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StarBulletin.com

Legislators' safety net may not work next year


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POSTED: Wednesday, June 10, 2009

If the power of incumbency is a given in Hawaii politics, then next year may be the election to prove the exception.

The coming 2010 elections will give voters a chance to say just how much they liked the state Capitol product. For many the answer is going to be “;Not too much, thank you.”;

On any given day incumbents in the Legislature have lots to fall back on. They have a title before their name, they have an office at the Capitol, they can get their pictures on TV and they have dozens of people on the public payroll figuring out ways to “;help them communicate with their constituents.”;

And they also have the cover of numbers, as in “;it wasn't my vote that killed your bill, it was all part of the majority package.”;

This year the scene shifted. First the state economy fell off the tracks. It wasn't anyone's fault; the country's economy slipped. And Hawaii is not going to feel the hurt that places like Michigan and other auto-dependent areas will experience.

But if you believe that a good tide lifts all boats, then when the tide goes out, everybody's boat sinks. That is what will happen this summer.

If Gov. Linda Lingle continues with furloughs or is blocked by the public sector unions and goes ahead with threatened layoffs, the 45,000 public workers will not look at the Legislature and say “;Thanks, we needed that.”;

And if Lingle heeds the union's call and orders the Legislature back into town to raise taxes, the rest of the state will not be looking to erect statues of the current 76 legislators.

With the budget only a source of fear and irritation, the Legislature this year then turned to social issues, managing to alternately scare and provoke both sides in the same-sex marriage issue.

First they said they will and then they said they won't approve civil unions for same-sex couples and then they looked like they might, as the state Senate toyed with the idea before falling back on the usual promise to study it.

Those who say civil unions are closer to same-sex marriage than anything they would approve don't trust the Legislature, while those who have waited and lobbied for years for civil unions feel they also have been misled.

Given this climate, when the Legislature assembles on Jan. 20, 2010, getting a quorum and finding 76 to show their faces may be the toughest vote.

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Richard Borreca writes on politics every Wednesday. Reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)