no choice to be made. The same-old politician goes back to their cushy seat for another term, comfortable in the knowledge they’ve been given a blank check to do what they like.

What we need in addition to better voter turnout is more candidates. We need more good, smart, passionate, people who care about their communities running for public office. Without a real choice during elections, it’s easy to feel like casting a ballot is a waste of time.

Much to the chagrin of Gene Ward (and many Democratic electeds), there is an ongoing and growing effort to identify, recruit, train, and support progressive candidates to run for public office. These candidates, frankly, align much more closely to the platform of the Democratic Party of Hawaii than many of those currently serving.

It’s not hard to see a political shift is coming. A revolution from the left supported and encouraged by those who are tired of being told: “maybe next year”. Or, “be thankful for what you have.” Cracks are forming in the political establishment’s grasp on our systems of government. Let’s work together to turn those cracks into chasms.

The tide is turning. Come join the effort. If you’re not sure how I’d be happy to talk to you about it. Or if you have friends or family that are engaged reach out and ask them how to get involved.

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All Politics is Local

Presidential Politics Wreaks Havoc

The 2020 election cycle is likely to be a dramatic one. Nationally, the GOP will fight to hold on to the White House, maintain their majority control of the U.S. Senate and generally try to stop the bleeding of support they’ve been experiencing since Trump was sworn in. On the other side of the aisle, Democrats, while trying to make gains across the country (not to mention the White House), are facing their own challenges.

Theirs, for better or worse, is mostly internal. Though the Party establishment is hell-bent on excising the orange baboon from the Oval Office, they are almost equally interested in maintaining the current economic and political power structures; those same structures and political dynamics that allowed Trump to defeat the DNC’s dynastic standard-bearer in 2016.

The loss was embarrassing for almost everyone involved: Democrats, Clinton, the GOP, mainstream new media, and voters. Only Trump believed in the inevitability of his assent to the Presidency.

Learning valuable lessons from both the Primary and General Elections, the DNC made changes to their structure and procedures in the Presidential Primary and the National Convention. I leave it to others to decide how dramatic said changes have actually been. And despite these changes, it would seem at least at a cursory glance, that neither the Democratic Party nor Primary voters have learned the lesson. Against Trump, you don’t bring the same tired moderate faces and talking points.

When Joe Biden officially announced his own bid for the Democratic Nomination, he jumped to the top of nearly every single poll that’s since been conducted. With far too many Democrats (in my opinion) trumpeting Biden as the only reasonable choice to defeat Trump, I fear we’re headed for a repeat of 2016.

The Local Scene

While much and increasing attention is being paid to calamitous national politics, we’ve got serious problems right here at home that need attention.

Our elected officials, from County Councils all the way up to the Governor, are not doing nearly enough to address Hawaii’s very serious issues. Climate change, sea level rise, public education, teacher shortages and low pay, highest national cost of living, highest per capita homeless population, stagnate wages, illegal vacation rentals, protection of natural resources. The list goes on and on. And on virtually all of them, our government officials continue to fail.

“Slow and incremental” should be the official motto of the Hawaii State Legislature. Sadly, while big and bold steps are necessary to address a myriad of issues, our Democratic-majority-controlled Legislature does little more than nibble around the edges. Unless, of course, a construction boondoggle or corporate powerhouse is under threat.

People are fed up. It’s long since time for a change and in Hawaii, we should expect progressives to lead the way.

Where to Focus Our Resources

History shows us that national elections, particularly the Presidential, draw a lot of attention, resources, and energy. And while I expect it will be the same between now and Election Day next year, I’m making a plea here for my progressive brothers and sisters not to ignore local elections this year.

Last year progressive individuals and organizations began an effort to work together to support good candidates who challenged entrenched establishment incumbents. And while we had some success, we’re looking to expand those efforts for the 2020 elections.

We intend to send a clear and unambiguous message to our elected officials. You’ve had plenty of opportunities to address the serious issues we face. Your time is up and we’re coming to replace you. Over the course of the next few months, challengers will begin to appear and the landscape of our efforts will begin coming into focus. During this time, it will be important that we begin collectively to build an army of volunteers and donors.

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

I encourage you to get involved in one or more of these local campaigns. Whether it’s with your money, your time, or both. Our effort to continue transforming the Legislature will not succeed without real and substantial commitments from progressives across the state.

I understand it’s a bit early and there isn’t much, if any, campaigning taking place at this stage. But that will change before too long. If you want to stay updated on what’s happening politically, please consider subscribing to my blog; you’ll receive regular updates via email about goings on with elections and more.

If you can, please also consider donating to the Initiative for a Pono Hawaii’s PAC. While we aren’t spending any money quite yet, it’s never too early to begin building a war chest. With your help, we can change the landscape of politics in Hawaii.

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