Of all the political rhetoric I’ve heard early in this campaign season, what’s resonated the most is Democratic gubernatorial candidate Neil Abercrombie’s call for the "re-establishment of a public conscience."
Without passing judgment on which candidate or political party can best make it happen, this strikes me as exactly where the 2010 election needs to be focused.
Hawaii’s biggest problem in dealing with the Great Recession wasn’t a loss of tourism, jobs or tax revenue, but an abandonment of the social contract that sustains our island culture.
Instead of coming together as a community, sharing the sacrifice and making sure our children and neediest were taken care of first, it’s been everyone for themselves as we’ve played politics, pointed fingers, refused to compromise and fought like feral cats over every table scrap.
Instead of leadership with a "public conscience," we got legislators who took 36 percent pay raises for themselves while demanding sacrifices from everyone else.
We got a governor who warned against "kicking the can down the road"—and then tried to do just that by proposing to stick her successor with deferred bill payments totaling hundreds of millions of dollars.
We got a Board of Education that booted schoolchildren to the curb and public agencies that slashed services for the poor, sick and elderly when they needed help the most.
As the political campaign warms up, elected officials will hand out rose-colored glasses to obscure their inability to lead and will line up to take credit for any sign of economic recovery.
Before leaving on a trade mission to China, Gov. Linda Lingle issued a statement on the economy that took a side trip to Fantasyland.
"In true Hawaii fashion, our state pulled together to tackle these difficult issues," she said. "It has not been an easy task, and there have been disagreements, even heated debate, along the way. But for the most part, we have remained focused on being fiscally responsible, turning our economy around, getting our residents back to work, and setting the foundation for a stronger future."
Those who have paid attention know that’s the near opposite of what actually happened. Our leaders didn’t "pull together" and they didn’t inspire a united sense of purpose in the community.
The governor, Legislature, county mayors, school board and public worker unions were barely on speaking terms at times as budget and labor negotiations resembled chicken fights more than collaborations.
Part of the social contract is to set aside the self-serving spin and take an honest look at what went wrong and how we can do better the next time. Until we do that, political promises of better things to come mean little.