The Maui News made a questionable choice in their Aug. 19 Sunday Edition article “Not ready for prime time,” a review of local political observers’ views on the 2018 Maui County Council election races. The piece is problematic, not for any particularly controversial opinion within, but because of one of the pundits that Maui News City Editor Brian Perry rounded up for political commentary.
The article includes comments from Dick Mayer and Mark Sheehan… and former state representative and Speaker of the House, Joe Souki. Souki, you might remember, was forced to resign by the Hawai‘i State Ethics Commission earlier this year following an investigation into accusations filed against the longtime lawmaker for sexual harassment.
The Mar. 16 ethics investigation resolution report is pretty damning (and nauseating), and makes clear the way that Souki inappropriately treated women under the cover of being a high-ranking public official. It states that Souki admitted to touching and kissing “more than one woman in ways that were inappropriate and unwelcome… this physical contact exceeded the boundaries of the customary ‘aloha kiss.’” Former speaker Souki further admitted to making sexual comments “on the physical appearance of more than one woman, that were inappropriate and unwanted.”
“Because of his power as Speaker over legislation and budgeting questions,” the ethics report states, “women were reticent to confront Respondent Souki or to file a complaint with the House of Representatives regarding his conduct… Challenging then-Speaker Souki’s conduct could have jeopardized her [Rachel Wong, former Department of Human Services Director, who filed a complaint] agency’s budget and legislation… She, like others, felt she had no choice but to remain silent in the face of Respondent Souki’s behavior.”
Anita Hofschneider’s Mar. 21 article (“Hawai‘i House Speaker Forced Out…”) in Honolulu Civil Beat illustrates the culture of silence and acceptance of sexually inappropriate behavior in the workplace at the Hawai‘i State Legislature as “deeply ingrained.” Numerous women spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, and there are multiple reports of dismissal of women’s concerns regarding Souki’s behavior and acceptance of this abuse of power as normal (note: There has never been a female speaker of the house in Hawai‘i).
The allegations of sexual harassment and the subsequent investigation and resignation of Joe Souki came during the national #MeToo movement, a time when the abuses of power by high-ranking men are being exposed and receiving closer scrutiny as victims are encouraged to speak out and join a national conversation about misconduct and gender relations.
At this point, I have to ask: Really, The Maui News? In today’s climate, you can’t find anyone more qualified for political commentary than a disgraced public official who abused his power while in office? And then, you think it’s appropriate to cite him as a two-time speaker of the house with no recognition of his misconduct, like he simply decided that at the age of 87 it was time for the Summer of Joe? Come on – even the State Ethics Commission is barring Souki from seeking public office for two years.
Publishing Souki adds more questions to this conversation. Should Joe Souki be blackballed for his misconduct? Should someone who has abused power still be considered an expert in the exercise of that power? Is The Maui News unethically and inappropriately giving a platform to someone who has used status in the past to prey on others? Should there be long-term consequences for these individuals who are outed as harassers and abusers?
As the last year’s wave of perverts rolls away from our memory, this last question will prove decisive for the fate of men like Souki. Will we see Charlie Rose stage a comeback, pitch it as a redemption series, and invite a whole line-up of (former?) predators from Matt Lauer to Louis C.K. to share their perspectives on #MeToo?
If he does, I guess we know who’ll be willing to publish it, and kindly forget any troublesome history too.
At press time, The Maui News City Editor Brian Perry did not respond to a request for comment.
Photo courtesy joesouki.com