Tuesday, November 25, 2008


WE’LL NEVER SEE KANSAS NOW, TOTO: There’s nothing like watching malahini get genuinely dazed and still remain confused at politics on Kaua`i.

Keone Kealoha’s account of yesterday’s somewhat bizarre but predictable council organizational meeting spread like electronic wildfire last night and by this morning his houses-are-falling-from-the-sky account of Kaipo Asing’s 4-3 re-grabbing of the council reins was the talk of both Joan Conrow’s and Katy Rose’s blogs this morning as they joined in on the munchkin hand wringing.

Kealoha opened his epistle by saying:

Today showed the true power of running a hui on council. In a rare occurrence (first time ever?), the council was exposed to a public mtg when making their choice of chair, vice-chair and all committee members. It was stunning to watch Kaipo Asing take over completely with a predetermined hui of four and proceed to announce the new committee structures, committee chairs, vice-chairs and new members all with four members completely aware of the decisions and three others left with lots of questions.

Actually, as we explained earlier this month, council organizational meetings have been pseudo-public since they were declared to fall under a legal loophole to the Sunshine Law since they weren’t meetings of councilmembers but councilmembers-elect.

Although the OIP has strongly “recommended” the meetings themselves remain public, pre-meeting discussion of commitments to vote- which would also be illegal under the law if they were actually on the council- have gone on since the opinion was issued.

But strangely- or perhaps not so strangely for someone who hasn’t really watched Kaua`i politics in action up-close- Kealoha ended by bemoaning the “division” on the council saying:

It appears all council members need to have a call, some a call of condolence, others, a wake up call that a divided council is not what is going to best serve Kaua`i in the coming years. The hope remains that some good policy can come out of this divisive style of politicing but that's not usually the case when out of the gate we're playing hardball.
The count is 4-3; whether you take a walk or consider you're self out, the outcome will appear to be the same in every case

With two bloggers, a community activist and the local paper all describing the meeting you’d think someone would recognize the real news- we have a real council with a real live minority faction... and on Kaua`i that’s not just a step but a leap forward.

As a matter of fact “unanimity” is the least democratic form of governance around and by condemning “division” we play right into unfettered support for every development and sneaky, secretive ploy at the root of the corruption of Kaua`i government that we all condemn.

Let’s not forget- there has only been one council “faction” for at least the last 10 years with virtually every single vote coming out 7-0.

But after yesterday’s meeting those who are fed up can take heart that Lani Kawahara’s distaste for council politics as usual has taken Jay Furfaro’s and Tim Bynum’s formerly impotent and whiney urges to occasionally “take exception” to “Uncle Chair’s” dictatorial paternalism and formed them into a faction that is one vote away from stopping much of the utter crap that has passed for legislation.

But it may be that Kealoha had a little more going than disappointment at the organizational results that shut out the minority faction from a majority on any committee and restructured the committees to give at least two of them the chairs of less than desirable working groups.

Though he and his Malama Kaua`i associate Andrea Brower didn’t make it very public, every politically active individual on Kaua`i knows that they supported Derrick Kawakami for some insane reason they couldn’t be talked out of. But when the rubber hit the road of course Kealoha’s disillusionment with D-E-R-I-K had to be palpable.

While Kawakami didn’t make any of the progressive “lists” of “good” candidates during the campaign his support among malahini activists like the MK pair was probably what put him over the top.

It remains to be seen how- whether with Kawakami or even in the presidential realm- people will deal with disappointment after throwing their support to status quo disguised as “change”.

But what is important is that for the first time since the 80’s the Kaua`i council will be a real political body complete with political infighting, covering each other’s asses and vote stripping.

While this might sound like the type of thing that makes the average knee-jerk citizen who pays little attention to politics cry “why can’t they get along” the alternative is a rubber stamp for corruption, back-scratching, revolving door cronyism and your basic protection racket for incumbents.

What factions provide is things like having your motion get a dependable “second” from members of your bloc who will not be afraid of pissing off a unanimous majority as they would if you were a single dissident voice.

They provide support for getting items on the agenda in the first place which otherwise is used to “teach that uppity new member a lesson.”

And what it provides is a future where the majority is one big screw-up away from losing their majority. The first time innocent little Dickie sees politics in action, his penchant for supporting the chair might not be as strong. Or if Derrick sees his political fortunes as being different from that of the retiring Chair Kaipo Asing, he might just defect.

From the local newspaper accounts it seem that Lani Kawahara is the real power and motivator behind this no-nonsense structure. If she would have stepped back like all the other newbies have and “learned the ropes” from “older and wiser” council members you can bet that the Jay the Cowardly Lion and the Tim the Scarecrow would never have started down the road to the Emerald City with Dorothy.

The fact that someone on the council has, after six years of the iron fisted Asing regime, come in and refused to accept political business as usual is perhaps the most courageous move by any council member since Asing himself made up a minority of one while Ron Kouchi ran the show throughout the 90’s.

The most important message from this is that showing up to the organizational meeting is nice but if we want to take back our county government the way to do it is to show up and testify- not just to the council but to the TV viewing public- and do it every week to put the political pressure on members of the “hui” to strip off a vote on a bill or even call for a leadership change.

Don’t forget- everyone of them is already running for re-election and if what Asing has said is true, this is his last go around.

If animosity grows as he is publicly exposed on television by a real opposition wing with no real power to lose any more, everything may be up for grabs especially if Asing’s allies see that their political survival is up for grabs.

Don’t forget- for all of Asing’s fierce political power play, he has no real experience in running the in-power gang and little in the normal factionalism that usually pervades legislative affairs.

With a one vote majority he’ll have to do it all without any room for failure.

Kawahara could have cast her vote for Asing- it wasn’t like she wasn’t asked and prodded to do so.

But as Asing said in an outburst according to the newspaper article:

“You pushed it, and pushed it, and pushed it... Lani pushed it and pushed it.”

Kawahara has apparently figured out early what most politicians rarely “get”- the power to do things you really want to do comes from the doing, not the power. And if doing what you really want doesn’t get you the power at first, if you are right the rest of the power will flow to you.

Otherwise you’ll “go along to get along” for so long that by the time you realize you’re a hack- it’s long past time to do what you really wanted.

So when you go to the supermarket and run into Councilperson Kawahara make it your business to thank her for having the guts and strength to “push it” and acting on principle to send a message to the hacks that she is a force to be reckoned with...

And when you run into the others let them know that if they care for their political futures they’d be well served re-consider which side they’re on.

You can show your support by showing up to some council meetings and voicing it. Don’t forget- how long someone sticks their neck out for you is directly proportional to whether you stick out yours for them.

Because if you’re waiting for some magical Wizard to suddenly produce four decent, accountable, honest councilmembers you might just as well try clicking you heel three times and saying “there’s no place like Kukui`ula”.


Katy said...

Thanks for the analysis from a long-time observer. As you point out, the opening for pressure from below is a little wider now.

Let's not forget the work that has to happen outside of the meetings, in the street, so to speak. That's the stuff that gives courage and strength to the Lani Kawaharas of the world - real popular power, educated, organized and mobilized to make positive social change whether the institutions back us up or not.

Joan Conrow said...

we have a real council with a real live minority faction... and on Kaua`i that’s not just a step but a leap forward.

Well, that's certainly finding a silver lining. But how is that supposed to make any difference? Mr. Chair still prevails, whether it's 7-0 or 4-3. It's just more dramatic.

Munchkin hand-wringing?

And just a small thing (except to him), but you managed to spell Derek's name wrong twice in one paragraph:

Though he and his Malama Kaua`i associate Andrea Brower didn’t make it very public, every politically active individual on Kaua`i knows that they supported Derrick Kawakami for some insane reason they couldn’t be talked out of. But when the rubber hit the road of course Kealoha’s disillusionment with D-E-R-I-K had to be palpable.

Blahblahblah said...

How anyone could expect a younger version of Ron Kouchi with an even deeper family history as part of the old time power structure after his performance on KIUC's board to be anything but a rubber stamp for the same old games beggars belief.

And Dickie Chang? good grief.

Well, only 23 months before we can try to pick off one of these 4 like we did with Kouchi. Any other Lani Kawahara's out there?

Andy Parx said...

Silver lining? We’ll I suppose if you think a major recently unprecedented (not since the 84-86 council) shift in council politics from a monolithic bunch of yes-men to having a real live opposition – one that’s one vote away- is somehow grasping at straws. We’ve gone from being bound and gagged to having one hand tied behind our backs and we’re working to loosen the knot... that’s progress. And if support flows their way the political survival instincts of the rest in supporting a retiring leader could kick in- if of course people exhibit that support.

Someday I’ll get the spelling right when I’m trying to- the D-E-R-I-K spelling is from his campaign commercial but the odd spelling without the “c” gets me every time because it’s in my spell check that way- I’ll have to do something about that now that he’s actually (ecch) in office.

Unknown said...

Mr Parks indeed sees a silver lining and that is refreshing these days. It would be easy to view the take over of the council or re-claiming and power condensation by Mr. "Old School" Asing as the distressing and negative move that it indeed is. Kudos to Andy for his astute observations and humorous delivery. I might just have to start coming to the meetings to throw in my 2 cents now. Personally being a cynic I see only dark clouds but Andy has shed some light on things for me and yes sir I believe that there just might be some rays of sunlight peeking through those dark forboding clouds.