Give Voters A Voice On Rail Plan

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - August 06, 2008

Recent polling done by both Honolulu daily newspapers regarding public sentiment on rail is a mixed bag, to say the least. A majority of those surveyed say they are in support of the project, yet an equal number say they are unlikely to regularly use it. The majority of those surveyed want to see the question posed on the ballot, yet most are concerned about the ultimate cost of the system.

If either side was looking for a definitive validation of their position, it certainly wasn’t found in these poll results.

I am hopeful that the siren call to place the rail question on the ballot will be heeded by the Honolulu City Council and affirmed by the mayor. It appears there is political momentum building for this initiative. Even City Council members who have been ardent supporters of rail are expressing support for a vote on the issue. Mayor Hannemann has said that he does not fear a vote up or down at the ballot box. And to be honest, why should he?

If you look at the rail project as a political candidate, this guy has everything going for him. For the sake of identification, let’s call the rail project RP. First of all, RP has the support and endorsement of virtually every elected official in the state. Sure, there may be a GOP opponent or a Dem undecided, but for the most part, RP gets the nod by the majority. Sens. Dan and Dan, Reps. Neil and Mazie, plus the mayor and City Council comprise a formidable union.

Speaking of unions, RP gets the backing from just about all of them. We all know what union support in Hawaii politics usually means - victory. RP has an endless source of revenue to be used for political advertisements. Under the guise of education, even tax money is used to promote and support RP. Endless print, TV and radio ads tout RP as the salvation for our community. To put RP’s campaign in perspective, Mayor Hannemann has amassed more than $2 million for his re-election. Sure enough, RP will have spent as much or more so that the mayor can get “elected”.

Let’s take a look at RP’s opponent, Stop Rail, or SR. SR has a modicum of political support. Other than Charles Djou on the City Council, which elected official or politician is truly standing up against RP? Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona has urged the City Council to put the initiative on the ballot, and Gov. Linda Lingle has signed the Stop Rail Now petition. That’s it.

And SR is vilified by the unions. As a matter of fact, SR is the obstacle to unionized employees securing jobs, feeding their children and paying their mortgages. Union leaders are licking their chops that a publicly funded (meaning dedicated revenue stream) rail system will keep their members on the job. Of course, that means an increase in dues and guaranteed re-election. As far as advertising revenues, you can find more change in the sofa than what is found in SR’s “campaign war chest.” RP is out-spending SR almost 100-1.

Despite the overwhelming advantage pro-rail supporters enjoy, there is that pesky little thing standing in the way of a landslide victory - an informed and inquisitive voter. Those with concerns about the communal and fiscal impact of this project are not satisfied to simply drink the Kool-Aid, rather they are diligent in their concerns for our collective future. Yes, traffic congestion is a very real problem on Oahu. But is this proposal the best we can do?

If a ballot question is in our future, I would urge each of us to research the positions of both sides of the rail issue. Our due diligence will be key to forming our opinions which will be expressed at the only poll that counts - the ballot box.

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