It’s official. I’m no longer employed at the legislature. Session staff turned in our badges, keys, and (for those who had them) parking passes yesterday afternoon. On Monday, they’ll wipe out any of our computer files left in the system and delete our user accounts. I left with two bags of books and some papers.
It really was not a good day. No, take that back. It was a rotten day. Over in the Senate, the majority was trying to convince themselves that they really, really aren’t in favor of continued discrimination and really, really do intend to take up the civil unions issue again next year despite the fact that such hot button topics are avoided like the plague in election years.
In the House, the group of dissidents who have opposed the current Speaker (a group that includes the representative I’ve been working for) had (in my view) the poor judgement to align with the Republicans to push a floor amendment to HB 128, a bill which recodifies the campaign spending law and is based on a rewrite put forward by a task force of attorneys that worked through the issues last year. The floor amendment didn’t offer anything new that hadn’t been debated in committee and, because of the timing, would have deferred the overall streamlining of the statute until after the 2010 election. But it did offer an opportunity for floor speeches designed, I suppose, to place the House majority in a bad light. I can understand the Republican’s political desire to see that. I don’t understand why these Democrats would lead the effort. The whole spectacle made me cringe and left me very depressed.
One understandable objection to HB 128, and one voiced by several representatives during the floor debate, is that it doesn’t do anything to cap political contributions or expenditures by corporations. Fair enough. It doesn’t.
But supporters conveniently forgot to mention that they attacked the House Judiciary chairman and Majority Leader earlier in the session for proposing a $25,000 cap in total campaign-related spending by any corporation. It was far from a ban on corporate money, but could have been a real step in that direction. At the time, though, campaign reform advocates rejected the $25,000 cap as too high and took the position that it would be better to just leave the current law in place than compromise. By yesterday, it was just too late.
[Oh, my. Did I really say all that? Perhaps I was too candid. I respect all the representatives who took the occasion to speak up for campaign finance reforms. I just disagree with the politics and timing of yesterday's attempt. But the issue isn't going away, so there will be lots of time to keep the conversation going.]
Then there was the Islam Day resolution, which designated September 24, 2009 as a day “to recognize the rich religious, scientific, cultural, and artistic contributions Islam and the Islamic world have made since their founding”. It triggered a storm in the right-wing blogosphere, where it was taken as an endorsement of terrorism, and led to a barrage of hate calls from mainlanders who, by and large, didn’t really know what’s in the resolution but just wanted to vent their anger at all things Islamic.
I wonder if all those angry Americans understand that our troops are in combat supporting allies in both Iraq and Afghanistan who are, not surprisingly, also Muslims, and it might be a good thing to understand a bit more about them and their culture. And, of course, there are the several thousand followers of the Islamic faith living and working here in Hawaii, neighbors and friends, who have done nothing to deserve this outpouring of hate.
But the worst part of the day was being hit by “friendly fire” from ACLU Hawaii, which felt compelled to issue a press release attacking the resolution.
As Daniel Gluck, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Hawaii explained, “This resolution sends the State down a dangerous path. The Legislature should not be picking and choosing among religions to honor, no matter how well-intentioned the action.”
I called Dan and talked to him about the issue, pointing out that this resolution does not involve any state funds, does not create a holiday, requires no state action, and does not extend beyond the single day. State law already sets recognizes other commemorative days of a religious nature, including Buddha Day, Bodhi Day, Father Damien Day, and Confucius Day, not to mention Christmas and Good Friday.
ACLU takes the position that this honorary resolution somehow puts the government in the position of giving “preferential status to one belief system over another.”
But at least the ACLU statement was tempered somewhat to take into account the issues I raised. It says, in part:
“The ACLU acknowledges that Islam has a long and noble history and that Muslims have made innumerable contributions to science, philosophy, and the arts. Furthermore, celebrating a diversity of views is a fundamental part of America’s and Hawaii’s cultural heritage. The ACLU’s objection to “Islam Day” has nothing to do with the tenets of Islam, and the ACLU strenuously disagrees with those who oppose “Islam Day” out of prejudice, ignorance, and fear of our Muslim friends, family, and neighbors.”
I appreciated that acknowledgement from my friends at the ACLU.
All in all, not a pleasant way to end the session.
But did I mention the wonderful NY Times review of Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday concert?
Bruce Springsteen told of rehearsing for the recent presidential inauguration with Mr. Seeger, who had relayed the story of “We Shall Overcome,” crucial to both the labor and civil rights movements. Watching the transfer of power, Mr. Springsteen said, “was like, ‘Pete, you outlasted the bastards, man.’ It was so nice.”
Say that again!
“You outlasted the bastards, man.”
YouTube has video of some of the great performances in the concert, including the Ritchie Havens performance noted in the review.
Two last stories. I was exclaiming about the Seeger review and a couple of the concert videos, and Jamal, student intern working part-time in our legislative office, looked over and asked who Pete Seeger is.
“What band is he with?”, Jamal asked.
Oh, my. Can you say “generation gap”?
News of Seeger’s 90th birthday concert elicited this story from my old friend, Michael, now living in Hilo.
I remember attending
a Pete Seeger concert/rally at the Wesley Foundation, across the street from the University of Texas, in 1961 or so. It was probably was a benefit for some civil rights issue. 400 people had jammed themselves into Wesley’s auditorium, and we got the full Seeger treatment.
That was about 48 years ago, so Seeger would have been 42 years old. He was sure full of energy–especially for such an old guy.
And so it goes.