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Richar Borreca

On Politics

By Richard Borreca

Sunday, July 15, 2001


Consent bill had
Democrats in a panic

SO WHAT were the Democrats watching last week, the Blair Witch Project III?

Talk about scary movies. According to the descriptions by Gov. Ben Cayetano, we were threatened by a horde of Republicans just moments away from our shores.

As the Republicans bore down upon us from one side, it was Cayetano alone facing a runaway stampede of scared-silly Democrats on the other.

For a party that has spent much of the last three decades hoping for the respect shown Rodney Dangerfield, it is difficult to suddenly cast it as the Freddy Krueger of Hawaii politics.

But Cayetano insisted it was the Democrats who so quaked at the prospect of a Republican attack next year that they had to override the governor's veto of the age-of-consent bill.

Obviously, any bill that has as its purpose keeping 14- to 16-year-old girls from having sex with older men sounds good and anyone who would thwart that sounds bad.

Cayetano and others contended, however, that it was more complicated than that.

There were some serious and thoughtful issues of civil rights and fairness involved, plus the concern that it would make felons out of teenage lovers.

And the prosecutors knew that in the real world, getting convictions wasn't likely, because it is almost impossible to get a love-struck 14- or 15-year-old to testify against her lover.

Those fears gave way to the worries of Cayetano's fellow Democrats, who could already see the "hit" brochures Republicans would mail out right before next elections.

Imagine Willy Horton making off with the intermediate school Lei Day queen.

So the special session was called and lawmakers made history by overriding a governor's veto for the first time in Hawaii's history as a state.

Did that transform the Republicans into the Genghis Khan of Hawaii politics, by one act?

Nope, but as George Bernard Shaw said, to make someone fight all you need "is the knowledge that it's more dangerous to lose than to win."

Like an underground river that surfaces and then dives back into the rocks, there was a lot more going on to the override vote than a Democratic panic attack.

In the Senate, the Democratic votes needed for an override were largely gathered by Senate Democratic leader Jonathan Chun (D, South Kauai). He is a strong member of the Senate faction aligned with Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae).

His work is a clear indication of where the power rests in the Senate and serves as a reminder that Senate President Robert Bunda (D, North Shore) is not the last word in Senate policy.

In the House, Speaker Calvin Say (D, Palolo), like Bunda, originally opposed the special session and the veto override, but he is wise enough to appreciate the benefits of flexibility.

Again, like the votes gathered in the Senate, the votes to override were not garnered by Say and his group of leaders, but by the younger Democrats, who could see the political damage of not going into a special override session.

Ironically, it was this group of younger Democrats that would join with the GOP in a call to override, not just because they agreed with the position, but because they knew political dynamite when they saw it.

House Vice Speaker Sylvia Luke (D, Pauoa), who leads the younger House Democrats and is much more of an activist than past vice speakers, said the vote to override shows Cayetano that times have changed.

"We are tired of doing the old-time politics and we aren't going to sit on the side, just because he (Cayetano) is a Democrat," said Luke.

The interesting rub in all this is that the younger Democrats' insistence on doing what they say is the will of the people coincides with what the Republicans say the people want.






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



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