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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Shared goals steer us toward better future

By David Shapiro

In his speech to the statehood anniversary conference at the Convention Center, Hawai'i Olympian Bryan Clay described his formula for winning gold in the decathlon and suggested it could be utilized to help achieve Hawai'i's collective goals.

In a nutshell, his formula is to have a plan, have a good team and work together.

It was excellent advice, not only for mapping the future, but also for troubleshooting how we got into our current predicament of official dysfunction in the face of historic challenges.

Let's break it down point by point:

Collective goals. We have common concerns a stronger economy, better education, less traffic, energy independence, a cleaner environment, resolution of Native Hawaiian claims but we never seem to end the all-or-nothing arguments long enough to arrive at actual goals.

Most of these issues have been under discussion for decades, yet we've produced few specific agreed-upon objectives to work toward, leaving us in perpetual gridlock in terms of getting any of it done.

In areas where we seem near a decision, such as O'ahu rail transit and the Akaka bill for Hawaiian political recognition, arguments remain loud and bitter and the course could reverse on the next political tide.

Have a plan. Without clear and accepted community goals, meaningful planning is impossible. The state budget battle has shown that we can't make a competent plan for the next biennium, much less the upcoming half-century.

Lacking priorities, our leaders are addressing a record budget deficit of more than $2 billion by slashing across the board at whatever targets seem easiest at the moment and when the economy improves, we won't restore funding with any sense of priorities because we still won't have any.

If the aftermath of the last recession is any guide, money will be doled out not according to the greatest need and community benefit, but according to which special interests have the most political clout.

It was lack of priorities that produced a legislative session that started out devoted to solving the state's worst financial crisis ever and ended up being more about civil unions with little progress made on either.

Have a good team. It's hard to field a strong team when few are willing to play.

We had the nation's lowest voter turnout in the 2008 election despite a Hawai'i-born candidate for president, and the number of candidates in local races was sharply down as incumbents who had made little progress in solving our problems waltzed to re-election.

Work together. Our public relationships are guided by personal rivalries and narrow competing interests more than a collaborative spirit, and you can't have teamwork if there's no real team.

Besides the natural rivalry between Democrats and Republicans, both parties are deeply divided among themselves.

Linda Lingle is Hawai'i's first Republican governor in 40 years, but a vocal faction in the GOP thinks she isn't conservative enough and would rather give the office back to the Democrats than see her Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona succeed her.

The Democrats are already in firm control of everything else and you'd think they'd be able to enact some kind of program, but the party mostly spins its wheels as multiple competing factions jockey for position.

The men and women who built the modern Hawai'i in the first years after statehood understood Bryan Clay's formula and were masters of consensus and compromise.

If we want to regain control of our destiny, we must rediscover those lost arts and start committing to some specific collective goals so we can move on to planning and building a team.