The Bipolar Political Personality

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - May 10, 2006

Politics requires of its practitioners a bi-polar personality.

For the past four months, Hawaii’s 76 state legislators have spent most of their waking hours grappling with complex issues. They’ve listened to hundreds of hours of public testimony. They’ve read thick, detailed and difficult studies of public policy issues - or at least watched the power-point distillations of those complicated reports.

They’ve weighed the pros and cons, cast ballot after ballot after ballot on issue after issue after issue, and negotiated compromises - striking appropriations from the budget, putting others in, approving some bills, rejecting others.

Oh, there’s been plenty of partisan posturing and a share of silliness; but legislating is serious work and Hawaii lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have had a serious and productive session.

They appropriated half of the state’s $600 million budget surplus for school renovations and repairs, $20 million to deal with recent flooding and future disasters, $30 million for various alternative energy initiatives, and $50 million for the homeless and affordable housing - among other things.

They also approved tax cuts of $50 million, not the $300 million originally asked by Gov. Linda Lingle, nor the $120 million she requested later in the session, but tax cuts nonetheless.

Legislators also passed two significant public health measures. They raised cigarette taxes, earmarking the revenue for cancer research and various public health programs. And finally and definitively, they prohibited smoking in bars, airports and other public places.

In the closing days of the session, Gov. Lingle applauded the legislators on their good, serious work. And on the closing day of the session, legislators - majority Democrats in particular - applauded themselves on their good, serious work.

Now, the serious business of lawmaking at an end, legislators across the state rush to the other pole of their personality. Call it their pupule pole.

These serious legislators will become serious sign-holders-and-wavers. At intersections from Kau to Kapaa, men and women who have just completed four months wrestling with the complexities of the changing the tax code will devote the next five or six months of their lives to waving mindlessly at passing automobiles.

Or attending neighborhood candidate forums where more candidates than voters show up.

Or braving snarling dogs and surly homeowners while walking the legislative district.

Or begging money from lobbyists who support them not for their intellects, integrity, or humane values - but because they always vote for their pet projects.

Or nodding affirmatively while some ignoramus with a vote loudly espouses a position with which they totally disagree.

Or preparing mailers in which controversial votes are left unmentioned (don’t want to lose the support of those smokers), but every dime appropriated for the district is duly noted.

In short, with the Legislature’s adjournment, campaign 2006 began in earnest. Sens. Colleen Hanabusa, Clayton Hee, Bob Hogue and Gary Hooser practically bolted out of the Capitol to begin - or continue - their canvassing of the Second Congressional District. So too did state Rep. Brian Schatz.

With the departure by candidacy of Schatz and Hogue, and by retirement of Reps. Dennis Arakaki, Helene Hale, Ezra Kanaho, Bud Stonebraker and Sen. Brian Kanno, would-be legislators by the score will exercise their silly side to fill the open seats.

And the voters, damn us, won’t ask much more of them over the coming months. We’ll decide on the basis of who waves at us, knocks on our door, is related to our sister-in-law, looks nice in the brochure, or has the endorsement of our union or trade association.

With luck, that choice will prove bi-polar come the time for beginning of the 2007 legislative session.

Call it politics in a democracy.

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