Learning How To Count Noses

This has been a very boring but educational legislative session. I was surprised that the same-sex marriage bill went down in flames. There wasn’t enough dissent after the bill died in committee to stir any real emotion.

Word is neither the Senate nor the House of Representatives wanted to carry the ball. Both houses seemed to be willing to let the proposition end up in the courts rather than taking a stand for pure love. So we haven’t heard the end of the same-sex marriage question. It will surely keep surfacing year after year until it becomes law by fatigue.

New leadership didn’t produce any proof that their way was better than the old way, but maybe it’s too early to judge what could have been done differently.

Getting rid of the legalization of marijuana was more interesting. Even the attractive presence of a 15-percent excise tax that would have been imposed on marijuana sales to help the economy and create jobs didn’t smoke out enough votes to carry the day.

What was learned in the defeat of the two proposed bills gives some convincing evidence that to play the “legislative game” in Hawaii correctly, leadership needs a simple skill: the ability to add and subtract votes.

In both cases, proposed bills were tabled or not reported out of committee in time to make it to conference committee hearing and a broader audience. It’s interesting, with all of the information and lobbying surrounding these two bills over the years, that before the legislative process reached its pinnacle of interest, the leadership withdrew the bill because they knew they didn’t have the votes to push it to the next level.

This leads to another lesson to be learned by newcomers to local politics. Don’t give any indication of how you will vote on a bill in the early going. Better yet, more often than not, holding your vote close to your vest on any legislative matter is important. Holding a vote may lead to gaining power, because you cannot be accounted for in a close vote. It might not increase your popularity, but certainly makes you worthy of lobbyists’ interest and ferrets out heavy support for a particular bill.

So many pitfalls for new legislators before their big moment. As the public scrambles to put the late Sen. Daniel Inouye’s name on as many public facilities as possible, withhold your vote or opinion. It may make you more powerful than you would ever expect. But then again, it could make you public enemy No. 1.

In any event, learn to count noses accurately.