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HOOSER: Tipping the scale for democracy

The chair of House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs (JHA), Hawai‘i Island Rep. David Tarnas, along with other committee members including our own Kauai District 16 Rep. Luke Evslin, recently killed the Clean Elections bill (Senate Bill 2381).

Despite the measure passing the Senate unanimously and being a top priority of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i, a handful of representatives in one committee has decided nope, it’s not a good idea.

Any one of them could have raised their hand and requested the measure be amended to satisfy concerns, but none did.

There’s still time to do so, but action must be taken this week.

SB2381 Clean Elections is based on a proven model now in place in Maine and Connecticut that provides basic but limited public funding to candidates running for election to public office.

In return candidates agree to strict spending limits and are prohibited from accepting private donations (above $5).

SB2381 has unanimous and bipartisan support in the Senate, House Speaker Scott Saiki has introduced an identical measure, it’s a top priority of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i, and supported by a wide array of civic organizations across the state.

Evslin and others have expressed concerns about the financial impacts of the measure, especially following the Maui fire tragedy.

It’s important to note, the organization Lahaina Strong has submitted testimony in support of SB2381.

Evslin and other committee members also recently voted to support House Bill 2652 and House Bill 2653 cutting the taxes for the wealthiest in Hawai‘i. According to the Department of Taxation, passage of these measures will cost the state budget over $60 million per year.

If passed into law, the Clean Elections program would begin in 2028. No significant funding would be needed for four years, except $200,000 to support increased Campaign Spending Commission staffing.

Finally, the Legislature has the power to adjust, shrink, or phase-in the implementation, and thus reduce the cost- rather than just kill it outright.

Evslin is also concerned about abuse by fringe or unqualified candidates. These concerns are addressed in SB2381 to reflect lessons learned in Maine and Connecticut, where the program’s already in place and working successfully.

The influence of money, the need for candidates to raise money from private individuals and private interests, just to keep their job, is inherently corrupting. The most honest of politicians will still return the phone calls of top donors sooner, and pay more attention to the interests and issues of top donors then they might otherwise do with a normal constituent in their district. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the scales are always tipped in favor of the donor.

Take away that hand on the scale and democracy wins.

Clean Elections legislation has been called “the reform that makes all other reforms possible”.

I encourage all who care about making our democracy the best it can be to reach out today and share your thoughts with Evslin at 808-586-6270

Ask him (politely and professionally please) to consider sitting down with those who have worked hard on this measure, have studied it closely, and who understand its ins and outs.

Ask him to consider listening closely to the former governors and mayors, Judge Dan Foley (Chair of the Commission on Standards to Improve Government Conduct), Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, the Clean Election Coalition or any of the many organizations and individuals who are in support, and who truly understand how the system works.

Ask him to please participate in a good faith effort to better understand this important measure and work on a positive way forward.

To be clear, I believe Evslin is an honorable man. He is smart, hard working and of strong character.

My hope is he will seek out the additional information he needs, reconsider his position in opposition and raise his hand in support of putting Clean Elections back on the table.


Gary Hooser served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council. He presently writes on Hawai‘i Policy and Politics at
Source: The Garden Island

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