Rare is the state lawmaker with concerns for the people


POSTED: Wednesday, April 01, 2009

In the animal kingdom, there are mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, insects and other creatures.

Then there are state legislators.

Some could still be classified as vertebrates, but most have morphed into life forms closer to amoebas and mollusks, a subspecies without spines.

They are a breed apart and make no sense.

They are community leaders who seldom lead, whose concern for the public's welfare runs a distant second to self-absorption, who hustle to gain the favor of the powerful and the moneyed so as to preserve a habitat in the state Capitol buffered and economic climate-controlled from the real world. They live in a cozy domain where the financial blows crushing regular people are theoretic and remote and where principles last as long as shave ice spilled on the sidewalk in summer.

They are empty of ideas to better the human condition in the islands, fat with schemes to make rivals look bad and well-versed in the ways of avoiding hard choices. Masters of spin, they weave rags into tapestries flimsy with half-truths and equivocation. And none ever admit mistakes.

Worse, they know that we know of their tricks and feints, but are adept at denial and rationalization. They couldn't care less because they hold the keys to doors that shut out challengers and they know that apathy and frustration keep enough voters in front of the TV set or the hibachi when election day rolls around. A pox on all their houses.

OK, tantrum over. I feel better, at least for the moment.

Admittedly, legislators are easy targets, but it's not like there aren't good reasons to call them out.

Most recent was the dizzying turnabout on the civil unions bill in the Senate. At first, most senators said they supported the bill and, as high-minded lawmakers, would vote for it—if it came to a floor vote. Then they made the “;if”; big, mewling that they had to, just had to, respect legislative procedure and defer to a committee's tie vote on the measure, as though a tie can be considered decisive.

Then there's the festering matter of their pay raises. Lawmakers are proposing to cut hundreds of state positions and programs that largely help people who most need help in bad times. They claim that rejecting their 36 percent raises would save only about $4 million, never mind that $4 million could keep scores of people employed in jobs crucial to those in need.

With an alarming budget crisis before them, legislators are more interested in picking fights with Gov. Linda Lingle than in finding ways to get out of a hole, and Lingle hasn't done much to tamp down the fireworks either.

Their behavior invites suggestion that a steel-cage punch-fest of neon-spandexed politicians would be as productive as the current battle of the babbling.

Sometimes you have to wonder how Capitol denizens lose their way, whether a needful ego, an inflated sense of self, a fanciful psyche or all of the above suppressed an original desire to serve the public.

To be sure, there are a few—the Iharas, Kidanis, Moritas and Oshiros—who haven't fallen gravely ill to the poisoned atmosphere. They make up a rare genus too small to fill a void of legislative leadership made deeper by a vacuum of opposition. In this environment, consensus becomes a bad word. Maybe it's the air.