By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Moana Hampton of Kalihi voices her support for ousted
Attorney General Margery Bronster at yesterday's rally.
nears an end
The Senate's ouster of
the attorney general
clouds lawmakers' efforts
By Craig Gima
When lawmakers hold hands and sing "Hawaii Aloha" and the final gavel sounds today to end the 1999 Legislature, lawmakers can say they have given a pay raise to public workers and passed several measures that take small steps to help the economy and improve education.
But those accomplishments are overshadowed by the vote last week to oust Attorney General Margery Bronster and Budget Director Earl Anzai - a vote that was not likely to change today.
Many lawmakers are already calling this the "Bronster Session."
"What else did we do?" asked Sen. Norman Sakamoto (D, Moanalua). "Did you look at all this, not a whole lot, yeah," he said, pointing at a list of about 250 bills poised for passage today.
"It's not something I'm very proud of. It's not something I'm pleased with," said Sen. Randy Iwase (D, Mililani). "Certainly we've fallen far short of the expectation of the public on economic issues and definitely, we've fallen short of the public's expectations when we have voted on confirmations."
But Senate President Norman Mizuguchi (D, Aiea) said he is happy with the work of the Legislature.
"I think we have tax relief for businesses," he said. "We have collective-bargaining agreements, and we have a balanced budget that will provide essential services for the people of this state, especially Felix special needs children.
"We have committed to education so I'm rather pleased that we were able to end on time and we have major pieces of legislation."
House Speaker Calvin Say (D, Palolo) agreed, saying he thinks lawmakers made a "positive contribution" to the state. However, without criticizing the Senate directly, he made a distinction between the House's accomplishments and the Senate vote on Bronster.
"That's the Senate, not the House. You have to differentiate," he said.
The Democratic Party, responding to what Chairman Walter Heen said was an outcry from members, also tried to distance itself from the Democratic senators who voted against Bronster's confirmation.
When the party's central committee met over the weekend in Hilo, they passed a resolution condemning the senators and apologizing to the public for the vote.
"It's very unfortunate," Mizuguchi said, responding to the resolution. "I think one of Attorney General Bronster's weaknesses was management and her inability to give legal representation to working men and women in this state."
"I believe the anti-Bronster vote is an unpopular stance to take, yet we all had our reasons for doing it and we took our stand," said Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae), who also voted no. "The party should at least understand that and stand behind its elected officials, not to say there's something wrong with us and we are an embarrassment."
Despite the resolution and a rally of about 300 Bronster supporters at the Capitol yesterday, it does not appear senators will reconsider the vote.
"That battle's over," said Gov. Ben Cayetano.
Cayetano hosted a farewell lunch for Bronster and Anzai at his office yesterday. Their terms end when the Legislature adjourns today.
"I'm overwhelmed by the outpouring of support," Bronster said in front of the governor's office on the fifth floor as the rally went on in the courtyard below.
Some protesters held signs that said, "Pilau Senate" and "We will remember your vote." Another sign said, "Confirm Bronster, Oust (jail) Ige" - referring to Sen. Marshall Ige (D, Kaneohe), who voted no and is under investigation by the attorney general as part of the case against Bishop Estate trustees.
Among those at the rally was Sue Nagao, a retired Realtor and a Democrat who lives in Mizuguchi's district. She said yesterday was the first time she had ever attended a political rally.
"I don't want to vote for this kind of Democrat," she said about the senators who voted no. "They are not doing it for the people. They are doing it for themselves."
After the rally, some Bronster supporters tried to barge into a closed-door Democratic caucus where senators were discussing the bills to be passed today.
"Bronster, Bronster, Bronster," they chanted as workers with the Senate sergeant-at-arms office tried to keep them out of the room.
"Is this the U.S. or the U.S.S.R.?" asked one woman as she was led outside the caucus area.
Inside the room, senators figured out how to fix some bills that died or had flaws because of the confusion of trying to meet a midnight deadline Friday night.
They agreed to pass a House bill to begin reducing the pyramiding of the state's general excise tax - something businesses have long sought.
They also agreed to pass a House bill that would eliminate the excise tax on exported services and make it easier to impose a use tax - similar to the excise tax - on services imported into the state.
The bill would affect architects, engineers and others who are based in Hawaii, but sell their services in other states and countries.
However, a bill to provide tax credits for hotel renovations died.
Judges also will get a 22 percent pay raise over the next two years, but they only will get 4 percent beginning in July. Lawmakers will have to give judges a retroactive pay raise of 7 percent and an 11-percent increase in the next fiscal year.
Members of the Hawaii Government Employees Association and the United Public Workers also will receive retroactive salary increases. The raises will be paid for by a temporary reduction in the amount of money the state and counties contribute to the Employees Retirement System - a move that is not expected to affect the solvency of the fund.
Hawaii Revised Statutes
Controversy averted:By Mike Yuen
Uwaine dropped as
Another confirmation vote by the state Senate that had the potential to jolt the public -- and be an embarrassment to the Democratic-controlled chamber and Gov. Ben Cayetano -- has been avoided.
Yesterday, in a tersely worded message, Cayetano withdrew his nomination of convicted felon and union official Clifford "Chip" Uwaine as a trustee to the Hawaii Public Employees Health Fund.
The Senate had been set to vote on Uwaine today, the final day of this year's legislative session.
Cayetano's spokeswoman, Kathleen Racuya-Markrich, said Cayetano withdrew his nomination of Uwaine at Uwaine's request.
Uwaine, a former state senator who in 1986 was convicted of voter fraud conspiracy, could not be reached yesterday for comment.
But Sen. Randy Iwase (D, Mililani) speculated that Uwaine, a division director for the United Public Workers, may have asked to have his name removed so that the Senate would not have to undergo another controversial confirmation. "We've had enough controversy already," Iwase said.
Last week, the Senate stunned the public by refusing to confirm Attorney General Margery Bronster and Budget Director Earl Anzai, in effect firing them. Isle residents were upset with the rejection of Bronster because she was seen as symbolic of change in leading the state's investigation of the once seemingly untouchable Bishop Estate. The estate, one of the nation's largest charitable trusts, has long been perceived as a powerful influence in the isles, shaping public policy to suit its interests.
Many observers wondered, after the rejections of Bronster and Anzai, which senators would find Uwaine acceptable.
Uwaine was sentenced to 90 days in prison and five years probation for conspiring to register voters from outside the House district that he wanted his protege, Ross Segawa, to win. Segawa lost that 1982 race.
In 1997, the state Campaign Spending Commission fined Uwaine $4,436 for using his campaign funds for personal expenses, such as visits to hostess bars.
And earlier this year, Cayetano accused Uwaine - already a health fund trustee since he was appointed on an interim basis - of joining with a high-ranking official from another public workers union, the Hawaii Government Employees Association, in voting against the interests of the health fund and taxpayers in a deal that "smacks of favoritism." They approved a multimillion-dollar insurance contract with an isle company whose board members included their bosses, even though its bid wasn't the lowest and the benefits offered weren't the best.
Cynthia Quinn, Bronster's special assistant, said there is nothing in the state constitution that prohibits a convicted felon from serving on a board or commission.
"If anything, it is the Senate (with its confirmation powers) that determines who's qualified for the job. Only the senators can determine the qualifications they're comfortable with," she said.
Sen. Sam Slom (R, Kalama Valley) said that while Cayetano's withdrawal of Uwaine saved the Senate from having to take sides, the move also saved the governor from criticism over why he was nominating a convicted felon. Cayetano has said he was nominating Uwaine at the recommendation of union leaders.
Since the appearance of a Star-Bulletin story yesterday pointing out that Uwaine was up for confirmation, more of his colleagues were indicating that they were ready to reject Uwaine, Slom said. By his count, 14 of the Senate's 25 members were ready to vote no.
Hawaii Revised Statutes