ALL eyes are on the governor's race as Hawaii heads into its most pivotal election since John Burns vs. Thomas Gill in 1970.
Voters should scrutinize
That's fine with state legislators, who want as little spotlight as possible on their woeful record of recent years. But their races may well have more bearing on Hawaii's future than who is elected governor.
The current Legislature has shown itself to be weak-willed, ethically challenged, in the pocket of powerful special interests and unable to put aside skewed loyalties and personal pettiness to get the job done.
For the first three years of Gov. Ben Cayetano's term, legislators fiddled with same-sex marriage while the economy crumbled. Even in his election year, with the governor willing to take most of the political risk upon himself, our sorry solons couldn't pass a respectable economic recovery package.
If a Democratic governor can't get action out of Democratic legislators, Republicans Linda Lingle or Frank Fasi won't likely do better if this bunch comes back. Any governor will need a more responsible Legislature to succeed.
Current leaders of both houses have repeatedly shown themselves incapable of doing the job. On issues from the convention center to insurance reform to the Bishop Estate, legislators have shamelessly tangled their private interests with the public's business.
At the end of this year's session, House Speaker Joe Souki and Judiciary Chairman Terrance Tom dropped even the pretense of ethics when they doggedly tried to protect the high pay of Bishop Estate trustees after both had collected tens of thousands of dollars in private deals involving Bishop Estate.
Senate leaders persist with a committee structure that thwarts any effort to reform government by allowing a few legislators beholden to public employee unions to bottle up important legislation the unions don't like.
There are capable lawmakers in both houses, but until late last session they showed little backbone in challenging ineffective leaders.
Opposing factions in the Senate offer no real alternative. The two Republicans have been non-factors. Democratic dissidents led by Randall Iwase are the remnants of the old Milton Holt/Donna Ikeda gang.
Republicans have a better foothold in the House and lots of new candidates lined up for the election. But their first step was backward as two of their best leaders, Quentin Kawananakoa and Gene Ward, let their egos get the better of them and abandoned the House to fight each other for the right to run against U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie.
It's funny how voters can muster such passionate contempt for the governor but fail election after election to hold their friendly, neighborhood senators and representatives accountable. Until voters are willing to do that, it doesn't really matter who is elected governor.
SO take a careful look at your incumbent legislators this year, Democrats and Republicans alike. Get past how nice they look standing on the side of the road with their big smiles and carnation leis. Forget about how they showed up for your Little League opening and gave a $500 scholarship at the high school graduation.
Ask what your legislators have done to fix the economy, improve our schools and make government work better for the people. Ask why they're propping up weak leaders. If you don't like the answers, do something about it or keep learning the hard way that the old adage is true: If you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you're getting.
Election Special David Shapiro is managing editor of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volcanic Ash runs every Saturday in the Star-Bulletin.
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