Category Archives: Politics

Good Samaritan in downtown crash is running for State House

If you read or watch the news, you probably saw the report about the man who ran to assist a family whose car had overturned in downtown Honolulu last week.

KHON reported:

Randy Gonce, 27, was one of several Good Samaritans who rushed to help a family of four out of their SUV after the terrifying experience.

“It was my worst fear. The first thing I heard out of the vehicle was a mother screaming, ‘My babies are in the car!’” the Ewa Beach resident told KHON2.

Gonce says he dropped his bag on the sidewalk and sprinted toward the car to help pull them out.

In the chaos, he realized, his bag was gone. Someone had stolen his things.

The incident, and a subsequent arrest in the case, got a lot of mainstream news coverage.

What I didn’t notice in the mainstream coverage is that Gonce, a Democrat, is an active Bernie Sanders supporter who had already formed a campaign committee to support his run for the State House of Representatives from the 40th District in Ewa/Ewa Beach. The seat is currently held by Republican Bob McDermott.

McDermott previously served three terms in the house (1997-2003), and is finishing his second term after being elected again in 2012.

Gonce registered his campaign committee, “Friends of Randy Gonce,” on April 18, 2016, and amended it six days later.

According to records of the Office of Elections, Gonce picked up nomination papers to run for the 40th District seat on April 16. Once is one of two Democrats to take out papers to challenge McDermott. No one has formally filed their nomination papers to date.

New Report: Reduce crime by investing in economic justice and policing

Don’t miss this story from the Washington Post, which reports the conclusions of a new study on criminal justice reform by the White House Council on Economic Advisors (“Obama’s advisers just revealed an unconventional solution to mass incarceration“).

The report compares approaches to reducing the nation’s crime rate, and concludes that indirect solutions will result in greater crime reduction than simply spending more on prisons and incarceration.

According the Post:

They forecast that hiking the federal minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $12 would reduce crime by 3 percent to 5 percent, as fewer people would be forced to turn to illegal activity to make ends meet.

That’s more than the 1 to 4 percent reduction projected to result from a $10 billion increase in spending on prisons.

Here’s another tidbit from the Post story:

The most effective way to reduce crime would be to spend more money on policing, the report projects. Research consistently shows that departments with more manpower and technology do a better job of protecting the public, and the United States has 35 percent fewer officers relative to the population than do other countries on average.

I’ve never seen that statistic before, and will have to check the report itself for additional information.

If it’s true, then we have substantially fewer police officers, but have far more people in prison than other countries.

In any case, the report itself can be found here.

Click here to view the highlights of the report in what appears to be a presentation about the report by the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors.

Good reporting on Senate President Kouchi’s financial ties to developer

Just back from the mainland, and digging through the backlog of email and newspapers.

I enjoyed Kevin Dayton’s story in Sunday’s Star-Adveriser, which raised questions about possible conflict of interest in Senate President Ron Kouchi’s financial ties to developer Kevin Showe, part-owner of thousands of acres of Big Island land being proposed for a state purchase or land swap in SB3071.

Dayton traces Kouchi’s ties with Showe through the Senate president’s financial disclosure statements.

Dayton reports:

Kouchi’s annual disclosure form filed with the Hawaii State Ethics Commission shows he was a shareholder in a real estate company called Leahi LLC from 2011 to 2015, and Kouchi’s 2016 ethics filing values that investment at between $100,000 and $150,000.

Leahi LLC lists Showe Land & Marine LLC and Kauai Development Manager LLC as its members, and Kevin Showe is listed as member and manager for both of those companies.

Leahi was involved with a group that was formed to purchase the site of the former Kyo-ya Restaurant at 2057 Kalakaua Ave. in Waikiki, which was sold to Japanese investors last year for $30.5 million. Kouchi said the $100,000 to $150,000 in value listed on his ethics filing this year represented his share of the proceeds from that sale.

In addition, Kouchi reported being paid between $175,000 and $350,000 as community relations director for Showe Land & Marine since his election to the Senate in 2010, according to my own count.

Kouchi lost a bid for Kauai County mayor in 2002. He was elected to the county council in 2006, but narrowly missed reelection in 2008. In 2010, he was appointed to the State Senate by then Gov. Linda Lingle, and elected in his own right in that year’s General Election.

During his 2008 run for the council seat, Kouchi’s campaign material said he had worked for Showe’s company beginning in 2005. At that time, Showe was a partner in the Kauai Lagoons project, what was expected at the time to be a $1 billion resort development.

The proposed project is a multi-faceted resort featuring 520 acres of
residential oceanfront property, a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course,
breathtaking coastline views, full-service spa, restaurant, and a 38-acre
freshwater lagoon with marina.

Kauai Lagoons is a collaboration with Marriott Vacation Club
International (MVCI) — a subsidiary of Marriott International, Inc. (NYSE:
MAR) — an affiliate of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, LLC, and Kauai
Development LLC.

An estimated 750 homes will be developed, including Ritz-Carlton
managed, private ownership condominiums and townhomes; bungalows and
condominiums managed by Grand Residences by Marriott; Ritz-Carlton Club
deeded, fractional ownership residences; Marriott Vacation Club timeshare
villas; and estate home lots.

The Kauai Lagoons development project became one of Hawaii’s casualties of the recession, and is now getting off the ground under new ownership.

I don’t know how Kouchi managed that apparent conflict of interest as he served on the county council while also representing Showe’s interests in the development. That’s another bit of political history that needs to be sorted out.

Dayton reports that Kouchi facilitated at least a couple of meetings to discuss the possible Big Island land deal.

Kouchi said he set up a meeting between the late Sen. Gil Kahele and Showe shortly after Kahele (D, Hilo) took office in 2011 to allow Kahele to make a pitch for the deal, and attended a meeting last year between Kahele and state Board of Land and Natural Resources Chairwoman Suzanne Case to discuss the Kapua lands.

Exactly who stands to benefit isn’t clear, since the state seems to have a legitimate interest in protecting the area from development, while Showe and his partners will obviously stand to benefit from a sale or land swap.

Ethics director poised to take over as state auditor

The House and Senate are scheduled to meet in a joint session on Friday to consider HCR 207 which would appoint the state auditor, the ombudsman, and the director of the Legislative Reference Bureau.

I’m interested in the choice of Les Kondo to take over as the auditor. Marion Higa, who served as auditor for two decades, retired in 2012. The position has been filled on an interim basis since that time.

I’ve been a supporter of Kondo during his tenure at the State Ethics Commission, where he has come under fire from legislators, some powerful interest groups, and from the commission itself. The former litigator has been a stickler for detail and strict interpretation of provisions of the ethics law, pushing harder than previous directors, and getting push-back as a result.

If Kondo is approved, I know he will dive into his new position and do a good job.

But I have to wonder what legislators see as the most important qualifications that Kondo, an attorney and former litigator, will bring to the top job in the state auditor’s office.

There is nothing in HCR 207 regarding the qualifications of those being appointed, so neither the public nor most legislators apparently have any basis for evaluating the nominees.

According to an article by Kevin Dayton in the Star-Advertiser:

When asked about Kondo’s appointment Friday, Souki said lawmakers had an internal agreement that Souki would choose the state ombudsman, Senate President Ron Kouchi would select the auditor and they would make a joint decision on hiring the head of the Legislative Reference Bureau.

Souki said he reviewed Kondo’s background and concurred with his appointment, and “I believe he has the capability. I have no problem. I’ve met with him a few times even prior to this appointment, and think we reached some understanding.”

Likewise, Article VII, Section 10, of the State Constitution, which establishes the auditor position, doesn’t provide much guidance. Like most state constitutions, it is silent on the minimum qualifications to serve as auditor.

The legislature, by a majority vote of each house in joint session, shall appoint an auditor who shall serve for a period of eight years and thereafter until a successor shall have been appointed. The legislature, by a two-thirds vote of the members in joint session, may remove the auditor from office at any time for cause. It shall be the duty of the auditor to conduct post-audits of the transactions, accounts, programs and performance of all departments, offices and agencies of the State and its political subdivisions, to certify to the accuracy of all financial statements issued by the respective accounting officers and to report the auditor’s findings and recommendations to the governor and to the legislature at such times as shall be provided by law. The auditor shall also make such additional reports and conduct such other investigations as may be directed by the legislature.

However, the duties of the auditor are established by statute.

§23-4 Duties. (a) The auditor shall conduct postaudits of the transactions, accounts, programs, and performance of all departments, offices, and agencies of the State and its political subdivisions. The postaudits and all examinations to discover evidence of any unauthorized, illegal, irregular, improper, or unsafe handling or expenditure of state funds or other improper practice of financial administration shall be conducted at least once in every two years after the close of a fiscal year, and at any other time or times during the fiscal year as the auditor deems necessary or as may be required by the legislature for the purpose of certifying to the accuracy of all financial statements issued by the respective accounting officers and of determining the validity of expenditures of state or public funds.

(b) Each department, office, or agency of the State or political subdivision thereof that is the subject of an audit performed pursuant to this chapter shall provide updates on its progress in implementing the recommendations made by the auditor, at intervals prescribed by the auditor.

(c) The auditor, in conducting postaudits, to the extent practicable and applicable to the audit scope and objectives, shall review and assess the audited agency’s rules as defined in section 91-1.

According to the auditor’s website:

The 1978 Constitutional Convention clarified these duties, making clear that the office’s post-auditing functions are not limited to financial audits, but also include program and performance audits of government agencies. While financial audits attest to the accuracy of financial statements and adequacy of financial records and internal control systems of agencies, program and performance audits assess the performance, management, and effectiveness of government agencies and programs providing information to improve operations, facilitate decision-making, and increase public accountability. Click here for a more complete discussion.

The Auditor also undertakes other studies and investigations as may be directed by the Legislature. In addition, Hawai?i Revised Statutes, Chapter 23, gives the Auditor broad powers to examine all books, records, files, papers, and documents, to summon persons to produce records and answer questions under oath, to hold working papers confidential, and to conduct post-audits as the Auditor deems necessary. These powers in their totality support the principles of objectivity and independence that the 1950 constitutional drafters envisioned for a fearless watchdog of public spending.

Like Kondo, Marion Higa did not have a background in auditing when she joined the auditor’s office. Higa graduated from the University of Hawaii, earned a Masters Degree in Illinois, and worked briefly as a teacher before landing a job in the auditor’s office. But unlike Kondo, she had twenty years experience working on audits before being named auditor in 1992, after a short interim appointment.

In a PBS Hawaii interview, Higa stressed the importance of the need to get to the source of problems that have been identified.

When you start looking at the problem that’s brought to you, and when you do program or performance audits, you have to get to the cause of the problem. You can’t make a good recommendation until you identify the cause of the problem. And so, much of the time, when you start peeling the onion to see what caused this problem, where should the problem be traced to, it’s not necessarily staff incompetence or recalcitrance. It’s very often at the management levels; and higher and higher you go, and then very often it’s at the governing level. So, it’s at your board, your board of trustees, your board of regents; your boards, whoever is setting the policy, which trickles down to the operational level. So, we tried not to get mired in the operational level, because you couldn’t very often find the cause of the problem at that level.

Q: You could probably find a lot going wrong, but not why.

Yes; not the why. And if you don’t get to the why, you can’t help them solve the problem.

In his ethics position, Kondo has taken a very different approach, focusing on a literal interpretation of the requirements of the ethics law, and declining to delve into the way agencies deal with practical problems of coming into compliance.

He and the commission were criticized by the Department of Education and teachers union officials for failing to provide more practical guidance and assistance as they struggled to comply with a commission ruling that at least temporarily has blocked educational tours organized by public school teachers for students and parents.

I know from past experience that there are professional auditors who say state audits are too often “gotcha” reports that focus on problems rather than working to guide agencies to solutions, although I don’t know how widely those reservations are shared.

In any case, after administering both the ethics commission and the Office of Information Practices, Kondo is well versed in tackling politically sensitive situations while maintaining independence from external political demands, skills that will serve him well as auditor.

But knowing more about why the Senate selected Kondo for the auditor’s post, and what parts of his experience and past performance were considered most important, will also serve to illuminate the legislature’s view of what the auditor’s office should be doing in the future.

And now the search begins for a new executive director of the State Ethics Commission.

Why I’m not fully feeling the Bern

Here are several of the items that have been passed around in recent days by friends of mine.

I suppose these won’t make my other friends who are Bernie believers very happy.

Don’t get me wrong. If Bernie Sanders gets the nomination, he’s my guy. In the meantime, forgive me for not fully feeling the Bern.

Tom Hayden writing in The Nation, “I Used to Support Bernie, but Then I Changed My Mind.”

Avery Bauer, “Rhetoric and the Bernie Sanders Revolution,” from the Daily News Bin.

Zachary Levin, “The Case for Hillary,” Medium.com.