My favorite email yesterday was from a friend in Kaaawa who shared her observation on this week’s Friday Felines.
“Your cats,” she said with gracious understatement, “are exceptionally well nourished.”
Now to the news. As predicted here yesterday morning, City Clerk Denise Decosta disqualified former House majority leader Kirk Caldwell as a candidate for the city council after finding herself backed into a corner by the prior ruling of state’s chief election officer.
The ruling came in response to a friendly challenge by Caldwell-backer Lex Smith, which was filed with Caldwell’s support in order to clarify his status. Another challenge was filed on behalf of Amy Mizuno, but may be moot following Decosta’s ruling.
You might recall that back in 2002, Smith successfully sued the Campaign Spending Commission to overturn a ruling that appled a single contribution limit to Jeremy Harris’ campaign for mayor in 2000 and his run for governor in 2002.
I was impressed by the civility and grace with which Kirk Caldwell bowed out following Decosta’s ruling, despite the UPPER CASE emphasis, which comes across as the email equivalent of screaming.
IT IS IMPORTANT TO PUT THINGS IN CONTEXT. EVERY DAY THERE ARE MORE STORIES ABOUT PEOPLE BEING LAID OFF. TODAY WE LEARNED THAT MANY SEA LIFE PARK EMPLOYEES ARE LOSING THEIR JOBS. BEYOND THAT, THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF FAMILIES IN HAWAII FACING REAL HARDSHIP. MY OWN EXPERIENCE DIMS IN COMPARISON.
I WILL RETURN TO THE FULL TIME PRACTICE OF LAW. HOWEVER COMMUNITY SERVICE REMAINS THE MAINSTAY OF MY LIFE. I WILL CONTINUE TO BE INVOLVED IN THE ISSUES THAT ARE IMPORTANT TO ME AND THE COMMUNITY.
AS I SAID WHEN I INITIATED A CHALLENGE ON MY OWN FILING, THIS WAS THE RIGHT THING TO DO. AND IT REMAINS THE RIGHT THING TO DO.
I give Caldwell a lot of credit for exiting a gentleman. And I should say that while I wasn’t involved enough in any of the behind-the-scenes legislative negotiations to characterize Caldwell’s performance as House majority leader, I always found him to be straight and accessible. His absence will be a loss to the House and the legislature as a whole. It also takes another vote away from Speaker Calvin Say’s controlling faction, setting off another set of political possibilities. I haven’t done it, but I’m sure there are others carefully counting votes for and against the speaker as the election llineup is clarified.
And the statement issued by the city clerk deserves closer scrutiny. Decosta said elections officials have, in the past, allowed broad leeway for last-minute filers at the deadline.
At the candidate filing deadline, the Office of the City Clerk and the State Office of Elections have historically allowed for the completion of the candidate filing process beyond 4:30 p.m. as long as all resources (qualified signers, nomination fees, etc.) were available on the premises of the election office at the close of the candidate filing. To implement this, the doors are locked at 4:30 p.m. to prevent further entry into the candidate filing area. Both partisan and non-partisan candidates have utilized this reasonable and fair approach to access the election ballot successfully over the years.
Decosta then blames chief election officer Kevin Cronin for upsetting the traditional process.
Three days after the candidate filing deadline the State Chief Elections Officer in an objection and decision on a state candidacy matter unilaterally determined that all signatures must be present on nomination papers prior to the 4:30 p.m. deadline. This action was a complete departure from both our offices’ practice for many years. This three-day “after-the-fact” decision is surprising and philosophically troubling.
Decosta goes on to say that a strict enforcement of the 4:30 deadline “will place late entry candidacies at the mercy of election offices and their ability to issue nomination papers” as the deadline approaches.
“Election officials past and present have always done their best to afford the greatest access to the ballot,” Descosta wrote. “THis new policy ensures that this will no longer be the case.”
I can follow Decosta’s logic part of the way but not all the way through this defense. Remember that nomination papers are available beginning back in February, and there are posted warnings to candidates about the deadlines and need to file earlier rather than later to avoid problems. I can see extending the deadline for those who have their completed nomination papers in hand and ready for filing before the deadline but find a line when they arrive to deliver them. Like the procedure for handling voters who are in line when the polls close, wanna-be candidates who are in line at the filing deadline should be processed. But to me, that assumes that their filing are complete and good to go. I would not extend the deadlines to allow certain candidates to not only deliver but to fill out or make up errors or omissions in their paperwork after the deadlines. If that was past practice, it needs careful scrutiny.
Some questions still remain despite these rulings. Election law does not explicitly require a candidate’s notice of withdrawal to be in writing, although it does require those withdrawing later for reasons of health to do so in writing (thanks to Andy Parx for catching that the crucial negative was accidentally absent from the original post this morning). In Caldwell’s case, Decosta says she received verbal notice of his withdrawal from the House race, but Cronin ruled the verbal notice wasn’t valid and didn’t take effect until the written confirmation was received. There’s a procedural point that the election commission needs to clarify. I’m sure there are others buried in here.
There’s also the question of the propriety of actions by election staffers. Decosta defends the city staff member who provided the 15th valid signature on Caldwell’s nomination papers after the deadline.
The employee of my office who volunteered to provide the final signature to allow the completion of Mr. Caldwell’s filing process did so as a well-intentioned gesture and did not even know Mr. Caldwell. Nothing more.
This explanation contradicts the her earlier description of past practice, in which completion of the filing process after 4:30 was apparently allowed “as long as all resources (qualified signers, nomination fees, etc.) were available on the premises” at the deadline. Even by that logic, Caldwell’s filing fell short.
Whew. That’s enough brain work for a warm Saturday morning in August.