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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Somebody keeps electing Rod Tam

By David Shapiro

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Councilman Rod Tam, now a candidate for mayor, has a long history of controversial behavior.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu

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The antics of Councilman Rod Tam are starting to look like a Booga Booga comedy sketch that might be funnier if there wasn't so much at stake.

Tam says he's moving forward with his campaign for mayor even after having to reimburse the city and pay fines totaling $13,700 because of the city Ethics Commission's findings that he ripped off taxpayers by falsifying his meal expenses.

In one of those only-in-Hawai'i scenarios, he has little choice but to campaign on since his run for the city's top job does double duty as a legal defense strategy.

There would seem to be a strong basis for bringing theft charges against Tam, but City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle says he can't take the case because he's also running for mayor and that it would be a conflict of interest.

So unless the attorney general steps in to close this dubious legal loophole, as long as Tam stays in the race he stays out of the pokey.

It's hardly news that Tam is one of Hawai'i's most embarrassing specimens of political knucklehead.

During his 20 years in the Legislature and eight years on the City Council, he's proposed turning Koko Head into a dump, providing afternoon snacks and naps to government workers and banning smelly riders from buses.

He was censured by fellow councilmembers for insulting immigrant workers with a racial epithet and has been up on state and city ethics charges twice before for converting public resources to personal political use and representing private clients before the city.

Tam's insinuation that the investigation of his meal expenses was politically motivated has a laughable pot-and-kettle clank to it.

When former Gov. Ben Cayetano called out Tam as one of the "weakest people" in the Legislature, Tam retaliated by trying unsuccessfully to launch a legislative investigation of Cayetano's food expenses at Washington Place.

While the documentation of his padded food tabs is new information, we already knew that Tam was running up far higher expenses than his colleagues by habitually buying grinds for himself and others. He once likened himself to a country doctor feeding taxpayers their own money.

But what's even more troubling than Tam's boorish behavior is how our political system has protected him for nearly 30 years.

Despite his well-known transgressions, leaders of the Democratic Party have made minimal effort to take out their trash by encouraging more able and respectable candidates to run against him.

He has two former governors living in his district who have done little to sound the alarm among the electorate.

Mostly, he's been propped up by campaign money from special interests who don't care how much of a detriment Tam is to the general welfare as long as he does what they tell him on their narrow issues.

He collected $211,000 for his 2006 re-election campaign, primarily from a roster of major players in the business, labor and lobbying establishments who know better than anybody what he is.

Even with so much cash, Tam pulled only 52 percent of the vote against an inexperienced opponent who had less than $4,000 for his campaign. Imagine what could have happened if responsible community leaders had encouraged better-known opponents instead of giving Tam money to scare them off.

If you're a voter and want to see what's wrong with Hawai'i politics, just look at Rod Tam's name in the victory column so many times.

If you're one of the no-conscience special interests who enabled him with your campaign donations or one of his fellow elected officials who turned the other way year after year, just look in the mirror.