Monday, January 16, 2012

No ‘Margin for Error' in Isle-Wide Elections; Rail Supporters Have Won Every Time Since 2008

Today’s letter to the editor in our LTE Forum is instructive for performing the neat trick of seeing something that isn’t there while being blind to what is. Here’s today’s letter in the morning paper (subscription):

City council should OK new vote on rail (Star-Advertiser, 1/16)
“Various factions crafted an unnecessarily ambiguous ballot on the issue of the rail project. That vote passed by only the slimmest of majorities, well with a percentage that would be called a margin for error in any opinion poll….
“More reasonable plans have been shoved aside…. Construction financing and, more importantly, operation financing is shaky.
“Our mayor and transportation director argue against a growing cry for reason by chanting ‘…but you voted for it, so let’s let it done.’
“Our City Council, except for a few voices, now is denying an opportunity for a new vote.”
Advocating yet another vote on Honolulu rail could become the last redoubt of the anti-rail minority, especially if the federal lawsuit to stop rail fails. That explains today’s letter and presumably many more asking for more votes that we’ll see this year.

Except for the anti-rail faction that is keeping the vote issue alive, there’s no reason to believe one is needed. The Federal Transit Administration continues to closely monitor the Honolulu project. In late December, it authorized the city to proceed with Final Design, a major step, and recommended strengthening of the financial plan, which the city is prepared to do.

The Gang of Four’s public relations plan to support the federal lawsuit continues to dredge up the same old issues without offering a viable alternative to rail. There’s no indication their efforts have swayed public opinion on the project.

Since the writer himself brought up opinion polls, you’d think he’d be impressed and convinced about the public’s support for rail in three scientific polls conducted in 2008, 2009 and 2011. Support in those surveys averaged about 58 percent (see our “aggregation” site under the Public Opinion heading).

Unambiguous Mandates
But forget the sampling of a few hundred citizens in the electorate. Look instead at the actual island-wide votes. Pro-rail issues and candidates have won each and every election since 2008, starting with Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s landslide victory in the general election that year. Of the 298,795 valid votes cast, Mr. Hannemann received 57.9 percent of the total, thoroughly trouncing an opponent who was critical of the rail plan.

That same year the steel-on-steel amendment was passed with 52.6 percent of the valid votes. The letter writer tries to diminish the results of that election by alluding to a “margin for error,” but that’s just smoke and mirrors. There is no margin for error in an island-wide election, and there was nothing “ambiguous” about that vote. If you favored transit, you voted for steel-on-steel rail. Rail opponents lost.

In 2010, the two prominent pro-rail candidates for mayor collected 73.4 percent of all votes cast – a clear mandate in favor of the project, since a third candidate who had vowed to “stop rail in its tracks” won only 18.5 percent.

Also overwhelmingly supported by the public in 2010 was a charter amendment to create the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation. Here’s the wording:

“Shall the revised City Charter be amended to create a semi-autonomous pubic transit authority responsible for the planning, construction, operation, maintenance, and expansion of the City’s fixed guideway transit system?”
Nearly 69 percent of the 246,736 valid votes cast said “yes!

Honolulu citizens have repeatedly supported rail-related issues and candidates on the ballot. It's just that rail opponents won’t take “yes” for an answer.

This post has been added to our "aggregation" site under two headings -- Public Opinion and LTE Forum.

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