Tuesday, May 5, 2015


"Blood bath" isn't too strong a term for today's Hawai`i State Senate shake-up. And social media has eleven fingers to point in explaining how and why three of the biggest advocates for food safety and sustainability- Senate Health Committee Chairman Josh Green, Water and Land Chairwoman Laura Thielen, and Agriculture Chairman Russell Ruderman- were reportedly ousted from their committee leadership positions.

It would be easy, if not simplistic, to think that it was just an early yet predicable coup for the chemical and Frankenfood cartel. But the demise of conservative Senate President Donna Kim, along with the survival of other allies of those opposed to the indiscriminate use of pesticides and genetically-modified-food experiments, makes that look like a less than compelling argument.

It would be easier still to blame Green's at-many-times abrasive style and intransigence over the medical cannabis dispensary bill for his ouster as conference committee chair precipitating the falling dominoes that led to a 19-6 vote to replace Kim with Kaua`i Sen. Ron Kouchi.

But perhaps because of the neophyte nature of the corporate media reporters covering the legislature, those perplexed at the way majorities shifted have little idea of how the legislature- and moreover the state senate- has operated for decades.

Neither officeholders nor staffers are eager to talk on-the-record about the politically functional dystopia that is the Hawai`i Legislature. But when they do talk they start and end by saying it's a lot like prison where survival means joining a gang that will "cover your ass."

Though usually depicted using such niceties as "coalitions" or "caucuses" with names (used more by reporters than members) like "Opihi," and "Chess Club" or, more traditionally, with the name of the leader, they are more like the La Nuestra Familia and the Texas Syndicate because no one survives alone in the Hawai`i Senate. You can't be everywhere at once and without "family" you WILL be stabbed in the back.

In the legislature's hurry-up-and-wait, four-month rigid schedule you can never be at every committee meeting, hearing or- more importantly in a body that's exempt from the state's Sunshine Law- back room deal-making session to protect your interests.

So you join a gang. You join the one that reflects your interests, whether that means environmental protection, good governance and "doing good" or money, power and "doing well." You'll either find it or, by joining with those disenfranchised or generally disgusted with the current selection of gangs, form a new one.

That of course means that "you can't always get what you want but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need." Because when all is said and done it's a game of "Political Survivor" - Outwit, Outplay, Outlast.

And as every prisoner knows the gang will help you as long as you are useful to them but if you burn them or make them look bad they will turn on you like a pit bull in heat.

So what you don't want to do is make the others look bad. Like in prison, it's a matter of "honor." You may not support the legislative goals of your own gang members. Some put more or less of an emphasis on supporting each others' priorities. But if you make them look bad in front of the other gangs with whom they make have made the necessary side deals required to engender support for their priority legislation, you will be put on a flaming boat and set adrift like a used-up Viking warrior.

And that's what Sen. Green did. And did with such an egotistical zeal that he brought down the whole gang with him... except for those who, out of self-preservation, jumped away from his flaming ship.

It wasn't just the medical marijuana dispensary bill. Green's penchant for "my-way-or-the-highway" has sowed the destruction of a slim sub-faction of his so-called "Chess Club" gang long before last Friday's debacle when he was dumped in a vain attempt by Kim and others to save their own asses.

Perhaps the most telling thing we found in press reports was this (pay-walled) from a Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s coverage of the Saturday morning massacre and Green's removal as head conferee:
Lawmakers had made a dispensary program one of their top priorities in this year's session, and the effort had progressed smoothly until last week's conference talks, which at times grew heated.

Some dispensary advocates were irked by what they saw as a hard-line approach by Green.
During a conference hearing Friday, Green had said he declined to meet with the governor's staff about the dispensary measure. He added he would not change his position on certain provisions even if that might cost Ige's support and signature.

"The governor doesn't know half of what I know or you know or Sen. (Will) Espero knows about this program," Green told (House Conference Committee Chair Della) Au Belatti during conference Friday. "He's a fantastic guy but he's not in the trenches."
Whether Green was always a babe in the woods politically, as many observers have long contended, or whether the presence of a "27th Senator" in the form of the well-connected and popular among his former colleagues in the senate, Governor David Ige changed the equation this year and Green simply never recalculated is subject to more discussion. At best he exhibited a head-shaking political naivety. At worst, the emergency room physician displayed an egotistical "God Complex" on many health-care-related bills.

It hasn't helped that his campaign donor list reads like a who's who of corporate heath care lobbyists and physicians in a time when donor lists are becoming ever more available for scrutinization by the media and public.

No one is shocked- unless they are "shocked, shocked"- that there's politics afoot at the legislature. Unless that someone is Senator Josh Green.

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