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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, July 25, 2002

Political reform happening

By Jackie Kido

For at least the past decade, each time I go back to my birthplace in Illinois, a similar scene seems to repeat itself. My father welcomes me with open arms and gets out two diet root beers and a delicious hunk of aged Swiss (my grandfather was a cheese maker). He sits down, shakes his head and says, "I don't know how you can stand to work around politics."

My answer is always the same: "If people don't keep trying, then where are we?"

A bit of history on where my dad is coming from. Gov. George Ryan, R-Ill., is engulfed in the biggest state political scandal in our country today, with more than 40 people indicted or sent to prison for everything ranging from taking bribes for drivers licenses, to kickbacks for leasing office buildings to state government at inflated prices.

Lately, my father's cynicism has broadened. An avid stock trader, during my visit this past month he talked about crooked corporate executives and their crooked analysts and accountants — and of course, most important, the politicians who receive large campaign donations in the hopes they will carry water for corporate special interests. Even the president of the United States is the subject of intense scrutiny for stock trades he made while serving on an energy company's board.

I shared with Dad that, in Hawai'i, we too struggle with our own issues of corporate influence on the political process. Each year legislative bills are debated that have multimillion-dollar impacts on corporate bottom lines, such as the recently approved law to cap gasoline prices, and the proposed $75 million tax credit to the developers of Ko Olina, a bill vetoed by the governor.

If elected, Linda Lingle has vowed to repeal the passed gas cap law; she's been a staunch supporter of protecting the oil companies' "right" to charge Hawai'i consumers whatever they want. She has launched an unprecedented, full-court press to get the Ko Olina developers a $75 million subsidy from taxpayers — demanding that the Legislature override the governor's veto.

Lingle has publicly stated that she will raise $5 million for her campaign, and can be heard on radio ads declaring: "We deserve more than scandals and political favoritism," and that she wants to "serve all the people, not just a favored few."

Yet what she doesn't tell voters is that among the co-chairs of her major Lincoln Day Dinner fund-raiser this year were Ko Olina developer Jeff Stone and Chevron public affairs manager Albert Chee.

One can only wonder whether the money she got from the Ko Olina developer and the oil company executive, and in turn her strong pursuit of these two issues, are examples of the kind of "political favoritism" Lingle was pontificating about.

This kind of political double-speak seems common today among politicians of all parties, who say one thing and do another. And it's the kind of talk that assumes the voters do not have the time or the intelligence to separate truth from self-serving rhetoric.

Politicians who believe this may be in for a big surprise this fall. Whether in Illinois or Hawai'i, among Democrats or Republicans, on Wall Street or Main Street government office buildings, there is a tidal wave gaining strength that will demand that organizations and people come clean. Whether it's the perceived conflict of interest chugging through the system, or the blatant violations of the public trust we've seen across our nation of late, the good news (if there is any) is that reform is on its way.

And it's already happening in Hawai'i. In recent years our state did the once unimaginable and cleaned up the Bishop Estate, our nation's largest charitable trust. We've vigorously pursued public officials engaged in campaign spending violations and other wrongdoing, and these actions should indeed give us all pause for hope.

Hope, not because there is some magic bullet out there that will put an end to dishonesty. But rather, hope because we continue to have people among us who are willing to dedicate themselves to public service, people with the courage to resist influence and do the right thing. And, oh, the tremendous courage it takes. Choose your leaders wisely.

Jackie Kido, former president of the League of Women Voters of Hawai'i, is director of communications for Gov. Ben Cayetano.