Are We Really That Ungovernable?

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - December 16, 2009
| Del.icio.us

Too often of late I find myself wondering if we are governable.

Three weeks ago, Gov. Linda Lingle responded to public outcry and Mainland media censure by proposing to spend $50 million from the state’s rainy day fund to cut the number of Furlough Fridays over the next two years.

In doing so, Lingle did what neither she nor any other politician enjoys doing: She admitted that she had made a mistake in agreeing to the scheme in the first place.

Two or three days of public rejoicing followed. That’s all. Now the leadership of the Hawaii State Teachers’Union is balking.

Will Okabe, HSTA’s president, told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin’s Richard Borreca that union members will not accept the governor’s plan.


“We’ve offered viable solutions and options to the governor to end the furloughs, which she has so far rejected,” says Okabe. “But we are continuing to work with parent groups and other stakeholders to find a solution, and hope the governor will begin to show some flexibility.”

What “viable solutions and options”? Are they as “viable” as the Furlough Fridays both the union and the governor agreed to - the Furlough Fridays that gave teachers three-day weekends and Hawaii’s students the fewest number of school days of any kids in the country?

And with what “parent groups and other stake-holders” is the union working? Of course, the union won’t talk about these matters with the press. It should all be worked out quietly and sprung on taxpayers and parents - as the Furlough Fridays were.

Many of us have long suspected that Furlough Fridays were the HSTA’s means of putting public pressure on the governor. It worked. But no one seemed to recognize the national ignominy it would bring us: that short, short school year. So the governor grows flexible. The teachers, though, don’t seem to care. They won’t deal, so now they attempt to burnish their faded image with newspaper advertisements.

Then there’s the university professors (of which I am one). While K-12 teachers and members of the Hawaii Government Employees Union take furloughs and pay cuts, members of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly milk their “evergreen clause” for every last dime it will yield.

Reject a new, salary-cutting contract long enough, I suppose this foggy thinking goes, and the economy will turn around.

Not likely. Instead, times will grow tougher and the strong will begin to devour the weak. Tenured faculty will watch lecturers and the untenured laid off and weaker units - colleges, departments, programs - eliminated. Blood will flow.

As it already has. There are victims of the state budget crisis who enjoy neither an evergreen clause or a position from which to negotiate with “stakeholders,” the governor, or anybody else. They are, as usual, the weakest among us.


Last week the leaders of PHOCUSED (the incredibly awkward acronym for Protecting Hawaii’s Ohana, Children, Under Served, Elderly and Disabled - a consortium of nonprofits who serve the needy) reported the results of a survey showing six in 10 nonprofits laying off staff and a third of them cutting services.

The PHOCUSED promise to lobby and demonstrate at the Capitol come January and the opening of the legislative session. University students were already in front of the empty House and Senate chambers last week beseeching Beretania Street traffic to “Save the UH.”

All of this, of course, will indeed become the legislators’ problem. Few of them relish the prospect. It means, perhaps, trying to raise a tax or two in an election year. It means saying “no” to well-organized unions, wrestling with the governor even more than usual, while trying - as many of them are - to run for re-election or for a higher office.

Put powerful unions, a reluctant governor, and election-year legislators together and they spell - to this point in our economic downturn - “ungovernable.”

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