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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 21, 2010

Capitol says no to pupu platter

By Lee Cataluna

The state sheriffs watching over the opening-day foot traffic at the state Capitol took the question very seriously.

"So, any illicit sushi trays or vats of fried noodles being smuggled into the Capitol?"

The men in brown shook their heads. "Nope, haven't seen anything like that."

When Colleen Hanabusa says "no pupu platters," her colleagues toe the line.

Walking around the Capitol yesterday morning on a party-food reconnaissance mission, there were some errant snacks spotted here and there: a guy walking with a humble handful of celery sticks, ladies foisting little ribboned bags of cookies on lawmakers' staffs, a lonely coffee urn sitting outside an office next to a basket for donations to the food bank.

But for the most part, no one dared be too festive.

Opening day of the state legislative session is historically a big party and had grown to outsized proportions in recent years. There were lavish buffet lines in every lawmaker's office, live music concerts in the chambers, and more flower arrangements, lei and potted plants than Watanabe Floral sells in a year.

But last month, Senate President Hanabusa and House Speaker Calvin Say laid down the law.

"There will be no entertainment, no flowers, no festivities or subsequent receptions as has been the tradition in years past," they wrote in a joint letter. The economy is too bad, they reasoned. Too many people are hurting and we have way too much work to do.

The opening days of sessions past were filled with the smells of tuberose and maile lei, of sterno burners under trays of karaage chick-en, of perfumed lobbyists' handshakes and hugs.

This one even smelled all-business.

There weren't many ostentatious knee-length maile lei, either. Robert Bunda had a five-strand ilima and Mike Gabbard was wearing four different lei, but no one had the high school graduation look. One observer reported seeing Say take off a lei he was wearing before doing an on-camera interview. But Say did it classy, giving the lei to a passer-by (who happily accepted it and then turned to her friend and said, "Who was that?") rather than just taking off the lei for the sound bite and then putting it back on again afterward.

Advertiser photographer Richard Ambo saw a lady carrying a tray of noodles scamper down the hallway between legislators' offices. Representatives of organizations that help the poor boldly handed out bags of cookies, saying they didn't care about the no-party rule. Some legislators offered snacks, but certainly nothing like the five-choice emperor plates of the past.

The Capitol atrium was packed with teenagers with video cameras and tripods, many from '[0xd6]lelo, some from high schools. In the most obvious example of how austere and non-festive the opening-day proceedings were, the kids brought their own lunches. Imagine! They carted in bentos, Costco-sized bags of Veggie Straws and beverage coolers on wheels. In the old days, the buffet lines in legislators' offices could have fed every high school student in the state, even the ones who go for "double lunch." But not this year. Everybody obeyed Hanabusa.