Other Views

By David M. Matsuura

Saturday, May 8, 1999

A senator’s vote
against Bronster

I have been asked why I voted against the confirmation of Mar-gery Bronster as attorney general. Let me begin by saying that the purpose and function of the Attorney General's Office is to advise and defend the State of Hawaii and its departments.

As vice chairman of the Committee on Governmental Operations and Housing, one of my responsibilities is to evaluate state departments with respect to their productivity and efficiency in delivery of public service.

I and my committee members found a common problem that transcended many of the departments in terms of overall efficiency and, in many cases, increased overall cost to the public: inefficiency and inaction by the A.G.

Many state departments asked for legislation to hire their own legal counsel (starting from 1995).

This session, I voted to allow the Board of Education and the Hawaiian Homes Commission to hire their own legal counsel. I also introduced legislation to have an independent attorney general.

It would have been hypocritical for me to vote to allow a state department to hire its own legal counsel because of problems with the A.G.'s Office, and then to vote for confirmation of the attorney general herself.

There are 161 attorneys in the A.G.'s Office, but there are only two attorneys assigned to the Felix consent decree in the Department of Education.

I have listened to special education teachers and principals complain about their problems, and how they feel that they are not being represented by the A.G. This situation has cost the state millions of dollars and has hurt our overall educational system.

As for the tobacco settlement and gasoline lawsuit the attorney general hired -- on a contingency fee basis -- the same law firm for both cases. In the tobacco settlement, the firm was not hired to litigate the case but only to settle it. For that "service," the state lost millions of dollars.

All the messages that I received in support of Bronster were because of her investigation of Bishop Estate. I am aware of public sentiment about the estate's trustees, and share many of the same sentiments. But the job of the A.G. is to take care of the "state," not the "estate."

This is a very emotional, complex issue. So people should ask themselves these questions:

Bullet How and with what could the Bishop Estate trustees, imperiled as their positions were, have influenced the Senate to reap 14 no votes on Bronster?

Bullet What is the state's goal in spending over $7 million on this investigation? The destruction of the estate and Kamehameha Schools? The chances of that happening are almost nil. At best, the removal of the trustees is the only thing that can happen.

Bullet Who will have the ability to appoint the new trustees? Who will benefit? The political reappointment of the new trustees will probably not change anything regarding the estate.

Bullet Why didn't the A.G. exercise her right as "parens patria" of the Bishop Estate? This would have saved the state millions, the investigation would have been over months ago and the outcome would have been the same. The only difference: There would have been no publicity.

Bullet Was this investigation political in nature? The A.G. is supposed to be independent and do what is best for the state. Will there be any liability to taxpayers due to this investigation?

Bullet Why wasn't the criminal portion of the case turned over to the Prosecutor's Office for indictment?

On the floor of the Senate, I stated that it was a threat to all senators when the attorney general stated she would begin the criminal indictment of our colleague (Sen. Marshall Ige). Her implied threat to intimidate a senator on the morning of her contested confirmation is a threat to all.

This was a very difficult decision but I believe that I did the right thing. I stand by my vote and my colleagues who voted the same way.

I would like to thank the people who said I should be more like my father. It helped me stand firm in my decision, because I know that Dad would have also voted no, given all the facts.

What I have learned from this experience is that it is very difficult to stand up for what is right when public opinion, the media and the governor are against you.

Time will tell if my vote was correct. If not, I have only myself to blame and will take full responsibility for my actions.

Democratic Sen. David M. Matsuura represents
the 2nd Senatorial District (South Hilo, Puna). His father,
the late Richard Matsuura, was also a state senator.

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