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Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, November 10, 1999


The Senate’s sickness
has gotten worse

FLU season arrives and it's time to take the state Senate's temperature.

When we last visited in the spring, the patient was sick. Back then it appeared that the Senate was suffering from a self-inflicted wound.

Now, after a summer of festering, it appears the Senate has managed to launch a body-wide infection.

Here's the problem: When the Senate voted down the confirmations of both Margery Bronster as attorney general and Earl Anzai as budget director, it opened itself up to some of the strongest public criticism of the past decade.

The Senate, by slapping down Bronster, who was the principal prosecutor and investigator into the self-dealing, greedy and disingenuous bunch running the Bishop Estate, aligned itself with the Bishop Estate trustees.

The new Democratic senators, who were the primary opponents to Bronster, were able to join forces with other senators who opposed Anzai and by extension his benefactor, Gov. Ben Cayetano. When the group got together to dump two cabinet members, they didn't realize the maelstrom of public disapproval that was awaiting them.

Senators found themselves attacked in the press, forced to defend themselves before neighborhood boards and listen while former supporters vowed to never help them again.

That was the critical moment. No one came forward, no one pulled the Senate together, no one provided a rallying point. The Senate Democrats -- there are 23 of them -- shattered into gangs assembled mostly along pragmatic, not philosophical, lines.

There is no one group in the Senate, for instance, that is identified as the labor group, the education group, the pro-business group.

"We now owe allegiance to no one except ourselves," one Senate insider said.

This is unlike the state House, also dominated by Democrats, but not in the same overwhelming proportions as the Senate. The House allows Speaker Calvin Say to lead. The Senate, instead, refuses to trust its leaders to draft and implement policy.

Current events and the calendar, however, will not wait for the Senate to go through therapy, have a group hug or mass defenestration. There is a series of issues the 2000 Legislature will have to deal with.

FIRST up will be the question of confirming the appointment of Earl Anzai as attorney general. As he is a long-time confidant of Cayetano, an attack on Anzai is an attack on Cayetano.

How much longer does the Senate want to feud with the governor? How can the Senate approve someone as the state's chief law enforcement officer after he was rejected as budget director? Those are the conflicting questions the Senate must answer regarding Anzai.

Then the Legislature will be forced to handle a state budget that Cayetano says will include a drastic reorganization of state government programs.

Stacked up next to the budget will be Cayetano's plans for civil service reform, which are likely to start a new round of attacks from the public worker unions.

Just to keep everyone nervous, the nine City Council members are waiting off stage, looking to continue their political careers as senatorial public servants when their terms expire in 2002.

And finally, there is a public who more and more looks at the Senate and says, "I can't relate to any of you. Get out of here."



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Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at rborreca@pixi.com




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