Turn down volume on the rail debate
Discussion about the city's rail transit project is becoming nastier.
Judging from the trash talk via blogs, ads, e-mail and Web sites, pro- and anti-rail transit factions appear to be elbowing each other for the inside lane on the low road.
Both sides need to dial down the vitriol if they hope to persuade people to their points of view.
Opposition to the project has come from a few organizations -- some with overlapping memberships -- that have managed to tap into public unease that can be traced to the 2005 approval of a tax surcharge to pay for a mass transit system.
Since then, voters have seen city leaders at odds over what will be the largest public works project Honolulu has ever seen, with its cost estimated at $4 billion. The failure to build consensus among themselves and constituents has seeded a conflict that has become increasingly nasty.
The project already has been approved by elected officials -- albeit in fits and starts -- but opposition groups and individuals are petitioning for a ballot vote.
Gov. Linda Lingle, who has supported a rail transit system in the past, entered the fray, saying she would likely join in seeking a vote. Unfortunately, while she urged both sides to "tone down" attacks, her criticism of ads run by Mayor Mufi Hannemann did nothing to turn down the heat.
Hannemann, labor unions and other organizations -- including the shadowy Support Rail Transit group formed by a public relations company -- are countering the anti-rail effort with the mayor spending some of his $2 million campaign war chest for newspaper ads.
There's no impropriety in the mayor using campaign money, especially since the rail project is a key component of his re-election bid. Now that a leading transit critic is challenging him for the office, rail will become even more pivotal in his try for a second term.
What should be a rational discussion, however, has degenerated, particularly on the Internet, which allows attacks to be posted, often anonymously by people too timid to take responsibility for their insulting words and distasteful illustrations. Although within their rights, they should have the fortitude to stand up publicly for their opinions.
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