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Tuesday, May 30, 2000

State Democrats defy
Cayetano on reform

Bullet The issue: The state Democratic convention defied Governor Cayetano in adopting a party platform that ignored his proposal to abolish mandatory arbitration.

Bullet Our view: The public employee unions showed they call the shots in the party.

BEN Cayetano is trying to cure the Hawaii Democratic Party of its craven obeisance to the public employee unions, but the party is having none of it. The governor's proposals to reform civil service and reduce excessive employee benefits were in the main emphatically rejected in the just-completed session of the Legislature.

Last weekend he got similar treatment at the state party convention. Cayetano has proposed that the state abolish binding arbitration for public employee unions except the police and firefighters. He complains that the arbitrators' awards often favor the unions and leave the state to finance contract increases that it can't afford. Restoring the right to strike and abolishing arbitration, he contends, would make it more difficult for the unions to win increases over the state's opposition than the current system.

That proposal, which the unions of course opposed because members don't want to strike if they can get their raises through arbitration, went nowhere in the Legislature. Last weekend the convention delegates thumbed their noses at the governor by approving a platform that pledges Democrats will support labor agreements reached through arbitration. Later they amended it to read the Legislature "shall be encouraged" to fund increases.

Cayetano protested that the initial wording contradicted state law. "I have a problem with the language because it says, fund it no matter what. So are we going to cut education? Cut welfare? How are you going to do this? You can put it in, but it's meaningless because there's no way you can implement that."

The governor pointed out that the law does not compel implementation of collective bargaining agreements. What it requires is that the Legislature and the executive balance the budget. If the budget isn't balanced, he said, the Legislature "shouldn't be funding collective bargaining agreements."

That is perfectly true, but it's not what the public employee unions wanted to hear.

Cayetano has always been a maverick, going back to his days in the Legislature. But it was only after he was safely elected to a second term as governor that he took on the public employee unions in earnest.

At the convention, he maintained that changes are needed even if some longtime party members are offended. He argued that the people deserve Democrats who understand that state and county governments must be reformed to become more flexible and efficient.

Also speaking at the convention was the state party's elder statesman, Daniel Inouye. Hawaii's senior senator deplored dissension among Hawaii Democrats and warned that such divisions could lead to defeat. Inouye cited a recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal that compared the Democratic domination here to New York's notorious Tammany Hall. He said Democrats should take such criticism seriously.

Indeed they should, but, judging from this convention, they aren't listening. The party is in the pocket of the public employee unions, which get Democrats elected and then exact pay and benefit increases in exchange.

This is a machine that has dominated Hawaii politics since 1954. It has held the governorship since 1962, electing a succession of lieutenant governors to the vacated top post with a regularity befitting a hereditary monarchy.

It's not going to give up without a struggle, and that struggle depends on the public deciding it has had enough.

Martial law in Fiji

Bullet The issue: The commander of the Fijian armed forces has declared martial law in an attempt to cope with an attempted coup that has immobilized government.

Bullet Our view: Fiji is on the verge of denying the Indian community its political rights, which would amount to a disaster for democracy.

THE crisis in Fiji has taken a dramatic turn with a declaration of martial law by the commander of the armed forces. If the declaration is effectively implemented it may mean an end to the violence that has flared up several times since the current emergency began on May 19 with the seizure of the prime minister and his cabinet by a band of ethnic Fijians.

That of course would be welcome but there is no assurance that the leader of the coup is prepared to surrender his hostages and relinquish his position peacefully.

In addition, it appears that the price of a peaceful resolution will be abandonment of the elected government and deprivation of Fiji's large Indian community of its political rights.

The coup leader, George Speight, described as an unsuccessful businessman, forced the prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, to resign at gunpoint and claimed power. President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, who had refused to recognize Speight as the new leader and proclaimed a state of emergency, reportedly was forced to resign by the military commander, Commodore Frank Bainamarama.

The Council of Chiefs, an unofficial but influential body representing the Melanesian elders, had helped tip the balance against the elected government, which is headed by the first ethnic Indian prime minister. Regrettably, even the most respected segments of the ethnic Fijian community have let their conflict with the Indians take precedence over democracy and the rule of law.

Australia and New Zealand warned that Fiji's membership in the Commonwealth would be suspended if it rejected democracy, but no one appeared to be listening. The crisis is shaping up as a disaster for democracy unless someone in authority comes to his senses.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

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A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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