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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, December 30, 2001

Academia should lend a hand to government

By Bob Dye

For political leadership, folks are looking beyond Washington Place and up to College Hill. And they're finding it there in abundance.

In misty Manoa, University of Hawai'i president Evan Dobelle exuberantly integrates intellect and politics. Not one bit self-conscious about his role as an activist academic in a new millennium, he responds to each leadership challenge with old-fashioned elan.

Now if state senators and representatives can only invest politics with intellect in the upcoming legislative session, Hawai'i is on its way to economic and psychologic recovery from the shockwaves of 9-11.

But in the aftermath of that last special legislative session, at which just about everybody took a political pratfall, can a quickie but happy marriage of academia and government be arranged?

If not, voters should fetch a shotgun.

Why force them to the altar?

Because the UH system, now with fire in its belly under Dobelle's leadership, is today the only taxpayer-supported institution in town that is ready, willing and able to grow the economy, significantly expand the tax base, create satisfying and well-paying jobs, and reward our society.

An equal but autonomous place in a boldly conceived "council of state" is where UH belongs. But without awaiting such a fundamental structural change, surely some kind of organic relationship between elected legislators, politically appointed government executives and tenured academic dons can be found. If so, through free and open public discussion, their intellectual level and ours could be raised to the point where we work smart.

A small beginning can be made by eliminating any and all impediments, legal and professional, faced by UH professors seeking and serving in elective office. The separation that now exists between town and gown is dumb.

Integration, not separation. A reversal of traditional attitudes about how state government works best is needed. We've found that legislators, as lawmakers, are usually capable but rarely commanding. So if the top executive is not a strong leader with the ability to compromise and bargain, the folks with separate powers go their separate ways.

Over and again we're reminded that the relationship between state legislators and executives is not only stale but static. Legislators are routinely informed by government executives, but seldom influenced by them. There is some lively discussion, but it is often politically ineffective, and good proposals die.

Separation of power allows separation from blame. For too many years our government has not only separated itself from its parts, but from the whole community and its essential needs. Most state executives are further removed from exercising power for the people when a favored few top aides and political insiders make the golf course. Clubhouse camaraderie may make good chums, but never good policy.

So it came as no surprise when the governor's cobbled-together billion-dollar stimulus package was abandoned by him on the legislature's doorstoop.

With the governor junketing in Japan, not much positive happened here at home. Which, in time of danger, is where he should have been! "Bulldog Ben" is better at scaring away terrorists than luring tourists, I think. If we ever have to hold somebody's coat, let it be his.

Despite well-meaning Ben's pleas, Japanese tourists continue to stay at home. Unemployment climbs and growth declines. The reeling tourism industry pleads for more government financial aid and tax relief. Shocked into a state of paralysis, our political leaders can do no more than await help from the federal government.

Legislators are usually capable, but rarely are they commanding folks. If the top executive is not a strong leader with the ability to compromise and bargain, the system fails. And ours did.

Realization that our state government is not a self-operating mechanism seems to fuddle official heads. But legislators, even after recognizing what the state has to work with doesn't always work, are unable to develop or devise any device to cope with the economic situation the state is in. That is because legislators are separated from executive power.

In our part-time legislature, many members devote themselves with selfless commitment to public affairs full-time. Over the years, they become expert in certain

areas of government, like budget, finance, transportation, welfare. But despite their expertise, they are kept from exercising that knowledge positively as executives.

Why not give a governor the option to appoint a sitting member of the house of representatives to cabinet office without that legislator having to resign from the legislature? In our system, no cabinet officer is elected by the people. The only top elected executives are the governor and lieutenant governor.

Keep senators out of the cabinet. Trust those distinguished solons to take care of the separation of powers function that we've come to revere. But do give some representatives the chance to serve in acabinet post that puts into practice what is legislated.

Futhermore, career-minded people would be attracted to the profession of politics. Thus, our weak political parties would be strengthened.

In whatever way, structurally or informally, there must be a coming together of good people, and of those institutions through which they serve, be it university, union, professional organization, church, veteran's group, club, or whatever.

Our next governor must be, above all else, a strong leader who will discuss, negotiate and compromise to find a way to solve the economic puzzle that is ours in Hawai'i.