Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, May 8, 1996

Why the legislators did such a poor job

HERE are three reasons for this year's poor job from the state Legislature: an uncertain leadership within the Legislature, no covering support from the governor and, finally, in the absence of its own agenda the Legislature was easily bent by a multitude of lobbyists.

In defending their session, legislators are quick to point out that they balanced a difficult budget and then didn't raise taxes, didn't approve gambling and didn't allow the Department of Education to give the boot to troublesome 16 year olds.

The synonym for legislators, however, is lawmakers, not no-lawmakers. By claiming they did a pretty good job by resisting their own self-generated temptations doesn't get them "legislature of the year awards."

This year the Legislature got down to work early, it even held presession hearings and attempted to monitor some of the problems with the state budget. Its leaders, however, were not able to develop a consensus solution to the state's economic problems.

There was a vague feeling that something needed to be done about the size of government, but neither the House nor the Senate was able to decide whether to cut, delay or restructure. The big ideas, such as privatization and elimination of government functions, were not discussed seriously.

If the Legislature's honchos couldn't lead us out of the present state economic mess, they were totally baffled by the unending debate on same-sex marriages.

Perhaps Speaker Joe Souki was more insistent in pushing an opinion that his counterpart in the Senate, Norman Mizuguchi, but the failure to either get agreement or postponement of the issue meant the session was constantly held hostage to outside forces.

In other times, under other governors, the legislators have fared better. The governor has simply covered for them. To help them save face, former Governors Burns and Ariyoshi would call the 76 back into session.

And Gov. John Waihee always had a kind word, gently grading them high.

In contrast, Gov. Ben Cayetano called their product "mediocre" and gave legislators no place to hide.

They were unable to rationalize their poor product, claiming that at least the governor knew they did a good job. If the number one Democrat, and his party chairman, Richard Port, say the Legislature didn't perform, then what can the Democratic Legislature say?

If they are talking to a lobbyist, they can say thanks. This year more than most, the legislature found itself whipped left and right by a bevy of lobbyists.

PERHAPS the most obvious example was the sudden rise of same-sex marriage as a make-or-break-a-season item. Opponents of same-sex marriage picked up a savvy lobbyist, with impeccable Democratic Party credentials and suddenly the issue took on a fervor hardly ever seen at the Legislature.

Lobbyists also worked the no-fault insurance issue. Legislators aligned or employed by insurance companies and legislators who are attorneys were helped by lobbyists from both the legal and insurance community. The result was another collective seizure as the two special interests induced only paralysis.

Happily, none of these problems are institutional or require more drastic overhaul of the rules. The best fix would be a good purging general election.

Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics on Wednesday. Write him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802 or send e-mail to

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