8 Dems take free trips on plane to Philippines
Lawmakers fly at no cost, and legislation on airlines is pending
Eight Democrats who took a free trip to Manila aboard Hawaiian Airlines' inaugural international flight are being criticized by Republican Sen. Gordon Trimble, who says they were shirking their duties at the Capitol.
Trimble (R, Downtown-Waikiki) said he thought it was not ethical for legislators to accept a gift from Hawaiian when they were debating legislation that could help the airline.
"I got an invitation. I threw it out, and I didn't have to think about it," Trimble said in an interview Wednesday after giving a floor speech criticizing the eight.
Trimble said he has never accepted a free trip while serving in the Legislature.
"Somebody wants something. Their first priority is to the people, and this is the crunch time. I am totally amazed that (Senate President) Colleen Hanabusa approved it," Trimble said.
In reaction, Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua) said the Senate did not discourage the senators from going. Asked about the ethics of taking a free trip and then voting on legislation that could give local airlines a tax break on aviation fuel sales and a loan guarantee program, Hanabusa said it was up to individual senators to make the call.
"It is up to every senator to determine when they come back and are asked to vote," Hanabusa said.
She added that the state Ethics Commission was queried and that it said there was no conflict.
Dan Mollway, Ethics Commission executive director, said Sen. Will Espero had asked about the trip and was told it was not seen as an improper gift.
"We have allowed legislators to participate in inaugural events, whether they are flights or grand openings, and do not consider it a violation of the gifts law," Mollway said.
"When they are going, they are going as ambassadors of the state, and they are going to promote the economy of the state, the tourism of the state and cultural things," Mollway said.
Mollway added that legislators cannot accept a gift if it is intended to reward or influence officials' action.
"It applies more to personal gifts, like if they are giving you a Rolex watch," Mollway said.
Espero, who said he was the first to return from the trip that left Monday, called the trip a "public-private partnership."
"The Ethics Commission said that as long as it was a state function or state duties, it was permissible," Espero said.
"They are opening a new route to another country," he said.
Asked about the pending legislation, Espero said it deals with the entire airline industry and not just Hawaiian.
Hawaiian Air's vice president for public affairs, Keoni Wagner, said the trip was meant to familiarize public leaders in both countries with the new service and that Hawaiian also flew members of the Philippine government to Honolulu. Hawaiian also offered the flight to local leaders in the Filipino community in Hawaii.
"The purpose was to strengthen the ties between the two places. It was about bringing people together," Wagner said.
HAVE SEAT, WILL TRAVEL
Here are the legislators who went on the free trip to Manila offered by Hawaiian Airlines:
Donna Mercado Kim (D, Kalihi Valley-Halawa)
J. Kalani English (D, East Maui-Lanai-Molokai)
Ron Menor (D, Mililani-Waipio)
Will Espero (D, Ewa-Honouliuli-Ewa Beach)
Glenn Wakai (D, Moanalua Valley-Salt Lake)
Rida Cabanilla (D, Waipahu-Ewa)
Joey Manahan (D, Kalihi-Kapalama)
Tom Brower (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana)
Source: Hawaiian Airlines