Lee Cataluna: Maybe save the party until the work is done
Every year at the start of the state legislative session, it feels like the same obligatory ritual that everyone kind of hates but goes along with anyway, like having to put on a show of appeasing petulant little gods.
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Every year at the start of the state legislative session, it feels like the same obligatory ritual that everyone kind of hates but goes along with anyway, like having to put on a show of appeasing petulant little gods. Here’s some manapua, Mr. Senator. I brought you your favorite mochi from last year, Madam Representative. I hope you like your maile, my liege. I grew it on the top of Ka‘ala special for you and tended it each day until it was ready for your neck.
The opening day festivities wear the facade of a local-style pa‘ina, a hukilau community celebration, a we-all-break-bread-together kind of thing when it is basically a time for various groups to make an impression on lawmakers with offerings of food, flowers and fawning. The Opening Day Lege-palooza has become less of a celebration of democracy and more of an unctuous schmooze fest, like a Hollywood cocktail party with all of the bad idea pitches but none of the liquor to help wash them down.
But 10 years ago, things were very different at the Capitol building.
Republican Gov. Linda Lingle was in her last year of office and was in the throes of the disaster that was furlough Fridays. Parents and teachers were livid over Lingle’s cost-saving, union-tweaking measure of canceling school one day a week, which had been going on for months before the Legislature opened in January.
The state was saddled with a $1.2 billion budget deficit. It was not a time for pageantry and feasting. It was a time to grab a shovel and dig Hawaii out of the hole.
The long tradition of an opening day fete was canceled. No flowers, no live music, no manapua. (OK, people still brought manapua.)
Instead, on Jan. 20, 2010, the opening day of the session, there were brief, mostly somber speeches about collaboration and kuleana. In his address, House Speaker Calvin Say quoted Martin Luther King Jr., saying, “The true measure of a person is not how the person behaves in moments of comfort and convenience, but how the person stands at times of controversy and challenges.”
That quote may not have fit the context, because, as we all know, the way elected officials act when the state is comfortable and conveniently flush with cash is a significant measure of character as well.
There is a lot of outside money floating around town these days that could conjure up a bountiful buffet — or other perks— in the attempt to gain favor with those in government. Not that any of our esteemed lawmakers would ever, ever take bribes, but most people are susceptible to special attention.
There is also the worry that if your box of manapua is not accounted for on opening day, there’s no sense in asking for any help during session.
While Hawaii is no longer in the dire straights of having to shut down the schools one day a week, and the opening day celebration is not as lavish as it once was, there should still be calls for toning down the pageantry of politics. It’s a different time — a time of violent crime on the streets, a rash of home burglaries, citizen protests and homeless encampments. Instead of celebrating at the beginning, the Legislature might consider hitting the ground running, going hard and having good work to celebrate at the end.