Monday, April 30, 2012

If Transparency Is the Goal (and It Is), It Must Be Applied to Everyone & Everybody in Rail Debate; That Includes Candidate Who Vows to Kill Project

“Regardless of where people stand on Honolulu’s rail transit project, it is clear that the community benefits from more transparency and more discussion about how taxpayer money is being spent on a project that will have a significant impact on the future of Oahu and our state.”

That’s the opening paragraph of an op-ed piece in today’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser (subscription required) by the co-chairs of Move Oahu Forward, a new group formed to support the Honolulu rail project.

Transparency is what HART’s new chief executive officer Dan Grabauskas says will define the project under his leadership. People all over town – City Council members, rail opponents, project supporters, the media – are embracing the commitment to transparency in and around the largest construction project in the state's history.

But not everyone shares that commitment. The one person who holds more individual power over rail’s future than nearly anyone else is following the anti-transparency playbook. Mayoral Candidate Ben Cayetano, whose campaign is driven by his opposition to rail, has turned his back on transparency and everyone who believes in it.

Missed Deadline
Mr. Cayetano announced his candidacy on January 19 and his intention to terminate the rail project if elected saying, “There’s no sense in criticizing if you don’t come up with some kind of solution.” Since then, he’s been campaigning against rail while avoiding any details about his alleged solution.

What he has offered is the headline of a solution and nothing else – Cayetano’s Transit Plan Mirrors Harris’ in 2000. Civil Beat used that headline for a March 21 piece that included this: “Cayetano told Civil Beat Editor and General Manager John Temple in an email that he would share the full transit plan by mid-April.”

We noted two days ago that Mr. Cayetano had failed “The 100 Day Test” – a standard measurement for the accomplishments of office-holders, beginning with Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and continuing to this day. We suggested then that the candidate who would kill the rail project and everything it represents should have met that test, but didn’t.

Politics as Usual
What’s there to make of Mr. Cayetano’s non-commitment to transparency? It seems obvious. He’s employing a favorite strategy of political candidates who think they’re leading in their race: Don’t let yourself be pinned down on specifics.

The leading candidate willingly risks the opponent’s outrage and media criticism that he or she is ducking debates and plows ahead with campaign messages that seem to be working.

By confining his statements to rail’s cost and aesthetics, Mr. Cayetano avoids the potentially disastrous prospect of defending the Harris Administration’s bus rapid transit plan, which was attacked from nearly every side and died.

Mr. Cayetano wants to kill rail without telling the public any details about his BRT replacement – precisely because BRT is woefully inadequate in matching mobility-enhancing, travel-time-reducing, development-guiding, transportation-equity-ensuring and job-creating Honolulu rail.

We shouldn’t expect the anti-rail candidate to volunteer answers to any of the questions we included in our “First 100 Days” post two days ago. But the public deserves to have those and many more questions answered about the Cayetano/Harris BRT plan.
Mr. Cayetano has been silent for 102 days since his announcement, with 103 days remaining before the primary election on August 11. If his strategy has been to wait until the second half of his campaign, that half begins tomorrow. A commitment to transparency by the candidate who would kill rail is way overdue.

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