Harbin upset gets skeletons rattling
You can't step up to the Bev Bar, but if you are a state lawmaker, Rep. Bev Harbin wants to know if you can step over it.
In just two weeks, Harbin has become Hawaii's most controversial politician, with Governor Lingle, the Democratic Party and ordinary citizens all calling for her to resign.
Harbin was named by Lingle to the vacant 28th District state House seat. But Lingle's background checks failed to discover that Harbin's former company closed owing $123,000 in back state taxes, and that she had three misdemeanor convictions for passing bad checks in 1987. Lingle was furious, feeling she had been conned, the Democrats fumed because Harbin joined the party only after the seat became available and constituents were steamed to learn that their new representative had just moved from the Big Island to downtown Honolulu.
Harbin shot back, "Let my past be the bar to judge everyone else in the Legislature."
For a couple of lawmakers, the Harbin past is uncomfortably close.
Last year GOP Leader Fred Hemmings traveled to the Democratic bastion of Kauai to attack incumbent Sen. Gary Hooser (D, Kauai-Niihau), charging, "You went 11 years without paying your taxes."
Hooser's Kauai-based company, H&S Publishing, didn't file excise tax returns from 1985 to 1990. The tax rates used for 1991 and 1992 were in dispute. H&S filed returns for 1993 to 1996 but did not pay any money. The company also failed to pay withholding tax from 1993 to 1996.
The state finally settled with Hooser, allowing him to pay just the $89,875 in principal owed and dropping $50,440 in interest and penalties.
Hooser called Hemmings' attack "a cheap shot," but Harbin is not the only legislator with tax troubles, nor is she the first person in the Legislature to keep past indiscretions in the closet.
When the Maui County Council considered appointing Jaimie Kalani English to fill a Council vacancy, English was asked about rumors of his past drug possession. English said, "No, it is not true. My record is clean."
In reality, English, now a state senator, was indicted by an Oahu grand jury on April 20, 1988, on a charge of promoting a dangerous drug in the third degree.
English pleaded guilty, but Oahu Circuit Judge Wendell Huddy deferred acceptance of the guilty plea if English kept out of trouble. In 1990, Huddy determined that English had complied, and dismissed the charge.
English said he didn't mention the drug charge because "the state attorney general's office sent me a letter specifically authorizing me 'to state in response to any question or inquiry ... that (I) have no record' regarding the mistake I made."
The truth was that English pleaded guilty to the charge on Sept. 19, 1988. "I had cocaine in my possession," English said in his written plea agreement.
Before painting every issue in black and white, it is likely now that both Harbin and her critics will learn to appreciate politics' shades of gray.
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Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org