Coming clean a better path for politicians
Recent cases have raises questions about how and when elected officials should deal with disclosure of their criminal past.
GOVERNOR Lingle's off-the-cuff remark that political officeholders should resign if convicted of a crime, even a misdemeanor, would have her leaving Washington Place.
However, that broad benchmark doesn't consider the nature of criminal behavior. Though both her conviction on a state contempt of court charge and state Rep. Galen Fox's on a federal sexual molestation charge are both technically misdemeanors, there is a vast difference between them.
No one could reasonably demand that Lingle, whose troubles stemmed from an expired safety sticker on her car more than two decades ago, apply her own disqualifying standard and surrender her job.
However, her minor infraction, which has been brought up repeatedly during her campaigns, are part of the intense scrutiny politicians and officials are subject to. Thus, politicians and those seeking elective office would be doing themselves a favor by making public those matters in their past that could prove embarrassing or damaging if revealed by others.
Voters can then decide if those who made mistakes, corrected them and went on to successful lives will be good political officeholders. As in Brian Blundell's case, the Maui Republican who was charged in a sexual assault case, voters chose not to return him to the state House.
Bev Harbin, whom Lingle appointed to fill the term of a resigning House member, will have to wait until next year to see if voters in her downtown-Kakaako district will send her back to the state Capitol.
Harbin's controversial appointment was a combination of her failure to tell the governor about a criminal record and back-tax problem, and a fumbled background check on the part of Lingle's aides.
Though the governor, after learning of Harbin's past, asked her to resign, the combative Harbin has adamantly refused. Moreover, she has declared she will seek a full term in next year's election.
There are circumstances when politicians' experiences with hard luck and misbehavior help them obtain an awareness and sympathy for others that no amount of book-learning or ivory tower perspectives can match. But politicians who have stumbled must be straightforward about their past.
The public is far more forgiving of someone who acknowledges mistakes. Covering up or speaking in technicalities dissuades trust.
As former Gov. Ben Cayetano told the Star-Bulletin's Richard Borreca, if politicians "don't say anything and you guys (news media) find out about it, then it becomes an issue."