Senators’ hounding
of cruise line
violated ethics


Senate Republicans have accused Sen. Brian Kanno of ethics violations after the firing of a cruise line employee.

STATE legislators using their political muscle to help their friends outside the political arena need to be reined in. Sen. Brian Kanno says his strong-arm tactics are merely "constituent service," but he and other legislators need to be instructed about the limits of what is commonly called casework. The example at hand does not even come close to falling under that category.

Kanno and Sen. Rosalyn Baker abused their authority when they interceded with a private employer on behalf of an individual. Kanno also helped the man secure a legislative job from which he resigned last week. Baker last year recommended to Norwegian Cruise Line that it hire longtime gay rights activist Leon Rouse as a cabin steward. The state ethics code prohibits legislators from using their official positions "to secure or grant unwarranted privileges, exemptions, advantages, contracts or treatment for oneself or others."

Norwegian hired Rouse but fired him within the 90-day probationary period because of allegations of sexual harassment of male cruise employees, according to KITV 4 News. Kanno then persuaded Baker and six other Democratic Senate committee chairmen to join him in signing a letter to Norwegian supporting Rouse's attempt to obtain travel expenses and restitution.

Kanno, chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, also introduced a resolution seeking an explanation from Norwegian about its personnel policies and directing the state Tax Department to determine whether the cruise line should have to pay the state's hotel room tax. The resolution was not acted upon.

After Senate Republicans called for the state Ethics Commission to investigate the arm-twisting, Kanno issued a written statement saying, "I have always believed that constituent service is important for all elected officials." Actually, Rouse lives in Waikiki so he is not a constituent of Kanno's, who represents Kalaeloa and Makakilo. Rouse's senator is Republican Gordon Trimble.

In a 1971 ruling, the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger noted that members of Congress "engage in many activities other than purely legislative activities." He said those "include a wide range of legitimate 'errands' performed for constituents, the making of appointments with government agencies, assistance in securing government contracts, preparing so-called 'newsletters' to constituents, news releases and speeches delivered outside of Congress.

"The term 'casework' usually contemplated a legislator's intervention with executive branch agencies" on behalf of constituents, Burger wrote. He added that some authorities, including the U.S. House Ethics Manual, "considered casework to include intervention with the judiciary."

Similar to the U.S. House, the Hawaii Ethics Commission ruled eight years ago that a legislator's letter to a sentencing judge "was not a misuse of position for a legislator to intervene with a government agency on behalf of a constituent."

By no stretch of the imagination does "constituent service" include intervention with private companies. The Democratic senators' harassment of Norwegian on behalf of Rouse was an unbridled misuse of their positions.

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