Thursday, January 22, 1998

Governor has it right with prison proposal

AFTER initially scrapping plans to build a prison in view of the state's financial problems, Governor Cayetano has faced reality and decided to build one after all - and in Hawaii, not on the mainland. He proposes that the facility, with 1,000 to 1,500 beds, be financed and built by a private company and leased to the state, with an option to buy.

As in the case of the prison project that Cayetano canceled shortly after taking office, the proposed prison apparently would be on the Big Island, although the governor declined to say exactly where. He plans to unveil his proposal Monday in the State of the State address. The state has considered several sites on the Big Island, including Panaewa south of Hilo, Kau and Kulani, where the existing facility could be expanded.

It's heartening to see Cayetano abandon the idea of building or purchasing a facility on the mainland. Even if that option would have been cheaper, it would have ignored the need to stimulate the state economy, which the governor has correctly given a high priority. Spending money on the mainland, when the state needs the jobs and income the project would generate, would be counterproductive.

Having a private company build the prison with an option for the state to buy at a future date, as he noted, would avoid the need for the state to come up with the money to build the prison immediately, at a time when it can ill afford to do so.

It's also encouraging that the governor says he might try to have the prison operated by a private company - a venture into privatization that could set an important precedent. However, the guards manning the prison would be state employees, a policy that would avoid a clash with the union representing the state guards, the United Public Workers. To achieve the full benefits of privatization, such facilities should not be required to hire government employees. But a Democratic governor highly dependent on the support of public employee unions for his bid for re-election isn't going to take on those unions.

The overcrowding in Hawaii prisons is severe, despite the shipment of 600 inmates to Texas, with another 600 slated to follow. The Texas prisons are a necessary expedient, but a permanent solution is needed.

The rate of incarceration in Hawaii is increasing at nearly five times the national rate, although it is still far below average. After announcing that he would rather build schools than prisons - who wouldn't? - Cayetano has taken a few steps toward coping with the overcrowding problem, but it remains acute.

Alternative programs that would reduce the need to lock criminals up are needed, but so is more prison space. The governor has gotten the message.

Jack Lord

IF ever there was a man who thrust Hawaii into the nation's consciousness it was Jack Lord as hard-bitten cop Steve McGarrett on "Hawaii Five-O." Lord, who died last night at 77, starred in one of the most popular and longest-running programs in television history, and it was all about Hawaii.

Although it was essentially a crime show, "Hawaii Five-O" was full of scenes shot in Hawaii that depicted the islands' beauty. Stanley Hong, former president of the then-Hawaii Visitors Bureau and now president of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, noted that it was the program that first made an impact on tourism. "It was a marketing bonanza for us," he said.

It was no coincidence that tourism boomed during the program's years in network prime time, from 800,000 in 1968 to 4 million in the early 1980s.

There was some criticism because it was a crime show, but the criticism faded in the face of the program's success. Some viewers said they liked it because of the beautiful scenery.

Lord produced and sometimes directed the show, which ran on national television for 12 years, from 1968-80, and was seen in many foreign countries, with a weekly audience estimated at 800 million. It was phenomenally popular, and Hawaii tourism was a prime beneficiary.

Lord had lived in Honolulu since "Hawaii Five-O" ended, but had not been seen in public for years, apparently because of illness. He died of congestive heart failure. His widow, Marie, said he always appreciated the "kindness, affection and support of many fans and friends."

Jack Lord was a little-known actor before "Hawaii Five-O," but that show earned him a niche in the history of television and of these islands. Hawaii is grateful.

Legislature's opening

ONE thing was perfectly clear at the opening of the Legislature's 1998 session: the Democratic leadership is firmly behind the recommendations of the Economic Revitalization Task Force. Senate President Norman Mizuguchi and House Speaker Joe Souki, who with Governor Cayetano convened the task force, made it clear that its proposals to boost the economy would be the heart of the legislative agenda.

What is less clear is whether the Democratic rank and file is willing to follow its leaders. Thus far the legislators have approached the issues with caution.

As for the Republicans, they like some of the task force's proposals but they're dead set against the 34 percent increase in the general excise tax, easily the most controversial of the proposals. Senate Minority Leader Whitney Anderson said he refused to be "bullied" on the excise tax hike. On the House side, Minority Leader Quentin Kawananakoa was equally vehement.

Last year the same-sex marriage issue dominated the session. This year it could be the excise tax.

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