Furlough fiasco brings out the worst in our leaders


POSTED: Saturday, June 20, 2009

Folks in Hawaii who think the way their elected leaders behave is a joke ought to take a gander at what's going on with the New York Legislature and the Empire State's deeply unpopular and ineffective governor.

In an epic struggle for power, senators have barred the doors to their chambers, fought with the governor about changing the locks, attempted to gain allies for a coalition by promising quid pro quo on controversial same-sex marriage legislation and by fiercely courting a member previously shunned because he has been indicted on charges that he slashed his girlfriend with a broken glass.

When the governor made an appeal for returning to business, he begged lawmakers to please, please consider the plight of lobbyists. About the interests of New York citizens, he made no mention.

Though what happens next in that far eastern state probably has major consequences, we, in a far western state, have our own battle royal going and that's the absurd “;Fight of the Foolish over Furloughs.”;

In the ring with top billing right now are Gov. Linda Lingle and public employee union leaders.

Lingle has already gone several rounds with the Legislature, which refused to acknowledge its responsibilities for bringing the state's budget in line with revenues.

Wily provocateurs, legislators threw jabs at the governor to set up the match, made believe they'd done their fiscal duty (back-pats and high-fives all around!) then plunked down in the front row to catch the action.

Waiting on the apron are county mayors, with the heavyweight in political clout being none other than Honolulu's own Mufi Hannemann, who has a cosmic stake in the outcome if he is to win the championship belt, Lingle's office.

The governor has threatened to lay off 10,000 workers if the unions don't accept what looks to be the most no-pay, workday-reductions of all states carrying out furloughs. The unions have filed lawsuits, claiming their employer hasn't the authority to furlough anyone.

With the entry of the courts, all three esteemed branches of our government will have a glove in the duke-out. Get ready to rumble.

It had to be this way.

Hawaii's political leaders can't fight clean, can't help but choose confrontation over collaboration, either among themselves or with the individuals they depend on for government to work as best it can.

They operate on the premise that to get others to accept or agree, they have to back them into a corner. Similarly, union leaders think they have to make big shoulders or get pushed around when many of their members might choose to act more reasonably.

Furloughs are messy. Just putting out a schedule—everybody takes three Fridays off a month—will likely uncover myriad problems, and how furloughs affects law enforcement, critical research projects, maintenance programs, health care and services for the poor will play out as time passes.

Universal economic worries have been enough to unsettle Hawaii without having its leaders behave recklessly.

Though the issue eventually will be settled, bruises and cuts from this melee will have bad blood flowing long after the fighters have left the arena.

Cynthia Oi can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).