Where do we go from here?
The Honolulu Advertiser's Community Editorial Board, along with our own Editorial Board, recently sat down with House Judiciary Chairwoman Sylvia Luke to discuss a variety of issues in this year's Legislature. Our community board is composed of a diverse group of residents from all parts of the island, who have a variety of areas of interest. The session was moderated by Jeanne Mariani-Belding, editor of The Advertiser's editorial and opinion section. Here is an excerpt of that conversation.
Karen Simmons: In regard to the sunshine law, my issue is accountability. I want to know who is voting for what, and why. I think the law should also be applied to meetings with lobbyists when they meet with legislators.
Rep. Sylvia Luke: The influence of lobbyists depends on their credibility. When citizens come to testify, they can take as long as they want. It may be the one time they come to the Legislature. A lot of times the chairs will give more deference to citizens and citizen advocates. The group that probably has the most influence at the Legislature is students. When kids come to testify, you just feel like you can't say no.
Helen Gibson Ahn: What do you feel is the No. 1 issue that negatively affects our quality of life here in Hawai'i?
Luke: I think it is traffic. That really cuts into quality of life.
Ahn: What do you think the solution is?
Luke: I'm going to go against the trend and say I really don't support the rail system. It just moves people from one community to the other. If we want to alleviate traffic now, we need to make a commitment to UH-West O'ahu now and move a lot of the facilities from UH-Manoa. In the summertime, there's hardly any traffic on the road. We have about 20,000 kids going to Manoa; if we can move a lot of those kids out to West O'ahu, it would have an impact. West O'ahu is supposed to be the "second city." And if we're going to set an example, we should have moved the Legislature, the City Council and the nonessential services out to Kapolei. We should move the jobs there instead of forcing people to come all the way into town all the time.
Ahn: What have you personally done toward that goal?
Luke: Not too much. I have to admit; I haven't done much at all. In the Legislature, you get assigned goals. My first two years were economic development; now it's judiciary. I hate to say it's out of my jurisdiction, but it kind of is.
Bill Prescott: Do you realize how many trucks we have going out to Waimanalo Gulch in Nanakuli? Now you want to add university kids coming out there. More traffic?
Luke: I think that if they really develop the "second city" and the 'Ewa Plain, then 'Ewa and Nanakuli and Wai'anae will not be the dumping ground for all the industrial stuff, because it's going to be known as the "second capital" or metropolitan area, and they're not going to be putting more things out there you don't want. Otherwise you're going to be stuck with more things out there you don't want — that's not what you should have.
Jon Matsuo: What do you think you and your colleagues feel the community would give you as a letter grade in terms of your effectiveness, in terms of what you've done to benefit the community?
Luke: I think it's going to be C+- B-; I would say C+.
Matsuo: Without trust, you don't have effectiveness. There are things at the Legislature that just pop out as symptoms of a lack of trust. The sunshine law, for example. It appears that all the energy and intent is going toward subverting the spirit of these sort of things. When that happens, the voice of the public is effectively shut off from the decision-making process, and the ability to hold leaders and representatives accountable is affected.
Luke: I think that's a really good point. It's the fundamental issue. Even if ultimately we were making decisions correctly and the ultimate goal is a good one, if the public does not feel confident in the process or the system, then the whole thing is out the window because then you're always going to be skeptical.
Ahn: It all boils down to accountability. That's something we as a group have concerns about. There seems to be a lack of accountability. And certainly that sunshine law would open up things a little bit more.
Luke: It hasn't fallen on deaf ears. It's going to be an issue that we'll continue to look at. And by having this discussion, it is opening the door to have further discussion, and maybe the possibility of having a similar sunshine law apply to the Legislature. It's an issue that we'll probably revisit next year.
Jeanne Mariani-Belding: Sylvia, you've had to field all the questions. Now I'd like to give you the opportunity to ask our community board some questions.
Luke: What do you all really feel should happen with three strikes?
Laura Bullock: I have strong feelings about this. I'm a supporter of it, but I do agree there are different levels. If you've got a felon versus someone who has a drug problem, for example. I think there needs to be some sort of discretion. But I'm in big favor of getting some of these career criminals off the streets.
Prescott: I think you ought to leave it up to the judges. I don't think you ought to legislate something like this. Our judges are well-trained; they know.
Simmons: I'm not sure about three strikes, but I do think that if they think they can get away with it — knowing they'll go to jail for two months and get back out — why not continue the pattern? I give my kids two chances, then it's in your room or whatever. There's something to that three strikes. I'm just not sure where we're going to put everybody.
Ahn: I agree with Karen, but you also have to look at the effects. We need to look at where we're going to put these folks.
Matsuo: I agree with Karen and Helen. The reason we have the law being proposed is that the judges have not been doing a good job, and the public is concerned. Something people will bring up (is) ... where we're going to put them as a reason to kill the bill. That's losing sight of what we need to do. The primary purpose is to get felons off the street.
Luke: One more question. There's a concept called voter-owned elections. There's a big discussion about this. Some people say why should taxes be used to help peoples' campaigns, versus, this pretty much cuts off ties to lobbyists and special interest.
Matsuo: I think the concept is good.
Ahn: I agree. Having a campaign totally built on public opinion is the way to go, where I certainly see a major mindset change. It's a wonderful idea. I don't know if it's achievable.
Simmons: I like the idea. I think it's a viable idea. I would like to see it just be a finite amount — no bump-ups.
Prescott: I agree.
Bullock: I absolutely agree.
Mariani-Belding: One last question. The Legislature is dealing with a surplus. What is the one thing you'd like to see that spent on? This is statement of your priorities.
Matsuo: Fix the sewers. I know it's a city thing, but it's a travesty. How does it get this far?
Ahn: I would say take care of those badly needed repairs to infrastructure. Allowing something to go on being neglected to me is a sign of bad government, to allow your home to crumble.
Simmons: I would say fix the sewers, but make sure it's being fixed for the future, not just for today. Also, if they can take something and do something with the maintenance of the schools.
Prescott: Make our schools in disadvantaged areas a place where people would want to work; where they would want to stay. Do you realize Nanakuli High School waited 20 years for a cafeteria while these other schools in the upper-income areas got all these fabulous things?
Bullock: I'd like to see infrastructure fixed, the roads. And again, I like your idea of moving some of the concentrated things out, whether it's out into Central O'ahu or the "second city." The traffic here is horrendous; it needs to be fixed. And the schools also need to be fixed. The playing field should be level; Nanakuli should look like Kaiser.
Luke: We really don't get enough of this kind of feedback from the general public. Thank you all.