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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 5, 2001

Volcanic Ash
Jon Yoshimura didn't get it

By David Shapiro

When Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura admitted last week that he lied about not drinking before a 1999 hit-and-run accident and accepted responsibility, the first impulse was to give him the benefit of the doubt and move on.

But two days later on Maui, Yoshimura wasn't taking responsibility at all. He was back to blaming the news media for troubles that were entirely of his own making. Sadly, his "confession" seemed less an act of real contrition than an exercise in political damage control to save his sinking campaign for lieutenant governor.

Yoshimura told Maui Democrats that news media pick on him because we consider him a traitor for leaving our ranks to run for the council.

This is childish. He was in the business long enough to know it's news when a councilman rams another car and speeds off into the night to duck responsibility. It's bigger news when he's caught lying about what happened, no matter what his former profession.

His fumbles with the truth are disappointing because Yoshimura appeals in so many other ways. He started as a TV cameraman before making the rare jump to reporter. He earned a law degree and won his council seat on his first try against a tough field. He's smart and articulate, shares the spotlight and can be thoughtful on the issues.

But his lapses in personal ethics have occurred too often to be dismissed as naive mistakes.

In his first term, he was caught cheating by putting former councilman Tony Narvaes on his council staff as a part-timer at full-time pay so Narvaes could better milk his state pension.

Last month, Yoshimura paid a $3,532 fine for misusing campaign funds after choosing to take a "broad interpretation" of what the law allows. Again, he evaded responsibility by blaming a vague law, even though most other candidates manage to figure it out — without the benefit of Yoshimura's law degree.

Of most concern was the hit-and-run incident in July 1999. Yoshimura hit a parked SUV while making a U-turn and fled without stopping. Police tracked him down and cited him for illegally leaving the scene of an accident. He pleaded no contest and paid a $35 fine.

At the time, Yoshimura insisted he had not been drinking and didn't realize he had hit another car. Eyewitnesses said he couldn't possibly have failed to notice colliding with the parked car.

Last week, Yoshimura admitted to one drink that night, but still insists he thought he hit a utility pole rather than another car.

At the Maui gathering, Yoshimura incredibly seemed perplexed that people didn't believe his first story — even though he now admits it was at least partly a lie. "There are people who didn't believe me the first time and people who didn't believe me the second time, and there's nothing I can do about that," he sniffed.

Yoshimura says he'll run for lieutenant governor on his council record. He just doesn't grasp the depth of public contempt for this council, which had to call in an ethical exorcist in a hopeless attempt to teach members the difference between right and wrong.

After the Narvaes incident in 1995, when I still had much hope for Yoshimura, I offered him good advice on telling the truth.

"If you have to squirm out of a situation with doubletalk, twisted logic and legalistic technicalities, it's BS," I wrote. "You're not fooling anyone but yourself."

It's disturbing to see him six years later still double-talking, twisting logic and squirming in legal technicalities — and still not fooling anybody but himself.

David Shapiro can be reached by e-mail at dave@volcanicash.net