A Call For Kanno To Step Down

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - April 21, 2005

We have always heard the anecdotal stories of those in positions of political authority leveraging that power for their own personal agendas at the expense of others. Claims of intimidation and coercion have dogged some politicos to the point where it became part of their legacy. It appears one can add to that list of politicians state Sen. Brian Kanno.

Kanno is good friends with political activist Leon Rouse. Rouse has been a fixture at TheBigSquareBuilding for years and, upon Kanno’s recommendation, was hired as the office manager for freshman state Rep. Rida Cabinilla (D- Waipahu, Ewa). Fine. Rouse seemed to be a good hire. He has been a legislative activist for years in Wisconsin and Hawaii. He was involved in the fight to pass legislation prohibiting discrimination in hiring based on sexual orientation. His efforts must be counted as successful when such legislation was signed in 1991.

However, subsequent events in the past would have a profound impact on him today. Rouse served eight years in a Philippine prison convicted of sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy. He challenges that conviction to this day claiming corrupt police and others conspired against him. The fact of the matter is he was indeed convicted of a sexual crime against a child. He was released in 2003.

He accepted a position onboard a Norwegian Cruise Line ship. As with most new, non-officer cruise staff, there is a probationary period designed to protect both the cruise company and the prospective employee. I served onboard cruise ships for more than six years. In each of my contracts, there was specific language defining terms of employment. You have the option of signing or not. If you were to violate any term of employment, the company may exercise its termination clause and you are done. Conversely, if you are serving onboard and the cruise life is not for you, you can walk. NCL exercised its option of releasing him during his probationary period. There were substantial allegations of sexual harassment centering on Rouse, and he was terminated. It is common understanding, and usually included in any written agreement, that the cruise line may debark you at the next port of call upon termination. Pretty basic stuff.

However, Rouse wanted more answers about his dismissal, so he says, and enlisted Kanno to help him out. The senator attempted to negotiate an acceptable arrangement with NCL to ensure Rouse’s satisfaction, but to no avail.

Understand that Kanno is the Democratic chair of the Senate Labor Committee. He has the power to craft, pass, amend, delay, refer and advance legislation pertaining to labor issues. When he was unsuccessful in getting the company to meet his agenda, the story takes on a sinister tone.

Senate Resolution (SR) 65 is titled, “Requesting Personnel Policy Information From Norwegian Cruise Line And An Assessment Of Whether Norwegian Cruise Line Should Pay Transient Accommodations And Other State Taxes.”

The title really summarizes the story well. Kanno, along with nine senatorial colleagues, signed off on an attempt to coerce NCL into divulging its personnel policies pertaining to an employee accused of sexual harassment. Here is the text from the resolution:

“WHEREAS, there have been questions raised about NCL’s violation of the rights of employees who have been accused of sexual harassment and other unfair labor practices …”

Who else besides Rouse is raising questions about NCL’s sexual harassment practices? It is interesting in the outset of this resolution that it refers to NCL recently reflagging one of its ships to sail under the United States flag. Does the author forget that it was Sen. Daniel Inouye who shepherded the special exemption of the Passenger Services Act for NCL through Congress? It appears Kanno is inferring that Inouye did not sufficiently screen the practices of NCL before allowing them to cruise Hawaii waters.

Here is the bottom line. Kanno, through an absence of judgment and an abundance of arrogance, deigned to use his position of authority to intimidate a major multinational company doing business in Hawaii for his own personal agenda. He invoked the state Department of Taxation to ostensibly call into question the present tax status NCL enjoys with the state of Hawaii upon finding no satisfaction to his petitions on behalf of Rouse. He further invokes the Hawaii state Civil Rights Commission and the Hawaii Labor Relations Board to obtain such documentation which NCL refused to divulge for this specific case. Kanno chose to use the full strength of the Senate and the House (via HCR261) through the legal instrument of legislative resolution to intimidate NCL to comply with his demands.

Although the GOP members of the Senate are calling for him to step down from his position of Labor Committee chairman, that is not good enough. Kanno should do the honorable thing to help restore the integrity of the body politic and resign from the Senate.

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