Political Fallout From The Ferry

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - October 31, 2007

There hasn’t been a topic of conversation as dominant as the Hawaii Superferry in quite some time. The last time there was such community involvement and reaction dates back to the wayward Tali-Vans (traffic camera) experiment.

Legislators have not experienced such lobbying since the confirmation hearing of Margery Bronster as attorney general. Bronster’s nomination by then-Gov. Ben Cayetano was scuttled in the Senate with a controversial vote.


The HSF issue is now where many of us believe it belongs. Not as an edict from the governor’s office and not decided by judges in a courtroom. Ultimately, it is the legislative branch that is charged with creating, repealing or amending laws. The recently convened special session is the proper arena.

The anticipated decision to allow the ferry to operate while an environmental impact statement is compiled will be the cause of consternation for some, regarded as a victory for others and will impact a host of players in this ongoing saga. Here are a few who will be affected most:

* Gov. Linda Lingle - The governor has been accused to being dictatorial, manipulative, coercive and even of acting illegally during this issue. Opponents accuse her of being bought and paid for by ferry executives and investors while scheming to take children from Kauai families. The temperature and boorishness of the comments and accusations directed at the governor are unprecedented. The reality is the governor - and by extension, the state Department of Transportation - have stated a position of support for the ferry that withstood legal challenges and found affirmation of that position by lower courts.

Yes, on a subsequent challenge, the state Supreme Court did render a unanimous opinion and decision overturning those previous findings. But it is fully appropriate that the administration (and others) respond to interpretation of law by the judicial branch to find satisfaction in the legislative branch. There is no impropriety regarding the administration’s support of a special session, especially when the impropriety would be for the judicial branch to create law.

Politically speaking, this issue will be one of the defining moments of her administration and could impact her pursuit of higher office. Right or wrong, Neighbor Islanders (even those of her home county of Maui) will associate her with the ferry. Gov. Lingle has been adept at avoiding hyper-contentious issues, since her political style is quietly effective. Although she has many positive talking points regarding her two terms, there is no doubt the reference point for her office will be HSF.


When the governor presents her record on job creation, low unemployment, the Akaka Bill, affordable housing, homelessness, mental health reform and overall economic stability, she will always be remembered for HSF. When the day comes that she is seeking Neighbor Island support in a possible run for U.S. senator, she will have to address this issue more than any other. I believe she has nothing to shy away from, and the resounding numbers who support the HSF project represent the vast majority of her constituency.

* Sen. Gary Hooser - Sen. Hooser has positioned himself as the champion of the HSF opponents. The revelations of his co-introduction of SR79, which expressed support for and urged expeditious processing of the HSF project, seems inconsistent with his present views. If the Legislature indeed passes legislation allowing the HSF to operate and if the conditions of this operation are not to the satisfaction of opponents, Hooser may be perceived as ineffective. His ardor, combined with his post as majority leader of the Democrat-dominated Senate, appeared to be an extremely strong position for the opposition. The HSF operating to the dissatisfaction of his supporters may cause their support for him to wane somewhat. More importantly, his constituency will have to discern if he was representing his district or a select few. It is this core support, or lack thereof, which will determine Hooser’s success. Regardless, Hooser has proven to be the most articulate in his opposition and has proven to be the main antagonist of HSF supporters.

Politically speaking, it is well known that Hooser is ambitious. His recent Congressional run demonstrated his willingness and desire for higher office. Will the HSF issue be of great benefit to him in the future? If all proceeds without great incident, his stature may be slightly diminished. But, if something goes terribly wrong, he would certainly be able to play the “I told you so” card to great advantage.

* Senate President Colleen Hanabusa - It appears the Senate president may emerge from this controversy relatively unscathed. It’s the Senate president who is reported to be the intermediary between the administration, the House and Senate in advancing the coalescence of previously less-than-communicative entities. Although Hanabusa may find more common ground with the arguments advanced by opponents of the HSF, she was willing to support a special session and expressed a “sooner the better” posture. Her accommodation to consider all sides was her calling card as previous chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, when she would give virtually all bills a hearing even if she stridently disagreed. However, she faces challenges within the Senate, especially with her Democratic colleagues. It is no secret there are factions.

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