Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, December 3, 1997


This is not a legislature
of role models

IF all Jimmy Aki wants for Christmas is his old seat in the state Senate, Santa may be willing to say "Aye." Aki, as you recall, is the latest in a series of state legislators who have managed to break, not make, state law in the last decade.

He was charged with allowing gambling on his property. But he raised the interesting defense that he really didn't know that it was any more than social gambling.

The prosecutor, who wanted to see Aki do a month in jail, said the folks running the illegal bingo games were raking in $60,000 a week.

The first complaints about the operation came from neighbors complaining that the bingo operation was blocking traffic.

Aki eventually declined to contest the charge, and the judge gave him a "deferred acceptance of no contest" plea. This is the sort of legal arrangement that cries out for an asterisk. It means that if Aki doesn't get busted for another felony for five years, his slate is wiped clean.

That is about the worst thing that could happen to Aki's colleagues in the Senate. If he was found guilty, state law would force him to resign from the Legislature. If he was innocent, then case closed.

But instead of getting a glass that was either half full or half empty, the Senate got a glass of muddy water and no instructions.

Senate President Norman Mizuguchi is appointing a five-person panel of senators to investigate, but exactly what they are supposed to do and how they are supposed to do it aren't clear.

Can they hire investigators? Can they look at the prosecutor's records? Can they let Aki back in with an election year coming up?

Or can they boot him out, when he is a former Senate president who fell out of favor and is already in political Siberia?

Don't ask the Legislature for answers. I have and they stress that "off-the-record" they haven't a clue.

Aki, a 27-year veteran of the Legislature, is not doing anything to make the decision easier. When he was Senate president, Aki asked developer Sukarman Sukamto if he might want to develop his Nanakuli property. He was doing this while Sukamto was pitching the Senate to buy his property for the convention center.

Most would consider such action to be a few amino acids short of a protein. Aki thought he could ask for favors from those who were asking the state for favors and not be held accountable.

The Legislature, the Senate in particular, has not been the sort of place that you take your kids to and say, "I hope you grow up just like them."

This isn't a House and Senate of role models. Some bad things happen to many of us along the way. There are all sorts of slips and pressure-induced mistakes we can make, but the Legislature has had more than its share of arrests.

FOLKS have gotten arrested for drunk driving, they have been busted for fraud, income tax evasion and even voter fraud.

U.S. Customs searches have caused them to be fined. Grand juries have investigated others. Several have been charged with spouse abuse and public drunkeness.

Despite all that, the Senate does not appear to be gearing up for much of an investigation.

Instead the Legislature has a case history of forgive and forget. Even after Steve Cobb was arrested for soliciting prostitutes in Waikiki, the Senate wanted to welcome him back.

Santa Claus lives not at the North Pole, but in the state Senate.



Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at rborreca@pixi.com




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