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Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, March 10, 2000

view of government

IF you want to know what's going on (or what is ABOUT to go on) within Hawaii's largest and most prolific law-making body, ask the Rev. Frank A. Chong.

Since 1982, the executive director of the Waikiki Health Center has been wandering the hallways of our illustrious state Capitol with two main missions in mind.

When Chong is not advocating for various human-services causes, he's studiously gathering info for his annual Legislative Action Yellow Pages (LAYP), which he describes as an "irreverent" guide to the Hawaii state Legislature.

It's far from boring reading. In fact, the gawky, bespectacled scribe has remarkably astute powers of observation when it comes to the machinations of government, and he's not afraid to tell it like it is.

According to his LAYP Year 2000 supplement, hot off the presses, here's what the good citizens of Hawaii have to look forward to during the rest of the session:

Bullet A disorganized Senate. "Last year's Bronster/Anzai vote will be analyzed for many years to come. The fallout is that the Senate is in disarray and more disorganized than it has been for a number of years. A lot of dissension but no one clearly out in front vying for position. President Norman Mizuguchi's tenure is in doubt, not only as president of the Senate, but also as a legislator."

Bullet No civil service reform. "There's a lot of talk about civil service reform but not much to show for it. Don't look for any change here. Civil service has been with us for over 50 years and collective bargaining is in the state Constitution. With the Senate in disarray, it will be difficult to get anything as complicated as this to pass. Besides, the unions have a lock on the Senate. (But) unless civil service and collective bargaining are radically reformed soon, we will continue to be part of a medieval oligarchy, and it will probably take another century to extract ourselves."

Bullet Mental un-health. "Shame on us! Court consent decrees continue to plague Hawaii. Our mental health system is so bad that federal Judge David Ezra has threatened to take over the State Hospital if the Legislature doesn't appropriate enough money to get the job done by June. Children's mental health is not in any better shape, and the result is the Felix consent decree. If the state continues to be out of compliance and the federal courts take over, the first thing they take is the checkbook."

Bullet The "S" word. "Sovereignty has probably eclipsed its politically correct popularity and is no longer as pressing an issue as it once was. It remains, however, the most profound existential, theological and political issue our community has to deal with in the 21st century. Consequently, the Legislature is probably the least likely place for it to be discussed."

RATHER depressing, isn't it? But wait, there's more. In closing, here is Chong's somber assessment of Hawaii at the "dawn of a new millennium."

"(We have) a ship of state that has neither an anchor nor a compass," the minister believes. "While part of the ship appears to be righting itself, it is more through external economic forces than anything that we have done. It is much like sitting in the doldrums waiting for some wind.

"But with neither compass nor sextant, nor the skill of the Polynesian navigators, we are at a loss for direction. We are still lacking strong, charismatic leadership."

For your own copy of LAYP, including the 2000 update, call Anne at 808-922-3028.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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