Thursday, November 26, 1998
THE majority Democrats have selected the leaders of the state House and Senate, and the trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs have elected a chairwoman. In the Senate, the status quo prevails as Norman Mizuguchi remains president. Calvin Say is the speaker of the House, succeeding Joe Souki. In OHA, Rowena Akana succeeded "Frenchy" DeSoto.
in state House, OHA
How much the change in the House reflected the recent election results is uncertain. Souki won re-election to his Maui seat despite criticism of his acceptance of a big commission in a real estate deal involving the Bishop Estate and his subsequent opposition to cutting the compensation of Bishop Estate trustees. But that incident may have emboldened Souki's critics in the Democratic caucus, and he withdrew from the speakership election when it became clear he didn't have the votes.
Say is no rebel. He was Souki's protege on the Finance Committee and succeeded him as chairman when Souki became speaker. In both the Senate and House, the Democratic establishment has extended its reign -- it began in 1954 -- despite the widespread desire for change that was evident in Linda Lingle's strong showing in the gubernatorial election.
Say promises more openness and no backroom dealing, which is encouraging. But he wants to revive his goofy idea of revoking the exemption of churches, charities and other nonprofit groups from the general excise tax as a means of lowering the tax for everyone else.
Lowering the excise tax -- the reverse of the Cayetano administration's misguided proposal to raise it, which Say supported -- would be welcome. But Say's solution is not. Nonprofits make important contributions to the community with limited means. Their exemption from the excise tax is deserved -- and may make the difference between their survival and failure. Removing the exemption would be a serious mistake.
At OHA, Akana has been a party to the bitter feuding that has divided the board for years. Her victory on a 6-3 vote found DeSoto on the losing side and restored former chairman Clayton Hee, a key figure in past battles, to the dominant faction.
Akana said she would seek common ground with her critics. But it is difficult to be optimistic about this board's ability to work together, given its rancorous history.
THE indictment of Henry Peters on charges of receiving kickbacks from a developer in a condominium deal at the expense of the Bishop Estate moves the state's investigation of the trustees' actions into a new and graver dimension. Until now the state had only sought the removal of the trustees from their posts -- a civil matter. Now one of the trustees is accused of criminal behavior -- first-degree theft -- and the investigation is continuing. More indictments may follow.
It goes without saying that a conviction would disqualify Peters, a former speaker of the state House of Representatives, from continuing to serve as a Bishop Estate trustee. But even the indictment requires his temporary removal. No one under such a charge, involving the institution he is supposed to be serving, should continue to sit on the board of that institution unless and until he is cleared.
The attorney general has petitioned for the immediate removal of four of the five trustees pending the outcome of a trial to determine whether they should be permanently removed for abusing their positions. Clearly such an action is necessary in the case of Peters in view of his indictment. But the others are also so involved in defending themselves against charges of abusing their authority that they too should go.
Since the accusations against the trustees were made more than a year ago, the Bishop Estate and the Kamehameha Schools have been distracted from their missions by the controversy. It has been obvious that the offending trustees must be removed if conditions are to improve. It would have been preferable if they had resigned, but they have refused, choosing to fight whatever the cost to the institution they serve.
Peters' indictment adds urgency to the attorney general's petition for the immediate removal of all the trustees whose actions are under attack.
For Americans, the Thanksgiving holiday is rooted in the nation's origins with the Pilgrims and their struggle for survival in a new land.
In 1621 William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth Colony, called for a day of thanksgiving and prayer after the colonists' first harvest. After 1630 a day of thanksgiving was observed every year, and the custom spread to other colonies in New England. Thanksgiving Day was proclaimed a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.
Although this is not harvest time in Hawaii, we celebrate Thanksgiving with as much enthusiasm as Americans in more northerly climes. Only a small minority anywhere are still directly involved in agriculture, which makes the harvest connection less meaningful. But the symbolism is still important.
This has been another lean year for the economy here, although Governor Cayetano claimed in his re-election campaign that it is on the road to recovery. If so, that's something to be thankful for, although we have our doubts.
Hawaii residents can be thankful that the months-long ordeal of the election campaign is over. University of Hawaii football fans can be thankful that their season-long ordeal will soon be ended. Merchants can be thankful that the Christmas shopping season, which can make or break their year, is beginning.
And all of us who haven't been forced to leave for financial reasons can be thankful that we live in these beautiful islands.
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