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HOOSER: 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 here is the FBI tip line to report it:

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 enacted. 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 former Sen. Kalani English in the criminal charging file said, “It’s easy to kill bills.”

Two Hawai‘i legislators, English from Maui and Rep. Ty Cullen from O‘ahu, 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 column, I praised state Senate President Ronald Kouchi for showing leadership with regards to increasing the minimum wage.

Today, I implore Kouchi and the entire Kaua‘i legislative delegation to rise to this occasion and demonstrate the leadership our community and all of Hawai‘i desperately needs.

Please. Push back against what seems like a rising tide of public corruption by immediately championing and implementing the above three reforms. None require a bill, a hearing or a task force to create and implement. Each can be accomplished simply via your leadership and a majority agreement among your colleagues.

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 state sunshine law.


Gary Hooser is the former vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i, and served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.
Source: The Garden Island

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