Friday, May 25, 2001

Isle senators gain power
with Jefford’s defection

The issue: Hawaii's two senators
will be elevated into leadership roles as
the Democrats take control of the Senate.

PRESIDENT Bush's promise to be "a uniter, not a divider," has been severely damaged on Capitol Hill with the bolting of Vermont Sen. James M. Jeffords from the Republican Party, thus putting Democrats in control of the Senate. Senators Inouye and Akaka will be thrust into leadership positions, which they should seek with Hawaii's best interests in mind.

With an unprecedented 50-50 split in the Senate and Vice President Dick Cheney's tie-breaking vote when needed, President Bush apparently felt confident in relying upon solid GOP support for his conservative agenda. As a moderate, Jeffords objected to some Bush proposals, most notably the level of tax cuts proposed, and the White House responded with indignation instead of diplomacy. The president will pay dearly for that lack of tact.

Committee and subcommittee chairman determine the issues to be taken up by their panels and can block presidential nominations for judgeships and high executive posts. Democrats may comprise the majority on each committee and thereby block conservative legislation from reaching the Senate floor, except by amendment. With Democrats at the controls, Bush's attempts to appoint conservative federal judges may well be futile.

Inouye is in line to head the Indian Affairs Committee, a relatively minor panel but one that is instrumental in guiding through the Senate a Hawaiian sovereignty bill. Ironically, the Indian Affairs Committee has been headed by Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who changed parties from Democrat to Republican in 1995, a year after Republicans became the Senate majority. What goes around comes around.

Inouye said he also expects to head two important subcommittees -- the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense and the Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Telecommunications. Those positions would be important in sustaining a military presence in Hawaii and providing a boost to the state's aspiring technology industry.

By moving up from his position as ranking Democrat, Akaka could become chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support and the Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation and Federal Services.

Seniority and current committee assignments are no longer the only factors in determining which senators will be assigned which leadership posts. Party loyalty on issues and a variety of other considerations could come into play in a process that may take on the character of an auction.

Hawaii's two senators have been effective with Democrats in the minority through their ability to reach common ground with senators of both parties. Jeffords' bolting from the GOP indicates that Bush has difficulty exercising that trait even within his own party, a huge handicap to emerge so early in his administration.

Hawaii’s schools could
benefit from Bush’s plan

The issue: President Bush's educational
program provides Hawaii with incentives
to improve the state's public schools.

As Hawaii's public school system struggles to overcome budget shortages and deficient educational programs, good news comes from Washington where the House has approved President Bush's broad plan to overhaul federal policies on education.

While state officials are not sure how the specifics of the plan will affect Hawaii, its challenges and incentives should motivate administrators, the Board of Education, teachers and parents to embrace the opportunity for improvement.

The plan requires states to monitor educational performance by testing third- through eighth-grade students in reading and math. How much flexibility a school will have for using federal aid will depend on student achievement.

The bill does not specify a standard test by which performances will be measured, a point of concern in light of a recent report by The New York Times that one a testing company had erroneously computed the scores of tens of thousands of students in six states. Hawaii's officials should closely examine testing enterprises if the choice of companies is theirs to make.

To receive federal funds, the bill requires states to have a qualified teacher in every classroom within four years of the plan's start. This will be of particular significance in Hawaii where at last count, 69 classrooms were without teachers while 55 others were staffed by uncertified teachers.

The $24 billion House bill allots more money for needy students, doubles federal aid for disadvantaged students and triples literacy funds. Hawaii's congressional delegation should lobby hard to get the state a good share of these dollars since recent test scores that showed students here are deficient in reading skills.

The measure contains $500 million to help failing schools improve, but sets strict standards. If these schools do not make gains in three years, the state can take corrective action, such as changing the school's curriculum. If improvements aren't achieved after five years, the school can be dismantled or placed under private operation. These firm timetables are the kind of goal-oriented models Hawaii educators should use in their efforts.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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