Revisiting Rail, Civil Unions

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - June 23, 2010

So, what are we going to be talking about during the four-and-a-half long months remaining in this already oh-so-long special, primary and general election year?

Sadly, much of the heat will be generated by topics we’ve been discussing ad nauseam for decades, starting with a fixed-rail mass transit campaign for Honolulu.

It appeared to have been settled in 2008 when Oahu residents voted 156,051 to 140,818 for the project. They also re-elected the rail project’s champion of the moment, Mufi Hannemann. He stood in a long line of rail champions: every Honolulu mayor save one since 1968.

So rail’s a done deal, right? Of course not. Honolulu east of Red Hill and Windward Oahu made up the bulk of those 140,818 anti-rail votes, and many of those folks will not let the issue die.

Perhaps they shouldn’t. Any project with a $5.5 billion price tag needs the voters’ continued attention.

They will give it in the months ahead as University of Hawaii engineering professor Panos Prevedouros takes the anti-rail, pro-high occupancy transit position into the winner-take-all mayoral election. Prevedouros may very well win it. He’s a quick-witted, excellent debater with a disarming sense of humor. He proved that in the 2008 mayoral primary. And he’s the only one of the five major announced mayoral candidates who opposes the proposed mass transit system. The others - city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, city managing director Kirk Caldwell and City Councilmen Donovan Dela Cruz and Rod Tam - all have their strengths, experience in county government and name recognition foremost among them.

But Prevedouros has a pool of 140,818 opponents of rail in which to troll for votes. That’s a big pool, and there aren’t any other mayoral boats with lines in the water.

Transit also will be prominent among the issues dominating the gubernatorial debate. Indeed, it already is. Neil Abercrombie joins the mayor in supporting rail, but the former U.S. representative has been criticizing Hannemann for months. The mayor, he argues, has moved too slowly and now wants to walk away from the project before construction has begun. Hannemann responds that it’s Republican Gov. Linda Lingle’s fault, that her stubbornness has caused the delays.

And so it goes.

Then there are civil unions, an issue that we’ve been debating for almost two decades. The Hawaii Supreme Court launched the debate in the early 1990s by deciding in favor of same-sex marriages. Opponents succeeded in tying the Legislature in knots for several sessions and getting a constitutional amendment on the ballot that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The voters approved it, and there the issue has percolated.

Whether Lingle signs, vetoes or lets the civil unions bill become law without her signature, the issue will play a central role in the primary and general elections. Both Duke Aiona and Lynn Finnegan, the most likely Republican ticket in the fall, oppose civil unions. Their positions will energize the thousands of demonstrators opposed to the bill to campaign for and vote the Republican ticket in November.

But in the primary elections, anti-civil union voters may find themselves choosing the Democrats’ ballot. There they’ll find Hannemann, who opposes civil unions, while Abercrombie joins the legislative Democrats who supported them. Among the Democrats running for lieutenant governor, both Sens. Bobby Bunda and Norman Sakamoto voted against the civil unions bill.

So we’ll redo both issues.


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