Thursday, April 29, 1999
Senate votes showed
dark side of politicsThe issue: The nominations of Attorney General Margery Bronster and Budget Director Earl Anzai for second terms.THE state Senate's rejections of Margery Bronster and Earl Anzai for second terms in Governor Cayetano's cabinet showed the dark side of Hawaii politics, specifically Democratic politics. Cayetano's own colleagues dealt him a crushing blow by delivering what amounted to a vote of no confidence in his administration. They also raised doubts about the Democrats' ability to lead this state.
Our view: The rejections were based on politics, not merit.
The governor's opponents in his own party were willing to ditch two able public servants in order to cut him down to size and to further their own political interests.
In the process they in effect disowned Bronster's efforts as attorney general to hold the Bishop Estate trustees accountable for their abuses of authority. Her battles against the trustees constitute the most important legal cases in the history of the state. In addition, she has taken on the oil companies and won a $1.3 billion settlement with the tobacco companies -- an unparalleled record.
Voting down Bronster thus sent a terrible message. The Senate majority ousted her on the basis of contrived criticism that ranged for the most part from the silly to the spurious.
Coupled with the defeat of Bronster, the rejection of Earl Anzai, one of Cayetano's closest aides, made it unmistakably clear that the senators were aiming at the governor. We have not always agreed with Anzai, but as budget director in a period of fiscal austerity he had to make many tough decisions. He is an able and dedicated official and deserved reappointment.
It was appalling to hear Senate President Norman Mizuguchi declare that the senators had voted their consciences. That presumably included Marshall Ige, who is the subject of a criminal investigation by Bronster related to the Bishop Estate.
Mizuguchi refused to lift a finger to have Ige excuse himself from voting on the Bronster nomination despite this outrageous conflict of interest. The Senate president, in fact, illustrated the disunity in the Democratic Party at the highest level by himself voting against both Bronster and Anzai.
If the senators voted their consciences, they also voted the way the Bishop Estate trustees and the public employee unions wanted. Now the people of Hawaii would like to see whether this bickering, splintered party can stop the back-stabbing and get back to the business of governing the state.
OHAs breaking off
talks was regrettableThe issue: The Office of Hawaiian Affairs' suit against the state for income from ceded lands.CHIEF Justice Ronald Moon warned last year that the failure by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Cayetano administration to settle OHA claims to ceded land revenue could be "devastating to both parties." In withdrawing from settlement talks, OHA has chosen to force the Supreme Court's hand.
Our view: The decision to break off negotiations with the state and leave the issue to the state Supreme Court was a gamble that could be a costly mistake.
Laws enacted in 1979 and 1980 directed the state to pay OHA 20 percent of the income from lands of the Hawaiian monarchy that were ceded to the federal government upon annexation and transferred to the state at statehood. Under those laws, yearly payments have averaged $15 million. The dispute arose from a lawsuit filed by OHA demanding more money. The 20 percent was derived from the listing of welfare of native Hawaiians as one of five purposes stipulated in the 1959 Admissions Act.
Circuit Judge Daniel Heely ruled in 1996 that the state should make additional payments to OHA for the use of ceded lands by the Waikiki Duty Free store and Hilo Hospital and state housing sales and rentals. The Waikiki outlet was included because Honolulu Airport, where Duty Free operates, is on ceded land; tourists who purchase items at the Waikiki Duty Free store pick them up at the airport upon their departure.
However, revenue from the airport, including Duty Free, cannot be tapped for payment to OHA. Federal law requires that all state airport revenue be spent on airport improvements, so the equivalent of 20 percent of Duty Free's revenue would have to come from the state's general fund to be paid to OHA.
Legislators who enacted the law 20 years ago probably didn't realize the financial burden that could be involved. The state proposed a $251 million settlement, as long as OHA waived its current 20 percent share of revenue from ceded lands and its right to sue the state again for public land trust claims. A transfer of state lands to OHA was also reportedly part of the state's offer.
OHA's bottom line was $304 million plus full ownership of thousands of acres of state lands.
The negotiations evidently collapsed on the issue of the right to sue the state in the future. OHA's relinquishment of this right was a key demand of the Cayetano administration, and rightly so as a means of reaching a final settlement.
In walking away from the negotiations, OHA trustees have gambled that the Supreme Court will approve an amount more to their liking. If the trustees are right, the state could be hit with a judgment of staggering proportions. But the trustees could be wrong. A negotiated settlement would have been preferable, especially in view of the political ramifications of this case.
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