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Hawaii GOP says indictments show ‘system is rigged’

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The federal indictments of two lawmakers who held powerful posts in the state House and Senate drew immediate condemnation from the Hawaii Republican Party and silence, for the most part, from leading Democrats on Tuesday.

“This is more proof that the system is rigged by Democrats against the average person in Hawaii,” Republican Party Chairwoman Lynn Finnegan said in a statement following the indictments of former state Sen. Kalani English and state Rep. Ty J.K. Cullen, who resigned Tuesday.

English (D, Molokai-Lanai-East Maui) had been Senate majority leader before abruptly resigning in April, citing COVID-19 complications. Until Tuesday’s indictments and his own sudden resignation, Cullen (D, Waipahu-Royal Kunia-Makakilo) had been vice chairman of the powerful House Finance Committee.

The Democratic Party of Hawaii did not respond to a request for comment on the indictments. Members of the party on Oahu will submit the names of three nominees for Gov. David Ige to consider to replace Cullen. Ige then has 60 days to pick a replacement.

Ige had no comment Tuesday on the indictments.

Cullen’s replacement will have little time in office since all 25 Senate seats and 51 House seats are up for election this year. Party primaries are scheduled for Aug. 13, before the Nov. 8 general election.

Ige in 2021 appointed former state Rep. Lynn DeCoite (D, Lanai-Molokai-Paia-Hana) to fill English’s seat. DeCoite did not respond to a request for comment on her predecessor.

But state Rep. Gene Ward (R, Hawaii Kai-Kalama Valley) — one of only four Republicans in the House — called the indictments the “biggest bombshell” to hit the Legislature in decades. In a statement, Ward commended the U.S. Attorney’s Office for “what appears as a very open and closed case.”

Additionally, he suggested that “in the event that any of the Campaign Spending Commission or State Ethics Commission data in the case are challenged or unclear,” state Auditor Les Kondo should be called in to settle the matter.

House Speaker Scott Saiki, in a statement, called the allegations against English and Cullen “very serious” and that they “violate the public trust.”

Speaking on behalf of President Ron Kouchi, Senate spokesman Jacob Aki said, “We were unaware of the situation until the news broke earlier (Tuesday), and at this point we have no further comments.”

The U.S. Department of Justice charged English and Cullen with accepting bribes for and against legislation on behalf of a Hawaii industrial services company interested in cesspool regulations and policies.

English’s attorney said that English will plead guilty. Along with Cullen’s resignation, political analyst Neal Milner called the alleged bribery and corruption “so blatant and unsophisticated that there was an immediate guilty plea and the other legislator resigned. … A lot of people will say, ‘We’ve been saying this all along: They’re all corrupt.’ But they’ll vote for the same candidates anyway.”

Colin Moore, director of the University of Hawaii’s Public Policy Center, called the indictments “blatant corruption, at least what’s being alleged. You see this in the most corrupt states in the nation, at places like New York and Illinois.

“This is devastating to the image of the Legislature,” Moore said. “It suggests this shocking level of corruption exists at the top levels of the Legislature. We’re talking taking cash bribes for decisions about legislation. This furthers a view that the Legislature is corrupt and politicians are corrupt. It damages our trust in government institutions.”

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