Monday, May 3, 1999

Democratic Party rips anti-Bronster senators

A resolution says the 13
senators 'performed a disservice
to the general public'

By Mike Yuen


Legislature '99 The Democratic Party today officially condemned Democrats in the Senate who voted against the reappointment of Attorney General Margery Bronster and Budget Director Earl Anzai.

In the wake of a firestorm of public outrage, the central committee of the party passed a resolution expressing its "disapproval and disavowal" of the 13 senators who last week killed Bronster's and Anzai's reappointments. The resolution also apologizes to the membership of the party and to the general public for the actions of the senators.

"Those senators performed a disservice to the general public, contravened the philosophy and principles of democratic governance and caused the Democratic Party embarrassment and loss of public confidence," the resolution states. It goes on to state, "Such actions have undermined the credibility, integrity and honorable traditions of the Democratic Party."

But senators may not be finished yet. The Senate is poised to end this year's legislative session by angering the electorate again.

Tomorrow, on the session's final day, the Senate will vote on whether to confirm labor official Clifford "Chip" Uwaine, the former state senator convicted in 1986 of voter fraud conspiracy, to the Hawaii Public Employees Health Fund.

Some senators fear that the majority of their colleagues will confirm Uwaine, a United Public Workers division director, even though there are concerns that Uwaine's loyalties may be linked more to the UPW than to the best interests of taxpayers and government workers.

Uwaine, 48, is already a health fund trustee, appointed last year by Gov. Ben Cayetano on an interim basis.

Earlier this year, Cayetano raised questions over a vote by Uwaine and another labor official on the health fund board to give a multimillion-dollar insurance contract to an isle company on whose board sit their bosses, the leaders of UPW and the Hawaii Government Employees Association union. The deal, approved on a 4-3 vote, "smacks of favoritism," Cayetano has said. Cayetano noted that the bid by Royal State National Insurance Co. Ltd. wasn't the lowest and that the benefits it offered weren't the best.

UPW and HGEA are pushing for Uwaine's confirmation as a health fund trustee.

The former Democratic lawmaker has not been a candidate for office since 1986, when he was disqualified from running for the state Board of Education. His disqualification came after his conviction for conspiring to illegally register voters who didn't live in the state House district that his protege, Ross Segawa, sought unsuccessfully in 1982. The illegally registered voters included Uwaine's wife, father and sister.

Two years ago, the state Campaign Spending Commission fined Uwaine $4,436 for using his campaign funds to pay for personal expenses, including visits to hostess bars.

"It would be incredible," said state Sen. Sam Slom (R, Kalama Valley), "to have the Senate reject the attorney general for basically her managerial style and cost and so forth and then go ahead and approve a convicted felon -- of voter fraud, which strikes at the heart of our democracy. There's no way that should happen."

Letters, e-mails, faxed messages and calls to the Star-Bulletin revealed that the stunned public saw Bronster -- rejected 14-11 by the Senate -- as symbolic of change, as she headed the state's investigation of the Bishop Estate. The estate, one of the nation's largest charitable trusts, has long been seen as a powerful and influential force in the islands that wasn't accountable to anyone. Two of its trustees are former Senate President Richard "Dickie" Wong and former House Speaker Henry Peters.

"If (Uwaine's confirmation) comes out of the Senate, it will be one more black mark that would make it indelible that the Senate is full of conflict and self-dealing," Slom said, criticizing the Democratic-controlled body.

On Thursday, the Senate Consumer Protection Committee voted 4-3 to have the full Senate consider Uwaine's nomination. Committee Co-Chairman Brian Kanno (D, Ewa Beach), who has strong labor ties, voted for Uwaine; last week, Kanno voted against Bronster. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Also voting for Uwaine were panel Co-Chairman Brian Taniguchi (D, Manoa) and Majority Leader Les Ihara Jr. (D, Kaimuki); both voted for Bronster.

Sen. Robert Bunda (D, Wahiawa) voted on Uwaine as he did on Bronster: yes with reservations.

In addition to Slom, Sens. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae) and David Matsuura (D, Hilo) voted against Uwaine. Slom voted for Bronster with reservations; Hanabusa and Matsuura voted against Bronster.

Bunda acknowledged that confirmation of Uwaine would likely heighten public cynicism.

"The real question for me is whether he has a true conflict or not," said Bunda, who said he is leaning toward voting for Uwaine with reservations.

Sen. Randy Iwase (D, Mililani), who voted for Bronster, said the public is so shell-shocked by the Senate's rejection of the attorney general that it may not react to the confirmation vote on Uwaine. "We've outraged them into numbness," he said.

"I don't think there's anything we (in the Senate) can do to erase the no vote (on Bronster) in the mind of the public. No explanation will satisfy the public. There's no tree to hide behind, no bomb shelter to go into. No matter how we vote on Chip Uwaine, the public is numb with anger," Iwase added.

Slom said Uwaine showed no remorse for his role in the voter fraud scandal when he testified during his confirmation hearing last month. "He was absolutely unrepentant and was not taking responsibility for his actions," Slom added.

The Associated Press reported that Uwaine told the panel he still believes he's innocent. But Uwaine was also quoted as saying: "I made some mistakes. I'm not proud of that. But I paid for them."

Last month, when Cayetano was asked about his nomination of Uwaine, the governor appeared to give a lukewarm endorsement. Labor leaders suggested Uwaine's name for what is considered a labor seat on the health fund board, he said.

Although Uwaine has a tarnished background, he deserves a second chance, Cayetano said then. Cayetano couldn't be reached yesterday.

"There has got to be better candidates," Slom said of Uwaine.

That was also the message when Uwaine supporter Kanno urged his colleagues to vote against Bronster.

Reporter Craig Gima contributed to this report.

The votes on Bronster

Senators marked with an asterisk are up for re-election next year.

No (14):

Bullet Whitney Anderson* (R, Kailua, Waimanalo)
Bullet Jan Yagi Buen (D, North/West Maui, Molokai, Lanai)
Bullet Jonathan Chun (D, South Kauai, Niihau)
Bullet Carol Fukunaga* (D, Tantalus-Makiki)
Bullet Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae, Maili, Makaha)
Bullet David Ige (D, Pearlridge, Pacific Palisades)
Bullet Marshall Ige* (D, Kaneohe, Enchanted Lake)
Bullet Brian Kanno* (D, Ewa Beach, Makakilo)
Bullet Cal Kawamoto (D, Waipahu, Pearl City)
Bullet David M. Matsuura (D, South Hilo, Puna)
Bullet Norman Mizuguchi* (D, Fort Shafter, Aiea)
Bullet Bob Nakata (D, Kaneohe, Kahuku, Heeia)
Bullet Rod Tam (D, Downtown, Nuuanu)
Bullet Joe Tanaka (D, Wailuku, Upcountry, Kahului)

Yes (11):

Bullet Robert Bunda (D, Wahiawa, North Shore)
Bullet Avery B. Chumbley (D, East Maui, North Kauai)
Bullet Suzanne Chun Oakland (D, Palama, Alewa Heights)
Bullet Les Ihara Jr. (D, Kapahulu, Kaimuki, Waikiki)
Bullet Lorraine R. Inouye (D, North Hilo, Kohala)
Bullet Randy Iwase (D, Mililani, Waipio Gentry)
Bullet Andrew Levin (D, Kau, Kona)
Bullet Matt Matsunaga (D, Waialae, Palolo)
Bullet Norman Sakamoto (D, Moanalua, Salt Lake)
Bullet Sam Slom (R, Kalama Valley, Aina Haina)
Bullet Brian Taniguchi (D, Manoa, McCully).

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