Given the litany of issues facing Maui Nui, you’d think the Mayor would have more important things to talk about than the Super Bowl. You’d be wrong. In fact, for the first 500-plus words of her 4,000-word State of the County address, Tavares never uttered the word “Maui.” She said “Saints” nine times and “Colts” twice, and offered an endorsement of the onside kick (in case you wondered where she stood on that pressing matter). OK, OK, so the point was to set up the Saints as a metaphor for Maui (get it?!), and to shoehorn in applause lines about “build[ing] on your success” and “stay[ing] in the game.” Problem is, that’s basically all we got. Other than imploring the state to let the counties keep their share of the Transient Accommodations Tax, the Mayor’s remarks contained few concrete ideas. Rhetorical questions? Check. Multiple callbacks to the tortured football analogy? Naturally. The bold assertion that “Maui County is absolutely the best!” You bet. Look, I get the idea: rousing speeches can lift spirits; Barack Obama has built much of his political career on that premise. But there comes a time when people need to be fed policy instead of platitudes, whether they like it or not. That’s leadership….
This week, the Medical Cannabis Working Group (MCWG) submitted a report on Hawaii’s medical marijuana system. But wait, you ask, didn’t Gov. Lingle kill that idea last year after it was approved by the legislature? Yes, but MCWG—a coalition of physicians, patients and advocacy groups—went ahead and did it anyway. Their conclusion? “Hawaii’s medical marijuana program is in need of very significant improvements.” OK, everyone knows that. What kind of improvements? The report recommends four key actions: “create a distribution system so that patients do not need to resort to the black market to obtain their medicine”; “increase the allowable number of plants and the amount of usable cannabis to ensure that patients have an adequate supply of their medicine”; “allow caregivers to care for at least five patients to ensure that patients are assured of an adequate supply and a competent caregiver”; and “transfer medical marijuana program oversight from the Department of Public Safety—a law enforcement agency—to the Department of Health.” Sounds reasonable. Which means, of course, none of it will happen ’til we get a new Governor…. “How much do you agree or disagree that overall, tourism has brought more benefits than problems to the state?” The Hawaii Tourism Authority posed that loaded question in its 2009 Resident Sentiment Survey, the results of which were released last week. Seventy-eight percent of respondents agreed, 21 percent disagreed and the other 1 percent have somehow managed not to form an opinion. That’s a slight shift compared to 2007, when 71 percent agreed, 22 percent disagreed and a full 7 percent “didn’t know.” The survey—conducted by Honolulu-based OmniTrak Group Inc.—cautions that “support of tourism is higher in bad times” and that “this may be a high water mark.” So when the tourists stay home, we think they bring benefits, but when they show up, not as much…. If you happen to live near the Hawaii state hospital on Oahu or know someone who does, the opening paragraph of SB2919 will not help you sleep at night: “The legislature finds that the Hawaii state hospital has suffered budget cuts and reductions in security positions, leaving the hospital vulnerable to escapes and security risks. Averaging six escapes a year and with numerous assaults upon staff, the high occupancy at the hospital, coupled with the budget cuts and security reductions, have compromised and jeopardized the safety of the workers and patients at the facility, as well as the community and surrounding neighborhood.” As recently as December, a man accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a child escaped from the psychiatric facility by climbing over a chain-link fence; he remains at large. On February 15, Department of Public Safety (DPS) Deputy Director Tommy Johnson told the Honolulu Advertiser that 17 security guards were laid off statewide in December and that “most of those” were at the state hospital. If SB2919 passes (as of this writing it was in the hands of the Ways and Means Committee), the hospital could get some of its guards back. That doesn’t address the underlying question: why did the firings happen in the first place? Similar to last year’s ag inspector layoffs, this looks like a case of cutting past the fat and into the bone….
The headline in the February 12 Advertiser declared “Hawaii-based Marines gearing up for major assault in Afghanistan.” Almost simultaneously, a dispatch from the National Priorities Project (NPP) landed in my inbox. NPP, for those unfamiliar, keeps track of defense spending, and breaks down tax contributions by region. (See for yourself at nationalpriorities.org.) Hawaii’s tab for the decade-old war in Afghanistan is $966.8 million. According to NPP, that money could have built 3,027 affordable housing units, or paid the annual salary of 17,878 elementary school teachers, or funded 213,790 university scholarships, or provided health care to 322,647 people for one year, or a lot of other things most of us can agree are good. I don’t get it. We’re engaged in a big national debate about government waste, and yet our vast military spending—which accounts for somewhere between one-quarter and one-half of the federal budget, depending on how you calculate it—is rarely part of the conversation. Then I remember that confused old lady at the McCain/Palin rally who said she was afraid of Obama because “he’s an Arab” and I do get it. And I feel sad.