politics

It goes without saying (despite my doing so here) that the choices we make affect our lives, for better or worse.

Over the last several months, I’ve thought a lot about the choices I’ve made in my life and the road down which those choices have led me.

Hawaii

This October will mark 19 years I’ve lived in Hawaiʻi.

When I came here, it was meant to be temporary. I had finished college a year earlier and was… drifting. With no plan, no career path, and no real motivation to speak of, I had remained in the college town to stay close to friends. I disliked the thought of returning to Kansas. After a year of life as a college grad, living in a college town, and working at the local equivalent of “Best Buy” and things looked bleak for me.

Add to that a devastating end to a painful and complicated relationship and I decided, quite suddenly, that it was time to get the fuck out. But to where?

My best friend from college was, at the time, completing his Masters Degree at the University of Hawaiʻi and my dad, seeing that I needed a dramatic change, suggested I go there. It seemed like the best option at the time. So after several months in the midwest to save up some money, I packed two bags, took the one-way ticket my father got for me, and moved to the most remote spot in the entire world.

Though it was a rocky start and I never really intended to stay more than a year, it slowly became home. My home. I got regular therapy (which I desperately needed), found my “calling”, and came to truly appreciate how special this place is.

Without that random suggestion from my father all those years ago, there’s no telling the direction my life might have taken.

Career

While money is certainly nice to have and I like buying things with it (books, movies, computers, hats, cameras, etc.), my job-related choices have never primarily driven by salary.

Long ago, not long after I started my first job, I realized that I never wanted to work in a job that I hated. Or didn’t care about. There are 120 hours in the five-day work week. A third is spend, theoretically, sleeping. A third is spend at your job and the last third is ideally free for whatever. Put another way, one typically spends half their waking hours at work. It has always seemed to me that its at least as important to enjoy your job as how much you get paid doing it.

Since I made the career move from Systems Administration (computers) to politics, I’ve jumped around from job to job every few years. In none of those instances did the salary impact my decision to leave or take a job.

In 2018, I left a comfortable and well-paying job in the Governor’s Office to try my hand at campaign management. Doing so was a big risk, but I felt it was time to move on to more interesting, challenging work.

Shortly after that campaign ended, I finished my Masters’ Degree and decided to venture out on my own as a “consultant”. Another big risk.

The last few years have been extremely challenging financially. I recently declared bankruptcy as a result. Despite the bankruptcy, there remains a part of me that is happy with the choices I’ve made and the experiences those choices led to.

Still… the last few years have been challenging and I can’t help but think about what might have been if I had stayed in the Governor’s Office.

Freedom

If you’re at all paying attention, you’re hearing an almost constant shouting of these efforts as “unconstitutional,” “un-American,” or an infringement on “personal freedom.”

Well, if you know me you won’t be surprised by my opinion; all that is complete nonsense. No one’s rights are being taken away. Your refusal to wear a mask (or refusal to have your children wear a mask) is not unconstitutional. It’s just not.

In most jurisdictions (I’m assuming) there are laws that prevent people from walking around naked. “No shirt, no shoes, no service” is pretty standard across the country. Yet you don’t hear about folks bitching about their inability to go to the grocery store topless.

And in most school districts (again, I’m going on my experience) kids cannot attend school without first receiving a handful of required vaccinations. Yet until very recently, we never heard anyone bitch about that.

As the country is going to hell in a handcart, there are a disturbing number of people who seem to want to do whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want. And if some law or policy prevents them, they pitch a fit. They scream about “personal freedom.”

What I find equally amusing and disturbing is the chant of “my body, my choice” from anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers. I suspect most, though not all, of them are also vehemently anti-choice when it comes to abortion. That they see no irony or hypocrisy in themselves is further evidence that our public educational systems are failing across the country. Critical thinking is out the window, lying crumpled on the sidewalk.

Consequences

That our civil and political discourse is devolving into, essentially, “I can do and say and think whatever I want and no one can tell me I’m wrong or force me to stop” on the one side. And on other, folks trying to be reasonable. Yes, I acknowledge that may be a cruel and unfair assessment, but that is, in my experience, what it seems to boil down to.

None of these folks, best as I can tell, understand that choices have consequences. And that’s what annoys them. If you don’t want to wear a mask or get vaccinated, fine. But that choice comes with consequences. You want to walk around naked? Ok, but I’m pretty sure you’ll be arrested. You don’t want to pay for car insurance? Fine, but getting caught could end up in a suspension of your drivers license.

Freedom is about choice. But choice comes with consequences. The first amendment doesn’t protect assholes from being punched in the face. Though punching someone in the face also has consequences. And it doesn’t necessarily protect you from being denied service from a private business. It means the government, within reason, cannot lock you up for speaking your mind.

Too many today seem to forget (or never learned) that bit. Even with “freedom,” one cannot act without consequences.

In life too, as I am constantly reminded, the choices we make have an impact. Both on ourselves and, potentially, on others. Life family.

Let this serve, maybe unnecessarily, as a reminder that what we do, what we say, comes with consequences.

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On the Appointment of Dan Gluck to the ICA

On July 8, 2021, Governor Ige chose his nominee, Dan Gluck, for the Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) from a list of nominees provided to him by the Judicial Selection Commission over a month earlier.

At the time Governor Ige made his announcement, there was little fanfare or dissent that came with it. The opposition to the Governor’s appointee wouldn’t begin to show itself until more than a week later.

Then, following a rising tide of opposition and some political grandstanding, the Senate Committee on Judiciary voted 4-3 to reject the nomination.

I didn’t engage in the debate waging on social media. Nor did I submit testimony either in support or opposition. Rather I chose to be a spectator, trying to build clarity in my own thoughts on the subject.

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"operating within the confines of a capitol closed to the public amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic"

It has been almost two weeks since the legislature concluded “sine die.” In that time there have been a handful of news stories that attempt to sum up this year’s session. For my part, as the conclusion of the 2021 legislative session recedes in the rear view, I’ve contemplated my own assessment of the session.

While there are certainly bright spots worth highlighting, from my perspective the legislature was as it always is. A colossal disappointment.

Legislators, operating within the confines of a capitol closed to the public amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, were largely sheltered from a public that usually would be bustling around the building. Though there were arguably exceptions, legislators did “the people’s work” while ignoring them.

I’ll get to that. First, the highlights.

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The effort to move on these two pieces of legislation has nothing to do with ousting Speaker Saiki.

Anyone who pays attention to local politics of the legislative variety is aware of efforts to force House Leadership to come to the aid of working families.

Civil Beat reported earlier this week that a number of labor leaders sent a letter to Speaker Saiki urging him to take swift action on two bills currently stuck in committee. SB614 would exempt unemployment benefits from the Hawaii income tax, while SB676 would raise the state minimum wage to $12 an hour at the start of 2022.

Many unions and advocates for working families have been pushing for these bills since January, with little effect. But with the end of session fast approaching, time grows short for these bills to advance.

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Disclosure: I currently work as the Chief of Staff for Representative Matt LoPresti, though I speak here only for myself.

I’ve been warned by some friends and allies that what follows may increase tensions among progressives, create divisions, and cause strife. They may be right, but I nonetheless feel compelled to share my thoughts on a recent email from Gary Hooser. Ultimately, it is not my goal to divide progressives and I hope folks will read this with an open mind.

For those who may not know my progressive credentials, here’s a short list of highlights:

  • Co-Founder, Progressive Democrats of Hawaii
  • Co-Founder, Equality Hawaii
  • Worked in the 2014 Minimum Wage Coalition
  • Bernie Sanders Delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention
  • Co-Founder, Pono Hawaii Initiative

Allies Diverge

There was a time, not all that long ago, when I considered myself an ally with Gary Hooser.

I first met him when he was Majority Leader in the Hawaii State Senate at a time when Marriage Equality was the top issue of the day. Back then he was unabashed in his ideals and savvy in his political acumen. He helped lead legislative efforts that eventually led to the passage of Marriage Equality in Hawaii.

Many also know him as the primary mover on laudable pesticide ban efforts on Kauai and statewide. There’s no doubt he’s made a name for himself and done good things for our state and progressive causes.

But I fear his time out of office and away from the Capitol, not to mention a growing fandom of acolytes, has clouded his judgement.

This first began to be apparent to me a couple of years back, following the death in conference committee of a $15 minimum wage bill. He was convinced and successfully convinced others that the best, most strategic approach, was to call for that bill to be passed out of conference the following session. While a technically possible procedural move, it very rarely happens.

Either the bill would remain stalled in conference committee, for which he could cast aspersions on the committee members. Or it would move out, for which he could claim credit. A win-win strategy for him; a failed effort for a living wage.

Within Pono Hawaii Initiative, he and I began to differ considerably on electoral strategies and his unyielding “agree to disagree” approach ultimately forced me to move on.

Obviously, he is free to do what he wants. Ultimately however, I believe his strategy of “throwing-spaghetti-and-see-what-sticks” is both seriously flawed and does damage to broader progressive efforts.

Bad Ideas and Firebrand Tactics Don’t Help

Hooser’s insistence on hanging the repeated failure of a living wage around the neck of Speaker Saiki not only evidences a flawed understanding (or willful ignoring) of how the House actually operates, but does nothing to actually further the cause of a living wage in Hawaii. His notion that the Speaker is “king” and gets whatever he wants is both simplistic and naive.

But it sure does make for good press and certainly doesn’t hurt fundraising efforts. I prefer honesty to political high jinks .

Most recently, he wrote this blog post: Blowing Smoke On Cannabis Legalization – Pulling back the curtain on SB767…. Where to begin?

As has become his MO, Hooser lays at the feet of Speaker Saiki the fate of SB767. Is the referral a not-so-subtle move to ensure the bill’s demise? Probably. But Hooser’s not-so-subtle implication is that the bill would sail through were it not for the opposition of the Speaker and Chair Yamane.

Never mind there is at least a plurality, if not an outright majority of House members who are, at best, uncomfortable with the idea of cannabis legalization for adult use. And never mind the nuances of dynamics within the Majority Caucus. It might be that if Hooser had his way, Saiki would be blamed for the fall of Rome and the disappearing bee population.

Let me be clear. The Speaker of the House derives his power and authority from the Majority Caucus. They elect him and support him to lead so long as he in turn protects them and their interests. To suggest that the Speaker (and the HHH Chair) stand as the sole roadblocks to the passage of SB767 is dishonest for the sake of political theatrics and storytelling; everyone loves to hate a story’s villain.

Maybe the Speaker doesn’t want it. Maybe he does. But if there is virtually no will in the House to pass it, why expend finite political capital?

Sometimes nuance matters. When I provide my thoughts on bills or political machinations, I try to do my best to provide as complete a picture as possible. Even if it may not help my particular position on any given issue. Honesty matters.

Calling Out Allies Doesn’t Win Friends

So far as I am aware, Hooser had not spoken to any of the Progressive Caucus members he named before he published his post. He certainly never broached the subject with Representative LoPresti or his staff.

To call for the Caucus members who serve on the HHH Committee to take this action without first discussing it with them has come to be emblematic of Hooser’s standard approach. Appearing to have little concern for whether they believe his suggestion is a good one seems irrelevant to him. Just like with the living wage bill, one of two things could happen.

One, the Caucus members chose not to formally request a hearing for SB767, for which he can then publicly condemn them for not doing so. In which case he is the champion and the rest of us are “cowards” or “not real progressives”. Or two, the members to make the formal request and, regardless of the outcome, he can take credit for the action.

For Hooser, his haphazard call is win-win. With little or no consideration for whether the people he names actually think its a good idea. His “agree to disagree” approach again shows his unwillingness to work with folks who may not agree with his particular strategic approach.

Political Calculus is a Real Consideration

Ultimately, whether he likes it or not, there is a political calculus that is constantly considered at the Capitol. Should the Progressive Caucus members named expend political capital for this bill when the likelihood of its passage this year is SO LOW? Maybe. Maybe not. But Hooser doesn’t appear to give any thought to this consideration.

That SB767 is referred jointly to JHA AND CPC isn’t mentioned in his post at all. Where is Chair Johanson on this bill? I have no idea and I’m guessing Hooser doesn’t either.

Even if Chair Nakashima were inclined to hear the bill, without an agreement from Chair Johanson it doesn’t matter. That it is jointly referred means both Chairs need to agree to hear it.

The unabashed followers of Hooser’s “thoughts, analysis, and ramblings” may not like that there IS a political calculus that takes place, but that is nonetheless the reality of the building and of politics in general. Everything has consequences. Everything has a cost.

Politics is a Marathon. Not a Sprint

I support legal cannabis use for adults. Unfounded fears and a support for law enforcement’s ongoing failed and flawed war on drugs stand between us and that reality in Hawaii. Numerous reasons exist, supported by research, for legalizing adult use cannabis. But this post isn’t about just legalization or SB767.

No progressive can honestly deny the largely frustrating and sometimes hopeless dynamics at the Capitol for good legislation that helps people who need help the most. I certainly won’t. From paid family leave, to a living wage, to cannabis legalization, public education, to criminal justice reform, to a more progressive tax policy, there is a long and growing list of real issues facing the state that the legislature seems at times uninterested in tackling.

However, to poke legislators in the eye, call them names, and publicly offend them is going to result in nothing good.

I hope Hooser will come back to this understanding and change his tactics. Not only is he not making new friends, but he’s driving away allies who want to maintain relationships in order to move the ball forward. Rather than calling for a hail mary on every single play, I and those I work with inside and outside the building believe the work of moving the ball forward should take priority over style and flash.

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