Where Dems And GOP Can Agree

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - January 14, 2009
| Del.icio.us

The Hawaii state Legislature convenes next week. House Speaker Calvin Say will call to order 44 fellow Democrats and six lonely Republicans. Senate President Colleen Hanabusa will rap her gavel on 23 fellow Democrats and two even lonelier Republicans.

Therein lies the problem. On the Capitol’s fifth floor resides an even lonelier Republican: Gov. Linda Lingle. Lingle begins the last two years of her second and final term as the state’s chief executive.

Her first was sweet. The state enjoyed practically zero unemployment. Tourists filled the Islands’ hotel rooms. Developers built homes, hotels, and commercial buildings across the state. Housing values soared. And Lingle rode a huge wave of state prosperity to re-election in 2006.

The dominant Democrats merely whimpered its opposition in the fall of 2006. Good soldier Randy Iwase sacrificed himself for the donkeys’ cause, but it was a sad thing to watch.


Nationally, however, Republicans took a drubbing, and - of course - this past fall they were practically annihilated in every state save the reddest. Democrat Barack Obama will be sworn in as president next Tuesday, and on Wednesday Lingle will look out at a Legislature whose members number fewer Republicans than at any time in her six years in office.

The temptation will be great to do precisely what Republican governor and Democratic Legislature have done for the past six years: It’s a dance called “The Partisan Stand-off.” Its moves require no movement. Indeed, if one partner moves, the other vetoes, then the other overrides. It’s a dance that doesn’t even need an orchestra.

Hawaii deserves something better these last two, supposedly lame-duck years of Lingle’s tenure as governor. Both she and the triumphant Democrats need to cooperate as - frankly - they seldom have during the previous six years. The state’s economy is in crisis, and “The Partisan Stand-off” simply won’t do.

Learning new dance steps will be difficult, but Lanai and its owners - Castle and Cooke - have shown the way. There last week they blessed the 10-acre La Ola Solar Farm, the largest single-site solar facility in the state. Over the next year, it will produce 3 million kilowatts of power and provide 30 percent of Lanai’s electricity.

The “farm” consists of 7,400 photovoltaic panels that tilt throughout the day, following the sun across the sky. Their power equals that produced by 5,000 barrels of precious oil.

“It’s really impressive when you see it,” says Castle and Cooke Hawaii president Harry Saunders. “It’s huge, and it feeds right into the electric grid. We’ve signed a contract to provide 1.2 megawatts of power each year for the next 25 years.”

In his remarks last Tuesday, Castle and Cooke CEO David Murdock stressed his company’s commitment “to helping the state of Hawaii achieve energy independence” and called La Ola the “first step in Castle and Cooke’s plans for renewable, sustainable energy.”

Saunders says that will include making Lanai “100 percent energy independent as soon as possible. We want to double the size of the solar farm and build a 400 megawatt wind farm that cannot only serve Lanai’s energy needs but also tap into the state grid via a cable to Oahu.”

Last summer’s spike in gas prices sobered Hawaii regarding our profligate and expensive energy habits. It may require a village to educate a child, but it requires both energy and economic crises to make Americans act like adults when it comes to its addiction to oil.

Let neither falling gas prices, “The Partisan Stand-off” nor Lingle’s last, lame-duck sessions dumb us down. The task of ending our dependence on foreign oil and of ridding the atmosphere of green house gases is hardly a highway marked “Partisan.” It’s long enough and wide enough for everyone to travel.

The governor announced her Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative a year ago - a plan in concert with the federal government to take the state from its present 90 percent reliance on foreign oil to 70 percent reliance on renewables by 2030.

The 2008 Legislature responded by passing a bill requiring that, beginning in 2010, all new homes built in Hawaii be outfitted with solar panels. The governor signed it.

President-elect Obama has made clear that a significant part of his economic stimulus package will be devoted to developing alternative sources of energy.

At no time in recent American history - or in the Lingle administration - has the need for bipartisanship been more clear. Both the governor and the Democrats who own the Hawaii state Legislature must recognize that need every single day of the 2009 legislative session. Nowhere would that bipartisan-ship go further than in the development of alternative energy.

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