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Tuesday, January 18, 2000

Hawaii State Seal

lawmakers ready
to rumble

State voters at ringside want
action this session on
reform proposals

By Richard Borreca


As a pre-session gift this year, legislators are getting first-aid kits from a labor union. It is just one sign of the rough ride ahead for the state Legislature.

Legislature 2000 "It is going to be like roller derby, a bruising session," vowed John Radcliffe, executive assistant director for the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, the union for state college professors.

Changing the way Hawaii's massive and all-encompassing state government operates by reforming civil service laws and public union bargaining agreements as suggested by Gov. Ben Cayetano has both the unions and the lawmakers on edge.

Politicians are quietly predicting few of the proposals will pass. The public unions are a recognized political force able to show displeasure with lawmakers by supporting their opponents in the next election.

Balanced against that tension, however, is an equally strong legislative feeling that this year, the public expects to see some action.

The mood is that the Legislature should not "duck the issues," said Democratic Rep. Marcus Oshiro, House vice speaker. "The public would rather have its representatives take a fair shot at an issue, instead of just bottling it up.

"It is time to show some boldness," he said.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
After being named acting attorney general last July, Earl Anzai
settled into his new office; on his desk was a copy of the attorney
general transition report and a book, "Banishing Bureaucracy."
Anzai's confirmation to the job may become a political
football in the new legislative session.

In the Senate, fellow Democrat Bob Nakata, chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, which will handle many of Cayetano's civil service reform proposals, also wants action.

Not only should the ideas be heard, but decisions must be made, Nakata said.

"There is more and more public pressure for decisiveness," he said.

"The public perception is that the Legislature tends to duck the issues, it is not entirely true, but it is the perception," Nakata said.

Senate President, Democrat Norman Mizuguchi, who has served in the Legislature for 26 years, also is hearing more than the usual rumblings this year.

"It is true, the call today is to be decisive, but we are falling into this disconnect; it isn't the same Hawaii, now people have a distrust of government and they aren't interested in the political process," he said.

Republican Rep. Barbara Marumoto said she knows what the problem is -- "every year it gets tighter and tighter."

"We are running out of time, we are running out of money, the people haven't seen any change and the pressure is building," Marumoto said.

GOP could get boost

A high level of public frustration is likely to help the GOP in the fall elections.

"I think we will come out of this session with even greater credibility," Marumoto said. "People are voting pocketbook issues and they are concerned about the size of government."

That GOP message also is being repeated by Democrats, who say the Legislature has become more conservative.

"There is a growing constituency clamoring for less taxes," said Oshiro, son of Bob Oshiro, one of the architects of the Democrats' 1954 political revolution.

The younger Oshiro sees the Legislature becoming more aware that "we can't be all things to all people." But at the same time social needs that cost more money have not vanished.

Joe Souki, former speaker of the House, however, said he's heard "the doomsayers" before.

"There isn't much controversy. In fact, they (legislators) are shying away from it," Souki says. "I don't believe much else is going to happen, everybody is going to be going underground, I don't see too much change."

Souki's successor, Speaker Calvin Say, is being positive, predicting progress on the controversial call for a fireworks ban and finding a location for a new prison.

"I feel very comfortable, very optimistic and relaxed about the session because the House is prepared and educated on the issues," he said.

'Instability' hurts Senate

Over in the Senate, however, time before the session was filled with skirmishes over who would run the place.

Mizuguchi held onto his position, but as veteran observer Souki put it, Mizuguchi wins by default.

"Norman is the only one who can lead, they don't like him -- but they hate everyone else more," Souki quipped.

Nakata, a member of one of the factions pushing for change in the Senate, admitted that no one had the votes to topple Mizuguchi. "The reorganization efforts have ended; nobody can effectively count to 13," he said.

Waianae Democrat Colleen Hanabusa also predicted that the Senate structure will remain because the "image of instability" will hurt its reputation.

Last year, senators weathered a firestorm of public protest when they voted not to confirm the appointments of Margery Bronster as attorney general and Earl Anzai as budget director.

Bronster, now in private practice, was seen as the key person in the Cayetano administration's efforts to reform Bishop Estate. Although senators protested that they had separate objections about Bronster's administrative abilities, her rejection was seen as a show of support for the entrenched Bishop Estate trustees.

Now the senators must revisit at least part of the issue again because Cayetano appointed Anzai as attorney general.

The issue is so controversial and uncertain that legislators still haven't decided when they will even take up Anzai's confirmation, let alone decide how they will vote on the matter.

Bad blood persists

How the Senate handles that will reflect how the Senate deals with Cayetano. Right now Mizuguchi and others admit that the relationship hasn't been good.

One Cayetano critic, Democrat Sen. Rod Tam, said Cayetano already sounds like a lame duck.

"The governor came to our caucus ... he said the same thing twice, 'I cannot run for re-election, and I will not run for any other office so you guys have to face the problems,' " Tam quoted Cayetano as saying.

"In my impression he is saying he doesn't care. If he doesn't care, he should resign."

Others, however, say Cayetano is just trying to make legislators assume more responsibility for their own actions.

But even Nakata, who is generally independent of pro- and anti-Cayetano factions, said the victories will be measured in part by how much the Senate and Cayetano can work together.

"Cayetano will have a lot to do about setting the state's agenda, but there will have to be some compromise," he said.

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