Four of five U.S. states prefer to elect their attorneys general rather than trust their appointments to a governor. Hawai’i has always sat quietly in that minority, but may be changing—assuming SB 2148, introduced by state Senator Colleen Hanabusa, gets passed. That bill would put the attorney general job on the ballot. Governor Linda Lingle—who appointed Mark Bennett, our current AG—opposes it, which isn’t surprising. But what is surprising is the general feeling that putting the AG before the voters will cleanse the position of political influences. The Attorney General will have to campaign like any other elected official, and that means raising huge amounts of money from people like prison guard unions, police benevolent societies and private prison builders and operators. The question then is do we want our top law enforcement officers beholden to a bunch of scary pro-jail special interests or a scary pro-jail governor? No need to rush—I’ll wait… Oh, and today the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to bend over to the food industry and remove many warning labels from the food we eat. You know, labels like those warning consumers there’s a lot of lead in the candy or arsenic in the water. The U.S. Senate’s expected to do the same. Hey, what did you people expect when you voted for Republicans to take over Congress?
THURSDAY, March 9
It seems terribly ironic, but according to today’s Honolulu Advertiser, the state’s largest funeral-home operator has allegedly ripped off as many as 50,000 living people. The problem seems deceptively simple: RightStar—the group of companies that operates cemeteries throughout Hawai’i, including Maui Memorial Park—has been under civil and criminal investigation since 2004 for alleged “mismanagement” of Pre-Need Trusts (burial plots bought by people who haven’t died yet). In fact, a recent court-ordered examination of the RightStar books is unusually harsh in its judgment, alleging, “the Pre-Need Trusts have been routinely misused, mismanaged and looted by those who operated the RightStar companies,” according to the Advertiser. The court papers allege between $20 million and $30 million has gone missing—more exact numbers won’t be available until the court orders a “contract-by-contract examination.” RightStar officials have previously denied committing any wrongdoing but didn’t respond to the Advertiser.
FRIDAY, March 10
It’s taken a while, but Maui County Councilman Dain Kane has finally made up his mind to run for mayor. Reportedly referring to himself and using the Royal We, Kane announced that his single greatest push would be water, which is ironic considering that his many opponents—Council woman Charmaine Tavares, former Mayor James “Kimo” Apana and incumbent Mayor Alan Arakawa, among others who don’t carry such weighty (for Maui) names—will be sorely tempted to identify Kane with alcohol. But that’s still months away, and for his part, Kane says he won’t try to duck his recent DUI conviction on Kauai. He also says he’s a natural for the job because he gets along so well with people. “I still have great relationships with all of my colleagues,” The Maui News quoted him as saying, “for the most part.”
SATURDAY, March 11
Still trying to grasp all the subtleties and nuances contained in this, the last line of a March 9 Associated Press story on a recent visit by President George W. Bush and his wife Laura to hurricane-ravaged Louisiana: “The Bushes also stopped at a waterfront home that is being rebuilt and the president picked up a hammer to install a light fixture.”
SUNDAY, March 12
The Honolulu Advertiser kicks off Sunshine Week by informing readers that they pretty much have the worst access to state government records in all the U.S. Not that there aren’t plenty of campaign finance documents online, because there are, but the story makes clear that the state just doesn’t seem to list public access to the government papers—which we’ve all paid for, by the way—very high on its hierarchy of priorities. And this is why I hate Sunshine Week. We in the media spend a week crying into our soup about how government is getting increasingly secretive about the most arcane matters—which they are, don’t get me wrong—and what happens? Nothing, if we’re lucky. If we’re unlucky, we get a slew of officials who come out and cry with us and promise us to make things better, which we dutifully cheer until we hear that their proposed legislation has died for lack of support.
MONDAY, March 13
Our elected officials still let us see proposed laws, and state Representative Brian Schatz (D, 25th District) wants us to pay attention to a new one, SB 2360. Calling for “Immediate Action,” he—or rather, his press release—announced today that the House Water, Land and Ocean Resources Committee will hear legislation making ship owners accountable for when their ships run aground on reefs and such. In fact, the bill would—and I know this sounds crazy—make it possible for the state to move in and remove a wrecked ship “immediately” and then drop all associated costs on the back of the owner. “Every second that a ship sits grounded is another second that we risk permanent damage to a reef—whether that damage is physical or from leaking fuel and refuse,” said Schatz in his release. Every second? How about every year? A steel-hulled sailboat has been ground into the reef in front of Lahaina’s Front Street since Halloween, 2004.
TUESDAY, March 14
This morning the Honolulu Advertiser quotes state Representative Sylvia Luke (D, 26th District) as saying Hawai’i really needs a “task force” to look over our open government law and decide if we need to make it better. “What I would like to do is start a conversation about what the sunshine law is,” Luke told the paper. Of course, according to the paper she wanted to start that conversation immediately, without even letting her allies really dig into her proposed legislation. After trying to rush her bill into a hearing this week, open government activists succeeded in getting her to postpone any action until March 21.
Anthony Pignataro once ran for the office of town dog catcher, but lost to a gentleman who knew what he was doing. MTW