Elect, Don’t Appoint, Lawmakers

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - October 05, 2005
| Del.icio.us

Bev Harbin wanted it too much.

Harbin wanted be a state representative so badly that she was willing, by her silence about a tax lien and misdemeanor convictions for writing bad checks, to mislead Gov. Linda Lingle - the one person with the power to give her the empty desk of 28th House District Rep. Ken Hiraki.

Too bad.

Harbin would have been better off running for the office. Voters can be forgiving; like Harbin, they have trouble with taxes, with landlords, with tough times in their lives. And voters like scrappers; in a peculiar way, Harbin’s unwillingness to resign demonstrates the kind of bull-headedness that sometimes fares well in the Legislature.

There’s more to the story, of course. In making the Harbin appointment, Lingle and her people were undoubtedly thinking about elections themselves. Last November the Republicans almost beat Hiraki in the 28th. The GOP’s candidate was young Collin Wong, a hardworking campaigner who walked and waved his way to within 153 votes of upsetting Hiraki. Indeed, the closeness of the November election may have been one of the reasons Hiraki decided to seek other employment.

Gov. Lingle chose to ignore a slate of four possible appointees suggested by the Democratic Party. Instead, she picked Harbin, an unsuccessful small-businesswoman who signed a Democratic Party card three days after Hiraki resigned his office. In choosing Harbin, Lingle said she wanted a small-business advocate in the post.

I’m sure she did. But I’m also sure that the weakness of Harbin, a three-day Democrat with little support in her adopted party, in a race against Republican Wong in November 2006 must have crossed Republican Lingle’s mind.

Nothing wrong with entertaining such a thought. It’s just good politics, and such thoughts have certainly been entertained by Hawaii governors with the letter “D” after their names.

But good politics, poorly executed, can come back to bite you in the ... well, you know where. And that’s why the good governor and her estimable aide Bob Awana, vetting-officerin-charge of the Harbin appointment, are now rubbing their behinds.

All right, all right. A lot of people look bad. Poor House Majority Leader Marcus Oshiro will have to look at that video clip of him draping a lei on the new Rep. Harbin for a long time to come. And House Speaker Calvin Say will be choking on his initial words of welcome for the new Democratic lawmaker.

But it’s the system that stinks and it’s the law that ought to be changed. Every time someone dies in legislative office or resigns for any reason at all, a special election should be held to fill the vacancy.

As I word-processed the last sentence, I could hear one of my 11 regular readers saying: “There he goes again - a tax-and-spend liberal who wants to waste taxpayer dollars for an itty-bitty House seat to be occupied for 14 months.”

You bet I am. Democracy doesn’t come cheap, and elected legislative offices aren’t meant to be places with which governors play politics. District voters are supposed to play politics with those seats; no one else. That’s the way the national House of Representatives works (Remember Ed Case’s two campaigns for the House in 2004?), and that’s the way the state House of Representatives should work as well.

I feel very strongly about this one. For almost two decades in the 1980s and ‘90s, Democratic governors appointed the state representative and state senator in my Pearl City district. A good half dozen community activists who had served tirelessly as members of local PTAs, neighborhood boards and service clubs were shunted aside and a friend of the governor - or a friend of someone close to the governor - got the appointment.

Not fair, not fair, not fair. In each instance, the governor rather than the Pearl City electorate chose Pearl City’s legislator.

Let’s change the law next session. If a legislative vacancy occurs due to resignation, death or imprisonment, hold an election six weeks after the resignation becomes effective.

Under such a system, Republican Collin Wong probably would have won the 28th House District seat this fall.

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