House panel stands with 'Dog'
In a move that is likely to have little practical impact, a state legislative committee has taken on the government of Mexico over the effort to extradite bounty hunter and TV star Duane "Dog" Chapman.
After an almost two-hour public hearing yesterday, featuring an appearance by the reality TV star and his family, the House International Affairs Committee unanimously approved a resolution urging Mexican officials to drop extradition charges against Chapman. The resolution — if it passes the state Legislature — will probably have little to no bearing on the case in Mexico.
Still, the move will please the hundreds of people who delivered written and oral testimony supporting the local celebrity, who got in trouble with Mexican authorities after trying to apprehend fugitive Andrew Luster, a convicted rapist now serving a 124-year sentence in California thanks to Chapman's efforts.
However, the Luster case left Chapman, along with his son, Leland, and colleague, Timothy Chapman, with "deprivation of liberty" charges and they could be extradited to Mexico for trial.
A resolution from the Legislature is unlikely to prevent that, raising the question of whether lawmakers should be spending time on it.
"The state government doesn't really have any leverage over the Mexican government at all," said University of Hawai'i political science professor Neal Milner.
What the resolution does do is put the spotlight on Chapman and the lawmakers who support him.
"It's politics is what it is," Milner said. "It's a chance to shine at no cost."
Aside from the celebrity factor, it's not much different from many of the resolutions that the Legislature passes on a regular basis. Resolutions are not legally binding and are often used to bestow honor on individuals.
To a certain demographic, Chapman is a hero, noted John Hart, Hawaii Pacific University's assistant dean of communication.
"The Legislature is obviously responding to the folk hero nature of it and that he did something that's right and not grappling with the more complex issue that what he did wasn't legal," he said.
While the resolution will probably make no difference in the effectiveness of the legislative session, devoting time to it presents the opportunity for the public to ask what lawmakers are focusing on.
"Anything that gets us to ask that question is a good idea," Hart said.
A successful resolution would also give politicians an accomplishment to bring back to their constituents. " 'I did the Dog resolution,' is going to matter to people more than whether or not they got traffic lights or the school library," Hart said.
Dozens of those types of constituents packed yesterday's hearing room where only one person testified against the resolution.
"I think it makes a mockery of our laws," Brett Pruett told lawmakers. "The Mexican government has every right to extradite the fugitives. Where does Hawai'i step in?"
Pruett then asked the committee members if they wanted to put their stamp of approval on vigilante justice, eliciting "boos" from Chapman's wife, Beth, who stormed out of the hearing room.
Later, she called him a piece of garbage as he walked out the door.
Duane Chapman, on the other hand, shook Pruett's hand and said he had a right to his own opinion.
"It strengthens me when someone comes with an opposition because I have a chance to talk to him and make it a positive thing," Chapman said.