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View Point

By Marcus R. Oshiro

Friday, May 12, 2000

Civil service reform
can’t be rushed

NOW that the state Legislature has concluded its 2000 session, I'd like to share some thoughts on the local media's role in the ongoing public debate over reform of Hawaii's civil service laws.

For the press to imply that a substantial overhaul of 40-plus years of state civil service law should have been quickly accomplished by the Legislature in a mere four months is wishful thinking at best or purposeful deception at worst.

Either way, this misconception of the role of a legislative body in a representative democracy is as unrealistic as it is disturbing.

History is rife with countless examples of harm caused to the public trust when public officials and elected representatives hurriedly or thoughtlessly pander to the immediate demands of a loud, clamorous faction of the citizenry.

Our duty as legislators is not to be a weathervane for frequently fickle, unreliable public opinion, but to act deliberately and responsibly in balancing the public need with the rights of affected individuals before arriving at any solution or decision.

The reform measure passed on May 2 is but a first step in a process that, if continued, will take time to evaluate and complete, so as to ensure this effort's maximum effectiveness.

I also find it rather troubling that the issue of civil service reform has been generally conveyed to the public not as a wide-ranging discussion of various ideas and proposals, but as a battle of wills between Governor Cayetano and United Public Workers head Gary Rodrigues, with feckless legislators caught in-between.

While intriguing and often-volatile personality conflicts between sometimes-controversial individuals might be good copy, the media lose their primary focus on a given issue when they choose to cover politics as a vicarious form of public entertainment, which shortchanges the community it purports to serve.

First and foremost, politics is the art of compromise, involving a process in which people can come together to first identify a problem and then implement a solution upon which the majority can agree.

By unduly emphasizing the personalities engaged in the debate over the debate itself, the media made those persons the issue instead of the legislation, which indirectly encouraged them to publicly adopt inflexible positions in sensitive negotiations.

When any party involved in sensitive negotiations becomes intransigent for fear of being labeled a "loser" by the media, any room for compromise is greatly restricted if not altogether precluded. Does that serve the public's interest?

FINALLY, as the legislative session reached its climax, details of the various proposals being discussed were again ignored by the media, which instead suggested without substantiation that taxpayers were about to be screwed by the greedy public employee unions.

This blatantly partisan attempt to stir up public resentment against the unions not only ignored the fact that public employees are also tax-paying citizens, but further implied that a public employee union has no business defending the rights of its membership within the realm of our legislative process.

State Rep. Marcus R. Oshiro is vice speaker of the House
and a Democrat representing the 40th District
of Wahiawa and Whitmore Village.

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