Friday, January 13, 2012

How’s This for a Hoot? WSJ Columnist Weighs In On Rail, Says Public Apathy Keeps It Alive; Plus, Our Prediction about S-A Columnists Is Still Good

Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund with's Malia Zimmerman. proves the point again: If you spend all your time inside a closed information loop – e.g., listening only to the likes of Slater, Prevedouros and other opponents of Honolulu rail – you’re likely to miss what’s really going on outside.

Rail opponents were on prominent display at this week’s small business conference, sponsored by one of the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit that wants to kill the project. One of the speakers was John Fund, Wall Street Journal columnist and Fox News contributor..

Here are some of his quotes from an interview by HR's editor (YouTube has the entire encounter):
“…The Honolulu rail system…is a train from nowhere to nowhere….I don’t see commuters taking it, I really don’t. I do see a lot of construction for the next eight years, which would tie up traffic even more. I do see government has finally admitted that this will actually, traffic will be worse and more congested after the rail system is built than before, so what are you getting….? I don’t see the average Hawaiian benefiting from this.”
Mr. Fund existed inside the closed ant-rail loop spun by Cliff Slater, Panos Prevedouros, Malia Zimmerman and other rail opponents during his short stop in our city, which explains why he repeated Cliff Slater’s major misleading talking point and why reality didn’t penetrate his consciousness about what Honolulu citizens think about rail.

Let’s review the facts for Mr. Fund – not that he’s still around to care:
• Of the 296,869 votes cast on the steel-on-steel Charter amendment in 2008 (excluding blank and over votes), 52.6 percent favored the amendment, 47.4 percent opposed the question. I.E., 15,233 more Oahu voters supported an obvious pro-rail question than opposed it.
• A scientific public opinion poll conducted in 2008 for the Business Roundtable found 59-percent support for rail.
• A QMark poll in 2009 said 60 percent of the respondents either strongly or somewhat supported the project.
• Pro-rail mayoral candidates Peter Carlisle and Kirk Caldwell in the 2010 special election to fill a mayoral vacancy received 38.8 and 34.6 percent respectively of all votes cast. Anti-rail candidate Prevedouros received 18.5 percent.
• in 2010’s general election, 68.6 percent of the 246,736 valid votes cast on the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation amendment approved its creation; only 31.4 percent were opposed.
• A 2011 scientific opinion poll by QMark found 57 percent pro-rail sentiment and 40 percent opposed. (See our “aggregation” site for links to these public opinion surveys beneath the Public Opinion heading.)

According to HR’s editor, Mr. Fund believes “the only reason the (rail) project is still alive is ‘public apathy’ – too few citizens are participating in the process." To that we’d offer this rejoinder: The vote is the most basic, important and powerful way for citizens to participate in the public process. Oahu voters were and are part of the process.

Finally, here's a reasonable response to Mr. Fund: Sir, Hawaii citizens have grown weary of outside experts who fly in and tell us what’s good for us. We have repeatedly demonstrated our strong support for rail as a critical addition to our transportation infrastructure. It’s unfortunate you were encapsulated in a closed information loop during your cup of coffee here. Had you managed to escape it, you would know what we want – and we want rail!
Columnist Prediction – Week 2
Based on their writing in last week’s paper by three Star-Advertiser columnists, we boldly predicted not one of them would have anything good to say about Honolulu rail in 2012. By that we mean they’ll not allude in any way to rail’s achievable goals that would benefit commuters here – improved mobility (i.e., traffic avoidance), improved travel reliability, support for smart growth and travel equity.

We’re going to keep track of their writing throughout 2012. We’re one week into that prediction, and so far, it’s still accurate. David Shapiro didn’t mention rail on Wednesday; Cynthia Oi is on vacation this week and Richard Borreca avoided the subject today. (Mr. Borreca writes about three columns a week, and we’ll keep an eye on all of them, not just those published on Friday.)

As we noted last week, newspaper columnists love to fire away at big government projects, but in 52 weeks of opining, you’d think they’ll eventually say something that just might hint at a neutral comment about rail, let alone a positive one. It's a reasonable expectation for a troika that paid to comment on the major issues of the day.

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