Richar Borreca

On Politics


Capitol bout nears
final countdown

Perhaps it is the phase of the moon, or the coming of spring or the generally unsettled nature of politics this year, but things are getting a little tense at the Legislature.

For instance, a legislative hearing on a resolution asking for an audit of an obscure bidding program within the Department of Accounting and General Services is not the sort of issue to generate much passion.

But last week, Sen. Cal Kawamoto (D, Waipahu), chairman of the government operations committee, was on his way to "fist city" as he assembled representatives of the trade unions, the contractors, the suppliers and the government bureaucrats to find out if an audit was needed for the program, called PIPS (Performance Information Procurement System).

By the time the hearing was over the contractors, union reps and suppliers were all up on their feet shouting, making "big body" and cussing each other.

Republican Sen. Fred Hemming said he didn't like the program for philosophical reasons.

"It is another example of the old-boy cronies and exploitation for the benefit of a few at the expense of everyone," he said about the PIPS program.

The tension, however, wasn't triggered by any debating society disagreement.

According to witnesses, one group was accusing another group of rigging the bids, which was being disputed by the other group.

A union rep waiting to testify on another bill became caught up in the moment and started exercising his middle finger after a witness finished.

The witness was offended and directed the rep to perform an act that can't be mentioned in a family newspaper. But, a larger and more formidable union representative sitting between the witness and the finger-waver thought the suggestion was made for him, causing him to rise and make some suggestions to the witness.

"I think the constructors were yelling at the rep and then something happened and then (the union rep) got upset.

"I chased them outside and they continued the argument outside," Kawamoto, a former Vietnam fighter pilot, explained.

Other witnesses said that when the group adjourned to the Capitol lanai there were suggestions that someone might find it easier to travel to the first floor -- if they "went over the railing."

Meanwhile, back in the hearing, Kawamoto temporarily instituted a requirement that only registered lobbyists could testify.

He said a representative of a new group wasn't a registered lobbyist and therefore couldn't submit testimony speaking for the group.

"I told them because you guys weren't registered, I won't allow you to testify as such, but I will allow you to testify as an individual and then he came back and argued," Kawamoto said.

"Your denial of a voice to HCC (Hawaii Construction Coalition) goes against the most fundamental right belonging to the citizens of this state, the right and privilege to speak their mind before their Legislature," Matt Tsukazaki wrote in a letter to Kawamoto and other senators after the hearing.

Kawamoto says now he will permit people to testify as individuals before his committee.

And what about the program at the center of the storm?

Gordon Matsuoka, state public works engineer, whose department runs the PIPS program, said the state is conducting its own audit of the program.

Critics have said that is the problem: DAGS is essentially monitoring its own performance and the result wouldn't be believable.

Matsuoka, however, wasn't able to answer any questions about the program.

"I need the comptrollers' approval, so if you fax me the questions I will respond in writing after I get his approval, but he is gone now and won't be back until Monday," Matsuoka said.

Meanwhile, the Legislature is two-thirds finished and it appears that a round of celebrity boxing may be the best way to end the session.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at

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