A Peek Inside The Capitol

The square building on South Beretania is the most interesting structure on Oahu. Its open-air design is appropriately shaped like twin volcanoes surrounded by a reflective pool filled with tilapia frolicking in and out of a few wellplaced foundations.

That’s what meets the eye.

The real action is hidden underground, like the parking lot. Getting in and out of the state Capitol is a trick. More than a few reporters stake out the parking oval to see who is checking into the Capitol.

There is one private elevator for the governor on the diamondhead side of the basement lobby, and another on the ewa side as you pass by a legislative bulletin board that has all of the 24hour notices and Capitol agenda for the week.

It is also where the entrances to the House and Senate chambers are. If you have eyes in the back of your head, you can hang around the Capitol auditorium and figure out what’s going to be happening in the building.

Also tucked away from the public is Room 005. It is primarily designed to serve legislators and staff, but many services are available to the public, especially if you need to do some research to prepare testimony. The telephone number to this sacred place is 587-0009.

That’s were the “squareness” of the building ends.

There was a time when being “square” was a compliment, such as a square shooter. At least 75 percent of what happens at the state Capitol on a daily basis is hyperbole, almost mystical, cloaked in a protocol known only to the insiders.

Who should care?

Well, if you have a business organization, need commercial contracts, any kind of professional/vocational licensing, labor issues, property ownership or transfer questions and pay taxes, it’s worth your while to know how this building works.

It was former Maui Mayor and longtime Speaker of the House Elmer Cravalho who warned, “When the Legislature is in session, nobody’s life, welfare, property or money is safe.”

The Legislature has two bodies. The Senate has 25 members: 24 Democrats and one lonely Republican.

The House has 51 members, 43 Democrats and eight kind-of-lonely Republicans.

Together they have 60 days to enact any new laws. They dig through about 4,000 bills a year, which must pass three readings in each house on separate days to become law. Each one of the bills is limited to a single subject, so the titles are very broad.

All of the hocus-pocus happens in the committees. The sessions in the chambers are, generally speaking, ceremonial.

Don’t be frustrated, because most bills die in committee. Therefore, if you are going to make something happen at the square building, your biggest challenge is to get a chairperson to hear your bill. If the bill doesn’t have some supportive testimony, it’s dead.

Probably the most interesting action occurs in conference committee hearings, where all the deals are usually made.

This is where the square building loses it transparency.

Still, the Legislature is a very human institution, run by some very interesting individuals.

When inside the state Capitol, it’s a good idea to stop talking and listen, carefully, to everyone.