You really can make a difference
IF you think the Legislature looked different this year, you are right, there was a new player in the mix: the public.
Citizens groups can claim three improbable victories this year.
First, the so-called "fix Hokulia bill," which was aimed at changing the way "gentleman farms" are zoned (and would have allowed more development on farmlands, according to the Sierra Club), was stopped by citizens groups.
Then the controversial decision to develop Kewalo Basin into a retail and park area with condominiums inspired a citizens group to form overnight, print T-shirts and start slinging the e-mails.
And finally, a bill to permit corporations to make unlimited contributions to political action committees was stopped by citizens groups.
It looked like the only group that was locked out of the Legislature this year was the state Senate.
Twenty senators strolled over to the House on Thursday afternoon to tell the representatives that they were pau and ready to go home. The House, reportedly in a snit about the Senate's trying to force a vote on that corporate contributions bill, actually barred the senators from the House floor.
Citizen activists, however, should not think moving the Legislature comes easy.
What was remarkable this year was that citizens groups actually put in the sweat-equity to get noticed.
USUALLY what happens is that, fueled with lessons learned in high school civics, citizens write letters to their legislators and feel that should be enough. Someone wants a law, opposes a law, wants a building, needs a program or just wants an exception to an existing law.
They ask politely; some even send petitions. And then those same earnest citizens are shocked to find their ideas left on the conference table, if even discussed.
The citizens blame the lobbyists, they blame the legislators, they blame the media for not publicizing their cause. They rarely say "we didn't work hard enough."
Few realize what it takes to get elected. It might not take the most brilliant mind to stand by the roadside at rush hour waving madly, but if you don't do it you don't get in. You might not be the wisest arbitrator in the district, but you won't represent that district until you are willing to attend every community, PTA and neighborhood board meeting.
And your honest dedication is nothing unless you can show the shoes you wore out and the empty bottles of sunblock you went through as you walked your district twice in August.
This year citizens learned that when they work as hard to be heard as legislators work to be elected, legislators listen when they talk.
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