Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Lingle’s pick has
financial baggage

New state Rep. Bev Harbin
owes $123,000 in business taxes

» House committee gets new leader

The Lingle administration says if it had known that businesswoman Beverly Harbin's company owed $123,000 in state taxes, the governor would not have chosen her as Hawaii's newest representative.

But Harbin, who did not disclose her state tax liens and other financial troubles to the governor, said yesterday she would not resign as the representative for the 28th District, covering Kakaako and downtown.

Last week, Lingle appointed Harbin to the seat vacated by Democratic Rep. Ken Hiraki. The Republican governor rejected Democrat Party suggestions for a replacement and instead chose Harbin, who had joined the party just days after Hiraki announced he would resign.

In a written statement yesterday, Bob Awana, Gov. Linda Lingle's chief of staff, said they did a criminal background check on Harbin, but not her financial background. On Monday, the day Harbin was sworn in, KITV4 News reported about the tax liens and civil lawsuits against her business.

"Had this information been disclosed during the interview process, Ms. Harbin would not have been appointed," Awana's statement said.

Harbin said she was a victim of the state's financial downturn in 1996.

Her former auto repair company, Hon/Hawaii Service and Repair, was slapped with two state tax liens totaling $123,000, and several lawsuits demanding payment for money owed and back rent.

"We were doing well, we expanded into a second location and it was right when the economy collapsed in 1996," Harbin said. "I went through downsizing. I had to lay off 10 employees. I fought tooth and nail to hold the business together," she said.

"I lost my house, my husband had a heart attack, and I fought until the last minutes to make sure my employees got their last pay check," Harbin said.

Harbin said she sold her house to pay off federal tax liens and is slowly repaying taxes owed to the state.

She said she had not thought about disclosing her financial problems. There had been a criminal complaint lodged against her and she explained that to Lingle, Harbin said.

But she said she couldn't talk about that incident because it resulted in a lawsuit and a judgment in her favor. As part of the settlement, she's not allowed to discuss the case, she said.

Harbin said her problems with her business caused her to become an outspoken advocate for small business. She formed her own organization, the "Employers Chamber of Commerce," which Harbin said was "just me."

"It was an issue-driven chamber. I would coordinate with trade associations, and it was my voice for small business," she said.

Democratic party officials angrily denounced Harbin's appointment, saying that Lingle should have picked one of four persons from their list to fill the vacancy.

According to state law, legislative vacancies are filled by the governor, with the only limitation that they be a qualified voter in the district and be of the same political party as the outgoing member.

"Simply put, she is a Democrat in name only," said Brickwood Galuteria, state Democratic party chairman.

Galuteria said he was "deeply troubled" by Harbin's financial problems. "If these charges are true, they are not the conduct of someone who should be trusted with public office," he said.

Democrats say they also are concerned about Harbin's party loyalties.

Galuteria said Harbin had been registered to vote on the Big Island and only moved to Honolulu and registered as a Democrat three days after Hiraki announced his intention to resign.

Harbin insisted that she is a Democrat and had campaigned for former Gov. Ben Cayetano when he beat Lingle in 1998.

"I am a Democrat. I am a Democrat in concept. I just don't like how they do not listen to the small business community," Harbin said. "I know there are people upset with my appointment because of my outspokenness."

Her term will expire in November 2006.

State of Hawaii


House committee
gets new leader

Big Island state Rep. Bob Herkes has been named chairman of the House Consumer Protection and Commerce Committee, Speaker Calvin Say announced yesterday.

Herkes (D, Volcano-Kainaliu) succeeds Ken Hiraki, who resigned from the House this month to become a lobbyist for Hawaiian Telcom.

Hiraki had served in the House for 19 years. As commerce chairman he was instrumental in crafting the state's one-of-a-kind gasoline price cap law along with his Senate counterpart, Sen. Ron Menor.

Herkes, a retired hotel executive, previously served as chair of the Economic Development and Business Concerns Committee. That committee will be chaired by Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu (D, Waipahu-Waikele), Say said.

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