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Saturday, November 25, 2000

Public needed honest
answer on Cheney

Bullet The issue: Republican vice-presidential candidate Dick Cheney suffered a mild heart attack, which was initially reported as being less serious.

Bullet Our view: Candidates for national office are expected to be more open about their medical conditions.

A bipartisan sigh of relief followed the announcement by George W. Bush that his running mate Dick Cheney had not suffered a heart attack and had been hospitalized only as a precaution. The problem was it wasn't true. Bush had been misled about Cheney's condition, and so had the American people, who expect to be told the truth about the health of their leaders or potential leaders.

People seeking national office are expected to waive confidentiality about their health, although presidents have been coy in the past about their medical conditions. Americans have been shortchanged with information about Woodrow Wilson's stroke, Franklin D. Roosevelt's heart condition and Lyndon B. Johnson's skin cancer.

In 1992, Democratic presidential candidate Paul Tsongas and his doctors assured voters he was cancer-free after a bone marrow transplant, although it had recurred. Tsongas died of cancer two days before the beginning of the presidential term he sought.

Cheney, the secretary of defense in the Bush administration, declined suggestions in the 1990s that he run for president, citing his history of heart trouble. He had suffered three heart attacks, the third culminating in quadruple bypass surgery in 1988.

When he was chosen as George W. Bush's running mate, two of Cheney's doctors issued letters summarizing his medical history. Information in the letters was incomplete, but Cheney declined requests by news organizations to interview him and his doctors about his health. In vague terms, the Bush-Cheney campaign assured voters that Cheney was in good health.

At their first news conference after Cheney's hospitalization at George Washington Hospital, his doctors reported their patient's cardiac enzymes as "minimally elevated" and described his diagonal artery as "narrowed." They eventually conceded it was nearly completely blocked. Cheney actually had suffered his fourth heart attack, albeit a mild one.

To Bush's credit, his aides urged George Washington's doctors to hold a second news conference after learning that Cheney did have a heart attack. The campaign issued a statement the next day saying that Cheney was in "good condition" and "looks great."

The Bush-Cheney campaign's lack of candor about the vice-presidential candidate's health remains troubling. If the next administration is Republican, reports about the health of Cheney and, for that matter, Bush will be suspect until they earn back the people's trust about such matters.

Increase the penalties
for dangerous dogs

Bullet The issue: The Honolulu City Council is considering enactment of ordinances increasing penalties for harm caused by attacking canines.

Bullet Our view: The Council should enact the proposed ordinance changes and ask the Legislature to approve conforming measures.

RECENT attacks by vicious dogs have triggered enactment of ordinances on Maui and the Big Island, and the Honolulu City Council is considering similar action. The new neighbor island laws conflict with state law but have not been challenged. The Legislature should change the state law to allow such ordinances and the City Council should proceed with approving the change.

The current fine of only $20 for owners of dogs that attack people or other animals is hardly a deterrent. About 150 dog attacks are reported yearly on Oahu, but Pamela Burns, president of the Hawaiian Humane Society, believes the number of dog-bite incidents is much greater than that.

The City Council has given preliminary approval to a bill that would impose a fine of up to $2,000 and 30 days in jail for consciously allowing a dog to launch an attack that poses the threat of injury to a person or pet. A person whose negligence results in such an attack could be fined as much as $1,000 and jailed 25 days. The proposed law would take effect next July 1.

The Council's Community Services and Parks Committee also approved separate bills that would increase penalties for dog owners who repeatedly violate the ordinance requiring dogs to be under control and violators of the animal nuisance ordinances, which are aimed at penalizing disturbances caused by incessantly barking dogs.

The committee apparently chose to take the actions despite the conflict with state law. "My feeling is that although we may be pre-empted, this bill is really needed," said Councilman Gary Okino, committee chairman. "We cannot just stand by and work with a weak state statute that allows people to get away with having dangerous dogs."

The Council should give final approval to the proposed ordinances and ask the Legislature to approve changes in state law that will conform with its action. Dog owners need to be held more accountable for their pets' dangerous behavior.

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