Flag fever shouldn't have hit the Capitol
Hawai'i legislators become greatly annoyed when they're accused of "distraction" for taking up matters other than top-drawer issues such as the economy and education.
To an extent, they're right to be irritated. With 76 members of the House and Senate and 32 standing committees, the Legislature is capable of dealing with many issues at once.
But lawmakers keep getting in trouble by devoting grossly excessive time, energy and drama to side issues that could be worked out quickly, quietly and amicably with the application of a little common sense.
The ongoing controversy over flagpoles is an example.
It started when a veteran who wanted to fly a big American flag in his yard was thwarted by community association rules banning flagpoles. He complained to Rep. Kymberly Pine, a Republican who represents the 'Ewa Beach area.
We've learned that Americans have a strong emotional attachment to the Stars and Stripes — especially those who have put themselves in the path of bullets in defense of Old Glory — and you just don't mess with the right to reasonably fly the flag, which is guaranteed by federal law.
It's the kind of thing that should have been settled by dispatching a legislative staffer to strongly press the community association and administrative agencies to work it out so the Legislature wouldn't have to. The public never needed to hear about it.
But that wasn't to be.
Pine introduced a bill to require community associations to allow flagpoles, which was shelved by Housing Committee Chairwoman Rida Cabanilla after a perfunctory hearing, partly because it received only three pieces of supporting testimony and partly because Pine is a member of the minuscule Republican caucus whose bills just don't get passed.
Pine recognized a chance to draw some rare attention to the House GOP and fought back by pointing out that legislators last year gave residents of planned communities the right to have clotheslines in their yards.
"I figure that if they allow you to hang your underwear on a clothesline, they should allow you to have a flagpole and put up the American flag," she said.
Pine was being a bit flip, but it effectively spotlighted the Democrats' indefensible position of fighting for the flying of pantyhose, but not the flag.
Pine rallied flag-waving veterans to the Capitol and as they cheered from the gallery she called a vote to force her bill out of committee. The six Republicans got some Democratic support, but House clerks said a show of hands drew only 14 of the 51 votes, three short of the one-third needed to pull a bill from committee.
Matters took a bizarre turn when Pine produced a videotape that appeared to show 17 hands in the air for the "aye" vote.
Now Cabanilla has agreed to hear the bill again this morning and Pine is encouraging veterans and other supporters of the flag to turn out in force.
Cabanilla says she favors a task force to study the issue rather than forcing an immediate resolution, but some House leaders are talking about extending deadlines to move a flagpole bill to the Senate this year.
The problem here isn't so much the time spent — Pine and Cabanilla are hardly influential players whose attention is sorely needed elsewhere — but the pointless negative energy generated in a year when there's already too much with all the political angst over the budget and furlough Fridays.
We know from experience that this has to end with the flag flying, and the smartest thing the Legislature can do is to make it happen now and settle the matter for good so it doesn't come back again and again.