Tuesday, January 23, 2001
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Posted on: Tuesday, January 23, 2001

Social realities emerge in Cayetano's address

Full text of the State of the State address
Join a discussion on the governor's speech

After six long, dour years of budget battles and lowered expectations, a different side of Gov. Ben Cayetano emerged yesterday during his State of the State speech.

Cayetano proposed an activist program for the 2001 Legislature that combined his traditional toughness with a new emphasis on social programs that might cost the state now but pay off in the future.

The two most sweeping ideas in the speech were for a universal preschool program aimed at needy children and a dramatic treatment-instead-of-punishment program for nonviolent drug offenders.

No breakthrough

At the other end of life’s spectrum, Cayetano did propose a "modest" increase in funding for long-term care of the elderly. But he failed to propose a breakthrough idea for this emerging social crisis in Hawaii.

The preschool idea has as its inspiration Cayetano’s successful experience with A-Plus, the state-backed after-school program for Island youngsters. A variety of public and private programs today serves the preschool needs of about half of Hawaii’s needy 3- and 4-year-olds. Using funds already available to the state’s social services department, Cayetano proposed working with the private sector to provide universal preschool experience for every child who is in need but cannot afford it.

This will undoubtedly unfold as an expensive idea, particularly once it becomes clear what programs will be trimmed to make room for the plan. But it is an excellent example of spending money as an investment in the future by avoiding expensive problems before they occur.

Numerous studies have shown the value of preschool to a child’s life-long academic success, particularly among those who do not get a stimulating preschool experience at home.

Drugs: a dramatic break

The drug treatment program, modeled after plans in place in California and Arizona, is a dramatic break with the traditional approach taken in our war against drugs. It will be unpopular with some in the law enforcement community and with those who — quite understandably — focus on the crime rather than the cause.

But Hawaii has already had enough good experience with its Drug Court program — a tough-love system in which closely supervised treatment is an alternative to imprisonment — to know this approach can work.

Simply put, we have learned that we cannot arrest and jail our way out of our drug problem. If this effort is approved, and if it is given time and support enough to work, it would be a major Cayetano legacy.

And speaking of legacies, we were pleased to hear the governor echo our words on proposals for a major complex of entertainment, education and scientific facilities at Kakaako Waterfront Park.

We have argued that this complex must be a "grand statement ... a masterpiece of design that will instantly become a worldwide symbol of Honolulu’s rebirth." The governor used those words to strong applause in his speech yesterday.

There have been arguments within the Legislature and outside that Hawaii has too many pressing needs to spend money now on an aquarium or a museum complex. But Cayetano understands that a state — a society — must move ahead on many fronts.

And as the state moves ahead on Kakaako, it must not lose sight of that over-arching idea. This must not be a collection of buildings, each worthy in and of themselves but not part of a grander whole. This is an opportunity to make a bold, lasting statement that will do the state proud for generations to come.

Hawaiian rights

On the issue of Hawaiian rights, Cayetano asked lawmakers to set aside a Republican-backed bill that would effectively take the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Hawaiian Home Lands Department private, putting them together in a semiprivate trust. The idea is to shield the programs from lawsuits that threaten them as constitutionally impermissible race-based government programs.

The governor made a good point in that the legal problems facing the two agencies are different and that combining them could mix one set of legal issues with another. At the same time, however, the administration and the Legislature must not be quick to reject any proposal that might help Hawaiian programs out of their thorny legal troubles.

All ideas are needed on an issue that transcends — or at least, should transcend — politics.

President Bush likes to describe himself as a "compassionate conservative." Along the same lines, Cayetano’s speech this year portrayed him as a "tough-minded liberal."

Lawmakers would serve themselves well by heeding him carefully.

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