Bertram, GOP spar over child abuse ad


POSTED: Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Hawaii Republican Party is airing a radio ad on Maui attacking state Rep. Joe Bertram for criticizing the conviction of a friend who used the Internet to try to entice a 14-year-old girl into having sex.

; But Bertram, a Democrat from Makena-Kihei, fired back that the ads were “;un-American”; because his comments at a court hearing on the case were made as a private citizen and not as a legislator.

Mark Marcantonio, 52, was arrested in November 2007, after the girl he contacted turned out to be an undercover police detective. The Maui man pleaded no contest to a charge of second-degree electronic enticement of a child and was sentenced to nine months in jail.

At a sentencing hearing last week, Circuit Judge Joel August asked if anyone desired to appear on Marcantonio's behalf, and Bertram said he wanted to speak.

“;This is a bad law,”; Bertram told the court. “;It's an imaginary crime. I feel very strongly that people should not be put into prison for an imaginary crime, especially when you have somebody who's so committed to correcting this mistake.”;

The 60-second ad that began airing Tuesday is voiced by Marc Klass, whose 12-year-old daughter, Polly, was abducted and killed in 1993.

“;No parent should feel that pain,”; Klass states in the ad. “;That's why I dedicated my life to passing child protection laws. In this fight, I've seen some bad politicians. But state Rep. Joe Bertram stands out.”;

Klass adds later that as his daughter was being taken from her room by her kidnapper, she asked that her mom not be hurt.

“;In the worst moment, my brave little daughter thought of protecting others,”; Klass says. “;Shouldn't we expect the same from our elected officials?”;

In a statement announcing the ad, Klass went further and accused Bertram of using “;his position as an elected official to try to help a child predator avoid prison time.”; State GOP Chairman Willes Lee called on House Speaker Calvin Say and all Democrats to condemn Bertram.

But in an interview Tuesday, Bertram said he did not identify himself in court as a legislator or provide his name when he spoke at the hearing.

“;I was speaking strictly on my own behalf and not representing myself in any other sense or way,”; he said. “;Now we have the Republican Party saying I should be punished for my own personal opinion, and I find that reprehensible.”;

He stressed he does not condone enticement of minors for sex, or actually having sex with minors.

What he objected to was a law that he said penalizes people for potential rather than actual behavior.

“;As citizens of these United States, nobody gives up the right to speak their mind and their own personal opinion, no matter what the job is,”; Bertram added.