Superferry: Testing Our System

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - October 17, 2007

As of this writing, the Hawaii state Senate is debating whether to call for a special legislative session to address the Hawaii Superferry. After Gov. Linda Lingle and the House Democrats publicly expressed their support to return to the state Capitol, the Senate, led by president Colleen Hanabusa, is balking at the first draft of a bill presented by state Attorney General Mark Bennett.

According to printed reports, Hanabusa has criticized not only Bennett for submitting a bill which “allows the Superferry to operate unambiguously” while the state conducts an environmental impact statement (EIS), but looks askance at the boat’s operators for not being personally involved with lawmakers.

“Except for their high-priced lobbyists, they have not approached many of the representatives or senators who now hold the key as to whether or not they will be able to ever operate,” Hanabusa says.

The statements from the Senate president are revealing. At first blush, it is clear the Senate, with 25 members as opposed to 51 representatives in the House, is dealing with a more vocal minority with key positions than their legislative counterparts. Kauai Sen. Gary Hooser, one of the most ardent critics of the Superferry, is also the Senate majority leader. Other key senators - Maui Sens. Roz Baker and Kalani English - are on record in opposition as well.

The Senate president is in a position of having to appease those senators who have placed great weight in their opposition to the project. Despite the position of the governor and the House, the Senate has more concentrated political face to save in the event of a special session. The rejection of the Attorney General’s bill and the “calling out” of Superferry executives will go a long way in explaining to constituents why the special session moved forward.

By the time you read this, the governor will likely have announced the convening of a special session and the language of the bill will have more specificity placating the parties involved. Well, almost all parties involved.

The most strident critics - activists and lawyers included - will be fit to be tied. There will be catcalls of dereliction of duty citing the usurpation of the state Supreme Court decision requiring an EIS, which was upheld in Judge Joseph Cardoza’s Maui courtroom. There will be outrage based on the manipulation of the system to benefit one private business. These same critics will use these and other arguments to whip their constituents into a frenzy.

The irony is the convening of a special session and a statutory expression by the legislative branch is just as relevant and “part of the process” as the opposition’s relentless use of the courts to achieve its obvious objective of sinking the Superferry. The Legislature’s decision is a literal representation of all people in the state instead of a court’s affirmation of a plaintiff in a lawsuit.

The convening of a special session and the anticipated statute allowing the Superferry to operate should be cited as a bright spot in this entire debacle. As difficult as the process has been, our system of grievance and redress has been tested and, although far from perfect, has passed the test.

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