Monday, June 14, 2010


A BLESSING ON YOUR HEAD, MAZEL TOV, MAZEL TOV: No one ever said Councilperson Derrick Kawakami was an idiot.

As a scion of the two-headed Kawakami political family no one ever said he lacked political acumen to read the political winds.

And as a scion of the Kawakami “Big Save” family no one ever said he couldn’t take care of business when he had to

But who knew he was an thespian?

Not that he had to be a Brando to deliver his “I had a Dream speech” at last Wednesday’s council meeting given that his target audience was all too willing to believe any performance that led to the result they were looking for.

But this one had to be a humdinger.

With November just around the corner Kawakami looked into the abyss and saw what could be a difficult row to hoe in the coming months. And anything less than a top-two or three result just wouldn’t do for his plans for a life as a professional politician.

A loss would be a disaster. With two former councilmembers and an up and comer already in the race and none of the other six running for anything else, the math looked iffy- especially based on the demographics that put him into office in ’08.

Back then Kawakami didn’t just cash in on the local cache of the Kawakami name but took advantage of a dearth of progressive candidate endorsements to garner a large chunk of the slow-growth “Keep Kaua`i Kaua`i” crowd that was willing to “give him a chance”.

But his vehement defense of Chair Kaipo Asing and attacks on progressive darlings Lani Kawahara and Tim Bynum had put him in a position where cries of “well I won’t make that mistake again” were making it almost impossible to garner a wide swath of that portion of the electorate again.

Beginning in the spring the pandering began in earnest with his early and unwavering support for the “I own a dog and I vote” crowd. But although that politically wise move assured the votes of some single-issue voters there was a blow back brewing. Not being an idiot, he could see that there were many out there who, though comparatively silent, saw the naked political ploy as another indication of pandering “hack-dom”.

He needed something meaty- a real issue that was uniting many leaders of the “sustainability” wing of the island’s progressives. But as luck would have it he had tried the same “get out front early” strategy that worked on the “dog path” but it was boomeranging on the farm worker’s housing bill.

When the bill first came before the council it appeared that the issue of abuse of ag land and the resulting sprawl- especially on the north shore- was causing widespread opposition to the bill. There were just too many ways to take advantage of the added density and, based on past abuses of well-meaning ag land measures, the smart growth/sustainability crowd and even most akamai farmers were lining up to oppose the measure.

Kawakami’s attempt to get out front looked like a good political move and also kept him in lock step with the Asing majority- seemingly a win-win for him when and if the issue became a winner for the majority faction.

That fell apart when the farmers and the three minority faction councilmembers in favor of the bill- minority leader Jay Furfaro (who did most of the negotiating), Bynum and Kawahara- spent almost a year negotiating a laundry list of restrictions which, although they made the bill useless to 99% of the island’s farmers, assuaged the concerns of those lining up to oppose the original bill.

All of a sudden Kawakami found himself not just not making headway with some of his ’08 constituency but actually being seen as the main reason why the now reasonable compromise would be defeated.

No doubt this did cause “sleepless nights” as Kawakami said. And there was just one way out- reverse his formerly staunch opposition to the bill which was approaching a final vote last Wednesday.

But what kind of cockamamie story could he come up with as to why he was flip-flopping at the last minute?

The reality is that Derrick is for one thing and one thing only... Derrick. And actually admitting he was changing his mind to win in November wasn’t something a smart politician would do.

Not only did the story have to be minimally convincing for those whose votes he was seeking- at least enough to just have them enjoy the victory and assure they wouldn’t ask (or care) why he changed his mind- but he would have to have a bone to throw to his base whose support came from his support of Asing and the good old boys network and whose votes he had worked so hard to put in his pocket.

Could he pull it off? He had to try.

He knew that all he had to do was convince the all-too-willing-to-believe crowd in the council chambers to take his story all at face value and that if they did he could expect another hook line and sinker job- this time swallowing the rod and reel too- by the wide mouth bass on the government beat at the local newspaper.

Spinning a phony-baloney tall tale of a beloved deceased relative coming to one in a dream in order to explain a change of one’s mind and get someone to now agree with the new position, goes at least back to author Shalom Aleichem, as immortalized in the Tevye’s Dream sequence in the Broadway play “Fiddler on the Roof”.

But mixing in the tales of old plantation days for the old boys along with support for ag on Kaua`i was pure Kawakami.

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