Friday, April 30, 1999

Bronster's ouster:

Anger, distrust
bring speculation
of reorganization,
late adjournment

Some believe the freshmen
will leave the caustic session
with more of the marbles

Bishop Estate probe to continue

Readers have their say

By Mike Yuen


Legislature '99 In the aftermath of the Senate's refusal to confirm Attorney General Margery Bronster and Budget Director Earl Anzai, undercurrents of anger, distrust and alienation are surging through the 25-member body.

And amid the emotional rawness, many wonder if the wounds from the Senate's confirmation votes will prevent the Legislature from adjourning as scheduled in four days - on Tuesday.

There's even talk in some circles that a Senate reorganization could occur before the legislative session ends, with freshmen gaining more powerful positions.

"I think the chance of change happening is higher now than at any other time," said first-term Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae). "I'm not saying you will (see a leadership shakeup before Tuesday). But you could."

Hanabusa was one of five freshman senators who tried to engineer a Senate reorganization earlier in the session. Her name was mentioned prominently yesterday in conversations at the Capitol as someone who could emerge as the chamber's new president. If that turns out to be the case, it would mark the first time a freshman would be the leader of either the House or Senate.

"I would support a reorganization if it moves us forward, and we don't have to say to our constituents that we had another "do-nothing' Legislature," Hanabusa said.

The failed coup attempt earlier in the session did not target Senate President President Norman Mizuguchi (D, Aiea), Hanabusa stressed. She said a leadership change doesn't have to lead to Mizuguchi's ouster.

Nor is she lusting after the presidency, she added.

Then in a statement that appeared directed more at veteran dissident senators who believe Mizuguchi is a weak leader, she said: "The reason I say that is because a lot has been made of the fact that we are freshmen. The 'institutional types' who are here have all said that because we're freshmen, we don't have the knowledge or the wherewithal to pull it off. So if such an opportunity (for the presidency) were to arise, that's the first question I would have too deal with."

How she might answer that question is unclear, Hanabusa said.

Mizuguchi said he is focused on the Legislature passing legislation to assist small businesses and to fund retroactive pay raises for government workers - not on Senate intrigue."I will not be distracted by these kinds of rumors or discussions. As leader I am going to have to pull it all together and get out by Tuesday."

If lawmakers don't adjourn as scheduled, the electorate would be more upset with them than it is over the Senate's rejection of Bronster and Anzai, he said.

"It's time to move on," Mizuguchi said.

Other senators, however, felt that won't be easy.

Senate Judiciary Co-Chairman Avery Chumbley (D, Kihei), who with fellow Co-Chairman Matt Matsunaga (D, Palolo) recommended that Bronster be confirmed, said: "There's many people who have deep feelings and there's going to have to be some healing among many members at this point."

Chumbley said something was suspicious with the Senate's quick firing of Anzai - it took only minutes - after the two and a half hour debate on Bronster's fate.

The Senate rejected Bronster, 14-11; Anzai, 15-10.

"There will always be hurt feelings when . . . something as divisive as the Bronster vote happens," said Hanabusa, who like Mizuguchi, voted against both Bronster and Anzai.

"People were calling each other names and innuendos were flying on the floor about people being bought and so forth," she said.

"There'll always be hurt feelings."

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Backlash over
Bronster vote

Mike Yuen


Like his 13 other colleagues who voted not to reconfirm Attorney General Margery Bronster, Sen. Brian Kanno knows that his vote was unpopular.

The public clearly supports her investigation of the Bishop Estate and there now exists the perception that the Senate's rejection of Bronster was somehow influenced by the estate, one of the nation's largest charitable trusts, Kanno acknowledged yesterday.

"I was elected in 1992, so I didn't even overlap with Dickie Wong (estate trustee and former Senate president)," Kanno (D, Ewa Beach) said. "I barely even know him. I don't even have connections to the Bishop Estate."

He has every expectation, Kanno said, that the state's probe of the estate will continue to "a successful conclusion. I just hope all voters and residents are able to understand that just because we voted no doesn't mean we want it to end. I fully support her on the investigation. I want it to continue. I'll be happy if the governor names her special prosecutor of the Bishop Estate.

"But what we're saying is as attorney general, she is the chief legal officer for all state departments. She has really been a poor manager."

It is Bronster's overall performance that has been called into question, Kanno said.

With Bronster's ouster still fresh in the public's mind and scores of isle residents venting their feelings by telephone, facsimile and e-mail to their senators, those who voted against Bronster are volunteering fuller explanations for their decision.

Senate Republican leader Whitney Anderson of Kailua faxed to the Star-Bulletin a two-page memo he had sent several days before the Bronster vote to all Senate members. It outlined eight areas of concerns that "should not make this appointment a slam-dunk deal."

Senate Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Chun (D, Lihue) was easily accessible for interviews yesterday.

Kanno unabashedly steered a Star-Bulletin interview on another subject to his vote on Bronster. In five days, his position on Bronster had changed from approval to undecided to, finally, rejection.

It is difficult to say that any particular person swayed him, Kanno said. He wasn't lobbied by Russell Okata, executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association since "officially the HGEA position was neutral. I went to him and asked him," said Kanno, a leading labor advocate.

Like Okata, Kanno found fault with Bronster's legal opinion that the Legislature's deferral last year in funding union labor contracts was a rejection of the pacts.

An HGEA report states: "Her faulty opinion was disputed by Gov. Cayetano and leaders in the Senate and House, who assured HGEA they did not reject the contracts. Their inaction, prompted by the state's budget problems, was a deferral, not a rejection."

Kanno and the HGEA position paper also cited:

Bullet Bronster's defeat in the courts for opining that a constitutional convention should be held since blank votes should not be counted as no votes in that 1996 ballot measure. Public and private unions feared that a constitutional parley could have opened the door to a rollback of workers' rights and benefits.

Bullet Assigning only two attorneys to the Department of Education to deal with the federal consent decree mandating services for emotionally troubled students.

Kanno also criticized Bronster for her office's handling of the controversy over the integrity of last year's vote count, ceded lands and Hawaiian homelands claims. His other criticisms of Bronster included micromanaging, tardiness in issuing legal opinions and signing contracts.

Bronster's attention to the Bishop Estate investigation meant not enough attention was given to her other responsibilities, Kanno said.

"You know, it's so funny," Bronster countered. "You hear about this and on the one hand, I've diverted, I've not been paying attention. And on the other hand, I've been micromanaging and I've been involved in everybody's business and I've been doing everything.

"I just don't buy it. I think that I have done a good job of balancing, making sure that we haven't just been tackling the Bishop Estate problems. We've done a lot of other high-profile things, as I said, and a tremendous number of smaller ones."

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