Smart politicians will avoid getting hit by train
AS DEBATE ended last week on Honolulu's proposed mass transit system
, you must wonder about the political fallout.
Unless the City Council or the state Legislature changes some of the rules, mass transit is likely to be a political fire walk for years to come.
Simply put, mass transit, despite its desperately needed benefits, is going to be the gift that keeps on not giving for years to come. Legislators will be reminded on Jan. 2 that the largest tax increase in state history just went into effect, and nobody even knows if they bought a train or a bus.
Over and over, City Council members will be reminded how the route they picked either goes too close or too far away from a key pocket of constituents.
Today the debate is whether to sacrifice the commuters going to the airport and Pearl Harbor in favor of the Salt Lake residents demanding transit. Later the debate will move west as the route from Kapolei is determined.
THE LATEST VERSION of the transit plan now being batted around envisions a route to Manoa and the university, although this is not the path suggested by Mayor Mufi Hannemann. Interestingly, the Hannemann plan bypasses a sure source of controversy: building or digging through downtown Honolulu.
Our downtown is the site of old Honolulu and is just jam-packed with historically significant buildings, artifacts and ancient Hawaiian remains. In some ways it reminds me of the dilemma presented to Romans who are building their subway system at the rate of just meters per year because every excavation uncovers a new archeological treasure. If you think it took a long time to build the H-3 (30 years), just wait until bulldozers pull up to Iwilei.
Political risk will not visit all elected officials equally. Some of the Council old-timers, such as Romy Cachola and Ann Kobayashi, have enough time in grade that they will not be hurt. And they are also not likely to jump into a hot contest for governor or mayor.
BUT THAT is exactly what is expected of transit's two biggest supporters: Hannemann and Rep. Neil Abercrombie.
Hannemann is up for re-election in 2008 and he is expected to run and, if successful, go for the governorship in 2010. Abercrombie's tightly secure congressional district holds an election every two years for those foolish enough to oppose him, but the challenge for Abercrombie is in 2010 and a possible run for governor.
If there ever was a time to create a semi-independent Honolulu transit authority and avoid what is likely to be a bloody, winless battle, it is now.
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