Saturday, July 30, 2011

‘Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid’ of Political Posturing

That’s the advice of a former congressional leader this weekend, when our collective future is even more clouded than normal.

It’s easy to see political posturing as the dominant behavior of our time, and it’s not just an inside-the-beltway condition. The local election season over the next 15 months will be our most intense in decades.

Up for grabs will be an open U.S. Senate seat for the first time since 1976. Both U.S. House seats may be open depending on what their incumbents decide about the Senate race. On Oahu, get ready for contests for offices in Honolulu Hale – the mayor's and, by our count, six of nine Honolulu City Council districts. Political posturing will be everywhere, so be prepared for the advertising, headline grabbing, self-promotion and possible hypocrisy.

Honolulu Rail

Despite solid majority support for the Honolulu rail project found in three scientific opinion polls over the past three years, Honolulu rail is still a big and attractive target for ink-seeking politicians.

Former U.S. Representative Charles Djou is at it intensely, since he’s been mentioned for all of the above-referenced offices except the City Council. In early June, a commentary submitted by Mr. Djou was headlined “City should work harder to build consensus on rail” with those exact words in three different publications in the same week. As we noted at the time, 57-percent support for rail in the latest opinion poll seemingly refutes Mr. Djou’s assertion of “razor-thin” majority support.

Mr. Djou’s latest commentary – “Rail authority doesn’t need million-dollar offices” – appears in the current edition of Pacific Business News. Subscribers can find it within the “premium content” section at PBN's website; others will have to read the print version.

The thrust of Mr. Djou’s commentary is in its second paragraph. (We can’t let the first graf go without observing that it misquotes one of the most famous statements ever made by a member of Congress.) Here’s paragraph two:

“That quote is appropriate for the Honolulu rail project today. The disclosure that the newly formed Honolulu rail transit authority will spend close to $1.4 million in taxpayer funds for one year’s worth of rent for prime office space in downtown Honolulu adds to the growing sense that the authority has, at best, a cavalier attitude toward the spending of your money and misunderstands the reasoning for rail.”

A Few Problems

The commentary builds on some dubious journalism by online a few weeks ago that “broke the news” about HART’s leased space in downtown Honolulu. Trouble was, the City’s Rapid Transit Division, which was transferred into HART on July 1, had occupied that space for years.

It almost goes without saying that Hawaii Reporter’s story, which was picked up by a television station and thereby attracted even more attention to the leases, made no mention of RTD’s long-term occupancy. There was no “news” in Hawaii Reporter’s piece – just another opportunity to indirectly attack the rail project by going after HART on a trumped-up fiscal malfeasance charge.

Further complicating Mr. Djou’s commentary is the fact that the City Council of which he was a member approved RTD budgets that included the leases, which the City said were less expensive than building new facilities or modifying existing space. Time will tell whether Mr. Djou himself assented to their passage.

Mr. Djou’s PBN commentary concludes with more assertions of mismanagement on the rail project and his hope “that greater community consensus is eventually built for rail by Honolulu Hale” – to which we’d again refer him to the impressive pro-rail support found in the three opinion surveys.

We’ll conclude our own commentary today by hoping the nation’s fears about what may happen at Tuesday midnight will have been swept aside by then. For those of us living on Oahu, however, the fear-mongering season has just begun.

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