Updated at 12:43 p.m., Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Senate President Colleen Hanabusa's speech
Advertiser StaffHere is the text of Senate President Colleen Hanabusa's opening day speech at the 24th Hawai'i State Legislature today.
Aloha. I am honored, and humbled, to speak to you today.
I stand before you, the fourth generation of a family who has benefited from the support of a community that has had so little...and shared so much. I speak to you about Wai'anae...our home...and a very special place to my family and me. A place whose name calls forth so many different images for each of you. A place that many of us, despite our community pride, were once ashamed to admit we were from. A place whose generosity and forgiveness has sometimes caused it to be taken advantage of. A place that in too many cases has become a dumping ground for much of this island.
The Wai'anae that I love is a beautiful place, with miles of beaches and deep blue sea, lined with my favorite tree...the kiawe, with its toughness and special beauty. And it is a place that I proudly say shaped who I am today.
I mention Wai'anae because of what it represents. A community with its own unique character. A community of great heart, with a people who have come to appreciate what others have missed. To be from Wai'anae is to acknowledge our challenges, celebrate our strengths, and share our hopes.
In those ways, Wai'anae is a reflection of our state...representing the challenges and contrasts that are now Hawai'i. Challenges, contrasts, hopes.
Hawai'i has seen phenomenal economic growth since the strain that came in the wake of 9/11. State revenues climbed over 45 percent from fiscal year 2002 to 2006. Hawai'i's growth for 2005 is said to be ninth in the nation. Our unions report that no one is on their benches because everyone who wants a job is working.
Our state enjoys the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, at 2.3 percent.
But for almost one in 10 of our working population, the price of paradise is holding multiple jobs. The average national wage for 2005 was $46,675. In Hawai'i, it was $36,355. Our average wage ranks 26th in the nation.
Construction booms and we continue to add more houses to neighborhoods across our state, yet our homeless population has doubled since 1999. According to recent reports, the total number of homeless in Hawai'i on any given day is probably over 6,000 individuals...including a growing, devastating, number of children. Some reports show our rents doubling from 2001 until today. The number of hidden homeless-those staying with family or friends because they simply cannot afford a place to live-is estimated to be nearing 230,000. The population at risk of becoming homeless is nearly 190,000.
Last week, a report was published based on data compiled two years ago, and awarded Hawai'i the dubious distinction of ranking fourth in the nation as to percentage of population that is homeless. The czar of Hawai'i's homeless project expressed surprise that we are not number one. If current 2007 data were used, shamefully, we certainly may be number one. And we know where the largest population of homeless is-on the Wai'anae coast.
And yet, on the Wai'anae coast alone you will find five "birds of paradise"-construction cranes, which represent about one billion dollars of economic impact.
How is it possible with such economic growth that so many of us wonder if we will be able to pay our mortgages next month? How is it possible that with so much housing, so many are homeless?
These are among the challenges of moving Hawai'i forward in the 21st century. We want a vibrant economy, but we want to control growth. We want more housing, but we want to preserve our open space. We want to share this special place, but we want it to be first a place for our families.
These contrasts mean that it is only when we can clearly understand what the people of this State want that we the elected officials, their representatives, can legislate for them now and into the future.
We as a state have relied upon imports to sustain us. We have experienced the closure of large agricultural entities, representing not only the loss of jobs but of a life style, an economic engine and a promise of open space.
We felt the consumer's displeasure with the gas cap law. I believe the consumers felt as they did because it punctuated our uncertainty and our helplessness in a dangerous dependence on fossil fuels and the perceived control the oil companies have upon our lives.
We always face the challenges of education. Each year more people believe that no matter what we as government do, we just miss the point. Too many remain convinced that we don't-can't-get it right.
We in the Senate believe that to meet these challenges of the future, we must plan for it in a comprehensive manner. Our resources are finite, and once depleted are gone forever. Two years ago the senate majority adopted as our policy, the concept of Sustainability. In 2005, a law was passed that established the Sustainability Task Force of 2050.
I know that many are saying, "This is just the politically correct word of the week. You lawmakers are going to do studies and come up with plans and charts and binders that you can put on a shelf and ignore." You think it is the same old shibai, that your representatives are going to be satisfied with a PowerPoint and a pat on the back.
The truth is, if you, our constituents and the communities we represent join us in collectively defining and creating a sustainable Hawai'i, we can, we will, we must make this happen. We must define sustainability.
This has to be a collective effort. Hawai'i belongs to all of us, so all of us must participate. We are all responsible to achieve a sustainable Hawai'i.
As the Legislature:
We as policy makers must build upon our State's obvious strengths.
But we cannot be blind to our challenges.
Our journey to a sustainable Hawai}i will be neither short nor simple. But there are actions that we can take immediately towards that end. We must concentrate on the children. For among our most important duties must be to define the Hawai"i that they would want to be a part of in 2050.
Education is key and to achieve excellence our students must want to learn. To meet our commitment to excellence we must provide the physical and technological infrastructure to support education. Among the priorities for this Senate, you will find early childhood facilities, continued attention to the repair and maintenance of schools, climate control using alternative and preferably renewable energy. Tied to this is a measurement of accountability. To do this we will the make the measurement standards of No Child Left Behind relevant to Hawai'i and further empower the School Community Councils with increasing funding responsibilities and the authority to meet the unique needs of each school community. Senator Norman Sakamoto will lead this part of our journey.
The health of our children is critical. The Senate will pass a bill to provide healthcare coverage for all children in Hawai'i. It will address family care giving, the ability of working people to build assets and reach economic stability.
We will address our housing needs. To do so, we must recognize that housing has so many facets from homelessness, transitional housing and to that which is affordable. Senators Suzanne Chun Oakland and Brian Taniguchi will tackle this challenge.
I learned an important lesson about 15 years ago. My niece Nicole was in kindergarten and she first learned about recycling and how soda cans should not be thrown away. She drove her parents crazy because she monitored her family on soda cans. A five year old who would not let a soda can hit the rubbish can.
The lesson was simple. We need to start with the children because they seem to comprehend issues of what is fundamentally correct a lot better than the rest of us. They do not gripe about what is convenient; they simply look upon it as what is right.
The challenge to the Sustainability Task Force is to look to the youth to be our messengers and monitors. Challenge the utilities such as Hawaiian Electric and create programs that focus on changing behavior and rewarding the young for being responsible. Give incentives to schools when the students assist in conservation measures.
Another challenge to the Task Force is to be bold and define our sustainable community in its ultimate form. We should look at what the military is doing and how their communities must have 30 percent of their energy generated on site. They are planning to do this through solar and photovoltaic systems. Why aren't we? Why don't we say at least 50 percent? The time has come for us to look at land use planning as a tool for setting these kinds of criteria, and rewarding the kinds of development that we believe serve our future. Make each community dispose of its own opala; have a true affordable housing component; require water to be recycled and open space to be preserved. In exchange, a developer's time to process applications should be substantially reduced.
Senator Russell Kokubun is up to leading us in this challenge.
But the major factor of any child's future is just that: the promise of a future in this State. Their State.
I have had next to my computer screen for the past 4 years, the graduation picture of a young man named Nick Smith. He graduated from Wai'anae High School and his picture serves as a constant reminder that I must do all I can to complete my promise to him and others.
Nick Smith, Sam Kapoi, Solomon Alfapada and Chad Brown. I call them my Seariders kids. I watched them grow in that program and I am now awaiting their graduation this year from the Art Institute in Santa Monica, California in video and film production.
The success of the Searider Productions at Wai'anae High School has far exceeded even my dreams. It teaches us that the proper combination of teachers, administration, raw talent, facilities, and, most importantly, a sense of hope and pride, creates students who can be the best, not only in this State but in the nation. Who would have thought that the kids from Wai'anae could win an Emmy for their work? Today, the high school students of Searider Productions are recognized as so accomplished that when they enter Olelo's Youth Exchange video competition, they must compete on the university level.
I would like you to meet the face of Searider Productions. Yes, she has other teachers who work along side her, and all of them have earned our deep and lasting gratitude. But she is the girl from Wai'anae who came home and put her heart and soul into helping these kids dream big dreams, and become the best they can be.
She is Candy Suiso.
Candy and I have talked about what is next. What do the Nick Smiths have as a future in Hawai'i? We decided that we really need one of them to be the next George Lucas and bring a whole media industry home to Hawai'i.
Well, Hawai'i's answer to George Lucas has found Candy and the Seariders and he remains committed to them.
He is Chris Lee, best known as the former head of Columbia-Tristar Pictures and Executive Producer of Superman Returns. Chris is not from Wai'anae, but he shares the same heart and wants to bring Superman Returns II and his other projects to Hawai'i. He reflects on how we have lost many opportunities, such as the production of the Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks mini series Band of Brothers. One reason is that while we have relied so much on the natural beauty of our islands, we have not benefited from the talent of our students. We need both to build this new industry.
I would like to introduce Chris Lee.
In my discussions with Chris, it is evident that an education system that believes all students must go on to college is no longer relevant. We need to look at our students' unique talents and develop those job opportunities that will sustain them into the future.
Chris has called upon us to embrace what he calls "learning from Wai'anae" and look at what Candy Suiso has done with the Searider Productions program.
His vision, and one that is shared by Senator Carol Fukunaga, Senator David Ige and myself is that Hawai'i needs to position itself as a Creative Media Digital Hub.
The Academy for Creative Media is established, and programs like Searider Productions have demonstrated the transformational power of multi-media literacy to engage our most at risk students. Hawai'i can provide the digital education center for the Pacific. But we need to find it a permanent home.
In government, the same question follows every good idea: how do we pay for it? We will call upon the private sector to assist us, and we will count on an individual who has been there for the Seariders and the Wai'anae Coast. What many do not know is that when Searider Productions' media center first opened, Ko Olina Charities funded the purchase of all of their video equipment. It has continued as a big supporter through the Ko Olina Training Fund, providing scholarships for many of the graduates of the Leeward Coast, including the Searider Kids.
I have asked Jeff Stone to permit us to redirect and reallocate the Ko Olina Aquarium Tax Credit to this end. What many are not aware of is that not a penny of the Tax Credit has been taken. This is because the true value of the Tax Credit was that when it became law, it made a statement to the world that Hawai"i was committed to supporting that region and ensuring its success. The controversy surrounding the tax credit put Ko Olina on the map. So much so that soon after its passage, Ihilani-its only hotel in Ko Olina at that time, its spa, its lagoons and its sunset were voted the best in Hawai"i. Ko Olina became a household word and the rest is history.
Let us not forget what it was for. It was to kick start and sustain the economy for the West side of O'ahu.
This same impact can be made for this new industry or any other industry. One that will bring back the Nick Smiths and keep in Hawai'i the talents of the Chris Lees, and provide Candy Suiso and her fellow teachers the opportunity to say, there is a job for you after you graduate. Senator Carol Fukunaga will shepherd the permanent home for the Academy for Creative Media and the necessary infrastructure for this industry, along with projects to encourage the development and success of targeted industries based upon technology and sciences.
I would like to see the tax credit redirected and continue to support the West side. However, it is up to this Legislature, along with the Governor, to make this decision.
Still, there remains a part of the Ko Olina Tax Credit that I believed in, and that was the development of a training hotel that will allow Hawai'i to become known for its great managers, and encourage hotels around the world to look to us for our skills. Our natural skills in hospitality. This will build a new middle class. I could not imagine why Hawai'i does not lead the way in this industry for the world. After all, what people want is what is naturally here-the people and the generosity we all have gained from our host culture.
Senator Donna Mercado Kim...whose advocacy for the tourism industry is unrivaled...will lead our efforts to define and redirect this tax credit.
This is an exciting 24th Legislature for us in the Senate. We have heard the concerns of our constituents, and have the opportunity to provide the leadership that will address their most pressing questions: Will my grandchildren grow up in Hawai'i? What kind of Hawai'i will they inherit? Would we recognize it?
The Hawai'i that we will work to preserve is one that our children can choose to live in, and not have to leave because of the lack of opportunities. We will be the Hawai'i that they would want to raise their children in.
It is a Hawai'i which is built on respect...one that balances our diverse interests...one that acknowledges that only with respect for the people, the land and the environment will we have balance.
Sustainability is not just another buzz word for this Legislature. Dare us. Challenge us. Hold us to our commitment. And then join us. Share your stories, your hopes and your energies. Together, we will make sustainability a reality, and not just the political word of the week.
Together, we will sustain our children, by providing the health care they need. We will sustain our students, by providing the quality education that is their future, and ours. We will sustain our families, by providing safe, affordable places to live. We will sustain our economy, and our environment, and our tomorrows.
This is our place. Our Hawai'i, our home, our very soul. This is our promise. A promise to our people and our state. A promise to generations to come, who will look back at our time and say, what we have is because of what they did for us.
Mahalo, and Aloha.