Like Film Noir At The Legislature

It was, as it was a year ago, film noir at last week’s opening of the 2012 state legislative session: No music, no dancing, few flowers, sobriety everywhere. The residents of the so-called “People’s House” were in high re-election-year mode: all business, levity at a minimum.

The Senate’s minority of one, East Honolulu Republican Sam Slom, complained: “Let me say right upfront we (meaning he) acknowledge the majority’s unilateral decision to once again suspend, as was done in 2010, our tradition of making Hawaii’s opening day colorful, special and unique, in order to appear more serious and businesslike. But we (meaning he) respectfully disagree. The lack of aloha diminishes the citizens’ role and ownership of our government. It is their chance to be here and we have marginalized that.”

Hear! Hear! Whatever one may have felt about pre-Great Recession opening days at the Legislature, they were indeed unique celebrations of Hawaii’s culture, expressions of aloha and marvelously democratic.

Oh, opening day always brought out the paid lobbyists in force, as they would come out every day of every legislative session. But on opening day, company CEOs often walked from office to office as well. So too did union chiefs and university presidents, unpaid lobbyists and, most important, a goodly number of common folk.

The pre-Great Recession opening days could get crowded and sweaty, in days of yore sometimes less than sober, but they were indeed, as the good minority senator said last week, expressive of the “citizens’ role and ownership of our government.”

Is there a more important principle? Certainly it’s more important than the appearance of being “serious and businesslike.” Lawmakers have 59 other working days to prove themselves “businesslike.”

In his remarks, state Senate President Shan Tsutsui, speaking for the Senate’s 24 Democrats, highlighted “The Invest in Hawaii Act of 2012” to “address the long overdue backlog of repair and maintenance issues projects that are shovel-ready and permit-ready.”

It’s patented Democratic Party pump-priming: “Projects would be seen in every single one of our 255 public schools, all 10 University of Hawaii campuses, all of our state hospitals, and provide work for painters, roofers, electricians, masons, plumbers, local engineers … in every corner of the state, and in return generate millions of dollars in disposable income throughout our economy.”

So long as all the painting, plumbing and roofing wouldn’t cost anything, Slom would probably agree. But it will, and Slom insisted that a “better day” for Hawaii means, among other things, “no new taxes.”

Where bipartisan agreement could be heard on this allbusiness opening day was in regard to solar energy. Said House Minority Leader Gene Ward: “We really need to get serious about the sun.” He called for making Hawaii “first in the world” in solar water heating and photovoltaic contributions to the grid. On the Senate side, Tsutsui made a similar plea, arguing that “if photovoltaic panels were installed in all of our public schools, the state could realize a savings of more than 500 millions of dollars over the next 20 years alone.”

In the grimmest and dimmest spirit of film noir, however, House Speaker Calvin Say called for balance and responsibility: “No new taxes for state government from residents and businesses … no major general fund appropriation for the expansion of state programs.” Both, Say insisted, would endanger a fragile state economic recovery.

The Speaker apologized for his “intrusion of reality,” adjusted his green eyeshade and concluded his address.