Under the Sun
Lack of consensus and trust could lower curtain on rail
LADIES and gentlemen - get ready for the biggest show in town to get even bigger.
Let's pick up the program already in progress.
At center stage, the toughest-talking mayor this side of Sacramento is vying for the spotlight with varied antagonistic players at grass-rooting.
At proscenium edges, eager trade and labor groups, businesses and profit-seekers sing a scripted chorus. From the wings, bloggers and opinion peddlers - paid and unpaid, visible and masked - rumble the floorboards. Assorted elected officials pop in for cameo appearances.
Enter Gov. Linda Lingle upstage, taking on the character of above-the-fray arbitrator in the theatrics of the rail transit debate.
And in the audience sit city voters, trying to interpret the dialogue.
The grass-rooters are hoping to get an anti-rail measure on the ballot this fall. They say they have enough signatures on their petitions to force a vote, but if the city clerk determines the rooters don't have the numbers, there are sure to be bouts of "yes, we do" and "no, you don't," followed by a lawsuit - a predictable plot line, if any.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann says he's good with the ballot question because he's sure voters will back him. Just the same, he lined up a troupe of former transportation officials, including an estranged member of Lingle's cabinet, to chime in with their endorsements.
The governor, who told the Star-Bulletin's Laurie Au two weeks ago that she was considering signing with the rooters, finally put pen to paper Saturday, casting herself as a leading lady in the production. The motivation for her role, she says, is simply to give voters the opportunity to decide.
The off-stage storyline, however, is to put some heat on Hannemann, whose political fortunes will ride on rail and who could be a contender for higher public office. That she would challenge a potential rival to her ambitions, even at the risk of getting caught in the crossfire, is not a surprising twist, at least in the political narrative.
But should the anti-rail question get on the ballot, voters might just reject the project.
The uncertain costs of rail make people nervous. It's not only the initial investment, but the long-term price of operating a transit system when few systems aren't heavily subsidized through other revenues. In today's economic climate, it is understandable that people worried about paying their own bills can't see the wisdom of buying into the future.
There's another reason. Voters don't seem to place much trust in the wisdom of public leaders who spend more time politicking than building consensus. Witnessing the battle between the mayor and the City Council and the Council members' inability to agree among themselves, it's no wonder people are leery.
The project that will have major consequences for Oahu needed to be better explained, its costs and benefits laid out honestly instead of spun and propagandized. That kind of effort may not have fit into an election cycle, but if the curtain comes down on rail, it will be because the actors failed in performance.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org