The Erosion Of Trust In Government

Larry Price
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Wednesday - April 19, 2006
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Not too long ago we went through the coronation of a new governor of Hawaii and a new mayor of Honolulu. There was a predictable “honeymoon” period and brilliant report cards from the winners about their accomplishments in the first 100 days of their reign.

When the parties are over and the leis and flowers have wilted, there is a calm - until a test surfaces. The test can be something real small or something very serious, like a monster sewage spill and heavy storms that cause dams to breach.

At that moment opposition parties go on the attack. It may be a good thing, because it revitalizes the ousted party, helps it discover new candidates for the next election and enables it to explore new opportunities. It’s an essential part of better politics.

The problem is it’s not fair to the grieving public.

Unfortunately, federal, state and county governments have not fared well. There has been a gradual erosion of the general public’s trust in their efforts and the honesty of governmental officials at all levels.

It’s one thing to recover from devastating incidents, but it’s necessary to do so in such a way as to gain the respect, cooperation and appreciation of the injured public.

Much of the public’s distrust may be unwarranted, but some of it is understandable and predictable. People want to know the truth about what happened, and if they don’t like the explanation it becomes the lead story in all the media. If these interested parties are not satisfied with the answers they receive from government leaders, they start talking about conflict of interest or conspiracy.

It’s the American way. After decades, the conspiracy theories are still big news on the anniversary of the Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. assassinations. There are still calls for independent investigations, suggesting that government investigators can’t be trusted.

This predictable pattern of behavior is counterproductive. On the island of Kauai, The Kaloko Dam Breach Action Alliance, a group of residents who lost loved ones and property when the Kaloko dam failed last month, has called for an independent investigation into the cause of the fatal breach. Specifically, they want state Attorney General Mark Bennett to stop his investigation into the actions of state agencies because he once worked in the same law firm as Bill McCorriston, the attorney for retired auto dealer Jimmy Pflueger, who owns a large share of the dam and the property surrounding it.

In a rush of activity, state House lawmakers approved House Concurrent Resolution 192, HD 1. In doing so, they turned the tragedy into a political football. It states that, “whether real or perceived, the State’s ability to investigate the incident may appear to be compromised by claims and accusations which jeopardize the credibility of such a thorough investigation.” The hastily drawn up concurrent resolution suggests that the investigation should be conducted with impartiality.

All of these insinuations are understandable if they are used for political capital. However, anyone who purposely spreads rumors to damage the reputations of and trust in government leaders should think twice, because distrust breeds distrust.

It doesn’t serve the public’s best interest if we are led to believe that we cannot trust the people we have elected to office. The public needs and deserves to have the confidence that our governmental leaders are honest, even though there has been some strong evidence in recent years to suggest that some of them can’t be trusted on occasion.

We really have no choice after we have put them in office. And if they can’t be trusted, we can - as we have in the past - put them in jail after they have been charged and convicted.

But not before.

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