Wednesday, February 11, 1998

Legislator shouldn’t be
utility lobbyist

CONFLICTS of interest are natural and expected in Hawaii's Legislature, where part-time lawmakers are obligated to make decisions that affect the companies they work for during the remainder of the year. Conflicts become more serious when legislators accept company positions devoted to influencing government decisions.

State Sen. David Ige, a Democrat who represents Pearl City, has accepted such a position.

Ige is an electrical engineer by training and, until recently, by profession. He held such a position at GTE Hawaiian Tel, when he was appointed in 1985 by then-Gov. John Waihee to fill a vacant seat in the state House of Representatives.

Eventually, Ige was promoted to the job of Hawaiian Tel's network design senior administrator. When the position of government affairs director became open, Ige applied. He was appointed to the post at the beginning of this year. In plain English, that means Ige's new job is chief lobbyist for the phone company, one of the most regulated companies in Hawaii.

Recognizing the anachronism of a legislator who is also a lobbyist, Ige has gone to great pains to gain acceptance of his dual role. He said that he will lobby only federal and county officials, not state officials or legislators, leaving that responsibility to Hawaiian Tel's vice president for external affairs.

Ige has registered with the city as a lobbyist but not with the state Ethics Commission. And, as co-chairman of the Senate Consumer Protection Committee, Ige has promised to allow co-chairman Wayne Metcalf to assume responsibility for matters relating to the Public Utilities Commission, which regulates Hawaiian Tel. Ige pledges not to vote on matters that present a conflict.

However, all the maneuvering in the world by Ige to avoid the appearance of impropriety will not erase the impression that he was assigned to his present job at the phone company because of his position as a state senator. The interweaving of city, state and federal functions makes the confined activities that Ige prescribes for himself impossible to perform.

Senator Ige's conflict is inescapable and unacceptable. His district would be better served by an engineer rather than a lobbyist.

Violence in Georgia

THE brazen assassination attempt on Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze reflects the volatile state of many of the former Soviet republics. While world attention has been focused on the economic troubles of Russia, conditions elsewhere in the former Soviet Union are worse. It was unclear after the assassination attempt which of the dangerous forces operating in and around Georgia were to blame for the attack.

In Georgia, terrorism and civil strife can be added to the problems of runaway inflation and organized crime that have plagued Russia in its transition to a market economy. While communism collapsed peacefully in Russia, a guerrilla war preceded the ascendancy of Shevardnadze, Mikhail Gorbachev's foreign minister, to the presidency of his native republic in 1992. Since then, the government of the mountainous country of five million has resisted violent breakaway uprisings in the provinces of Abkazia and South Ossetia, conflicts that took thousands of lives, and tried to shield itself from the civil war in the neighboring Caucasus region of Chechnya.

Meanwhile, Shevardnadze has made enemies in his attempt to stabilize the economy and combat graft. He estimates that the shadow economy run by gangsters accounted for more than half of Georgia's overall activity last year. His crackdown has made him enemies who are as dangerous as political terrorists.

No wonder that Shevardnadze is not sure what motivated attackers to ambush his motorcade with rocket-propelled grenades and firearms in a 10-minute battle that killed a bodyguard and one of the assailants. The dead attacker was reportedly identified as Chechen. Shevardnadze said he suspected a possible motive was a regional dispute over lucrative new pipelines that will carry crude oil to the Caspian Sea, but he did not rule out international terrorism.

Shevardnadze sees his task as "the building of a democratic Georgian state with a developed economy and to restore our territorial integrity." He has been diligent and courageous in his effort to achieve those goals before and since an unsuccessful assassination attempt in 1995. Fortunately, the second failure by assassins will allow him to continue that mission.

Digging up dirt

THE attorney general's investigation of the trustees overseeing the Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate has motivated one of them to hire an investigator of her own. The Star-Bulletin has learned that the most criticized of the five, Lokelani Lindsey, has asked an ex-FBI agent to survey her fellow trustees.

Somebody needs to remind Lindsey and her lawyers that the best way to "contribute" to this case is to cooperate with the state attorney general's investigation, since Margery Bronster is looking into allegations of financial mismanagement and breach of fiduciary duties of any and all trustees, not just one.

That obvious rationale may be lost on Lindsey, however, who appears to be motivated by the adage that misery loves company. Lindsey has hired local sleuth Hilton Lui, who hints that he's already uncovered possible wrongdoing by some of the other trustees. "We've come up with some stuff," aknowledged Lui, president of Hilton & Associates. He declined to elaborate.

Such public posturings and internal shenanigans are continuing to destroy the public's faith in the way KS/BE is being run. If anything, the latest salvo fired by Lindsey may lead to another truism -- that of winning the battle but losing the war.

Bishop Estate Archive

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