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Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, May 3, 2000

Why civil service
reform failed

CONVENTIONAL wisdom holds two items to be true at the close of this year's legislative session: The unions killed civil service reform and we are poised for a big high-tech boom.

There's truth in both, but not the whole story. First civil service reform.

Part of the reason for the meager civil service reform this year, despite the dedicated efforts of Gov. Ben Caye-tano and his administration, rests in the numbers of the last two campaigns for governor.

Put bluntly, Cayetano is not a popular governor. In 1994, in a three-way general election race, Cayetano won, but he did not win a majority. In fact, in that first race for governor, the combined vote against Cayetano or for someone else was almost 100,000 votes more than the 135,000 picked up by Cayetano.

Two years ago Cayetano barely won re-election. In the primary election, the Republican opponent, Linda Lingle, actually picked up more votes than Cayetano.

In the general, Cayetano won, but because of third-party candidates he was again denied a majority.

So when Cayetano enters the argument he does so without a mandate. There is no political capital to spend, no loyal troops to say "right or wrong, we are with you."

But in the face of that, Hawaii is a Democratic, pro-union state and Democratic pro-union legislators do have an overwhelming mandate to govern.

Union leaders will spend much of this year drawing that bind tighter by linking Hawaii's political past to progress made by labor unions.

Arguments to reform civil service and change government to operate efficiently and effectively will have to swim upstream. If Cayetano had had more of a mandate of his own, or if he had been able to hook a ride on the back of another popular leader, his programs would have fared better.

As it was, when unions rallied at the capitol against the Cayetano reforms, two Democratic leaders, U.S. Reps. Patsy Mink and Neil Abercrombie, enthusiastically supported the unions.

As far as high tech goes, we are on the verge of a great leap forward only because we are so far behind today.

Last month's issue of State Legislatures notes that except for Hawaii, every state that levies a personal income tax allows electronic filing of state income tax returns.

In a move that Hawaii should have thought of years ago, the Nevada legislature has gone wireless. In 1996 it outfitted the entire legislature with wireless notebook computers.

State legislators in Nevada can pop open their laptops and tune into sessions or committee hearings, because they are all carried over the Internet.

The site has a place to register your vote on bills before the legislature and a tally to see how the public views the legislation under review. In California, the Internet system tracks the bills you are interested in and sends you an email when they are up for a vote.

In Hawaii, by comparison, some legislators yesterday complained that they didn't even know what was in the state budget bill until after it was printed.

Because Nevada was the first state to video-conference committee hearings, the public across the state can tune into important committee hearings. Hawaii's legislature is working on this, but it is nowhere as far along as Nevada.

E-government and digital democracy are just coming to Hawaii, while across the country they are not revolutions; they are daily facts of life. And that is why Hawaii is so far behind.

Legislature Directory
Hawaii Revised Statutes
Legislature Bills

Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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