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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, January 23, 2005


People's needs must come first

By the Rev. Frank A. Chong

Dear Legislators:

Here is my list of recommendations for a successful legislative session this year.

1. Don't focus on the net, focus on the fish. Government infrastructure tends to be organized around large service categories. We have departments of Labor, Health, Education, Human Services and so forth.

A great deal of time and money is spent keeping the organization flowing. The primary purpose of bureaucracy is to protect the treasury in order that we can do our jobs. When that purpose changes and begins to focus on saving the organization rather than serving the public, it becomes a manifestation of evil.

We need to become more problem-oriented in our approach. Focus on the fish and not on the net. Yes, the net is important, but it is the fish that we are concerned about.

2. Don't focus on the armor, focus on the pebbles that will pierce those places that are not covered by armor. Remember that David slew Goliath with a small pebble and a sling.

Sometimes the problems seem overwhelming. But the right solution at the right time makes a lot of difference, and it can sometimes change the entire complexion of the issue.

Keep asking questions until the right answer comes forward. Sometimes it will come from the experts. But sometimes it will come from the average person on the street or consumers of the services in question.

3. Don't be seduced into believing that homelessness can be solved with affordable housing. Certainly affordable housing is critical to solving the homelessness problem, but in Hawai'i, affordable housing is everyone's problem.

The tragedy of homelessness is that it defies all of our current approaches to the problem. Interestingly, you will not find the term "homelessness" used in political or academic literature until after 1980.

The mantra of "less government involvement" of the Reagan-Bush administrations significantly changed public policy toward deinstitutionalization, public housing and community-based services. Those policy changes resulted in the phenomena we now call "homelessness."

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it will take our entire community to solve the problem of homelessness. It is not just a housing problem.

4. Don't fool with the Prepaid Health Care Act. It was a stroke of genius by a group of legislators a generation ago. It clearly stated that there is a relationship between employers and employees, and that employers have a responsibility to assure that we have a healthy work force.

We must find a way to continue that legacy and to assure that everyone in our state has access to health insurance as well as access to appropriate healthcare.

5. Don't forget that democracy is dependent on an informed citizenry. For many, public education is their only link to the outside world and an opportunity to advance socially and economically. Don't let our public education system collapse under its own weight like the ceilings at Kailua Intermediate School.

6. Don't forget that "Geography is Destiny." Our state is very small. It has only about 1.2 million residents. Certainly, with imagination and cooperation, most of our problems can be solved by reasonable people.

Good public policy needs political will.

7. Don't forget that your constituents elected you to the Hawai'i Legislature. Your loyalty and concern must always be for all of the people of the state and not only the people of your district.

The issues that you deal with are statewide. Single-member districts can produce parochialism if you are not vigilant.

8. Don't let the federal government renege on its obligations to the people of our state. There will be attempts by some in Washington to reduce the federal share of some services such as Medicaid. Hold the line and don't allow that to happen.

9. Don't be afraid of the future, for it will meet you on your terms if you allow yourself to be pulled into the future rather than pushed out of the past. Always believe in people. If you don't know, ask.

Spend at least 15 minutes every week at the corner of Punchbowl and Beretania and ask five people for their ideas about how to solve some of our problems, and you will be surprised with the answers that they give you.

10. Don't forget that you can make a difference. I used to think that each generation made major strides in the struggle for justice and peace. I have been rudely awakened to the uncanny ability of evil to mutate from generation to generation.

I believe that each generation must liberate and empower its own generation. And while I used to think in a linear way that would suggest that things get progressively better, I now believe that unless we resist the powers of evil, no one else will.

Progress is not shared equally. For many, things only get worse. We are counting on you.

11. Don't forget that the battle for our future is still raging. Our enemies are many, and they are well-taught. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are War, Famine, Pestilence and Death. And their allies are Ignorance, Poverty, Racism, Sexism, Violence, Disease, Tyranny and Intolerance.

They show no mercy and take no prisoners. So arm yourselves for battle.

12. Don't waste your time or ours. Work only for and with those people, causes and places that value truth, honor, justice, purity, that which is lovely and gracious, and a place that values excellence, and you will never go wrong.

You are asked to prophetically redescribe reality. You are to negotiate a consensus between what should be and what is.

Do that and you will have a very successful session.