Big win for Monsanto/Syngenta in state senate reorganization

shameOnYouSyngenta

After a brief year of  the Hawai’i senate being responsive to constituents, a coup led by Jill Tokuda, Michelle Kidani, Ronald Kouchi, Kalani English, Mike Gabbard and Gil Keith-Agaran has returned control to the corporations.  Those who listened to the voice of the voters and voted down developer lobbyist Carleton Ching have been ousted by Tokuda’s corporatist faction.

Monsanto,  Syngenta and construction interests have regained their control over the senate.

Sen Kouchi was named president of the senate and Sen Espero vice president.  The measure was introduced by Sen Kalani English who represents (ironically) a district that voted overwhelmingly to put a moratorium on GMOs.  Apparently English and Gabbard acted as the whips to coerce other senators into voting for the coup.

As you may remember we wrote that Tokuda had promised retribution to anyone who defied her and voted against the Ching nomination.  Gov Ige’s eleventh hour withdrawal of Ching’s name saved those voting in favor of confirmation from the wrath of their constituents, but Tokuda knows who wasn’t toeing her line.

So out goes Sen Josh Green, the first to call the emperor on his new clothes and have the temerity to wonder if someone who knew absolutely nothing about natural resources law was really the right person to head the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR.)

Next on the chopping block: Sen. Rusell Ruderman who stymied the chemical companies and didn’t pass their wished-for state preemption of county pesticide disclosure and buffer zone ordinances.  No doubt Sen Clarence Nishihara who is replacing Sen Ruderman as chair of Ag will gladly pass any pro-pesticide bill that chemical giants Monsanto and Syngenta propose.

Nishihara was known to be former Sen Malama Solomon’s sidekick trying to stave off repeal of the PLDC and pass preemption against the counties.  Solomon was targeted by environmental organizations because of those actions and lost her election.

Tokuda has taken contributions from SyngentaMonsanto, and chemical company lobbyists, George Morris and John Radcliff.  She represents Kāne‘ohe and Kailua on O’ahu.

One of her platform issues is to work “with industry leaders and state agencies to identify those policy and/or regulatory changes that need to be made that can make significant difference for businesses, similar to the work done with the Bureau of Conveyances and the timeshare industry.”

Kudos, Sen Tokuda.  You have done a bang up job for your donors, Monsanto and Syngenta.  In one fell swoop, you’ve removed barriers standing between them and the schools, homes and hospitals they want to spray.

UPDATE:

Apparently turning the Ag Committee over to the chemical corporations was a little too over the top.  According to Civil Beat,

“Sen. Mike Gabbard, the fourth member of Tokuda’s group, will be chair of a new Water, Land and Agriculture Committee. Nishihara, a friend of the biotech industry, was slated for the Agriculture Committee chairmanship but leadership evidently decided to merge that committee with the Water and Land Committee, which Sen. Laura Thielen previously held.

Nishihara has been assigned to chair another merged committee, Public Safety, Government Operations and Military Affairs. Public Safety had been Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs, chaired by Sen. Will Espero, but he switched his support from the Chess Club to Opihi and is now vice president.

Thielen was assigned to chair another newly merged committee, Health and the Environment. Sen. Josh Green was chair of the Health Committee but will now be majority floor leader, a minor leadership position.”

UPDATE #2:  Sen. Laura Thielen has declined the chairship of Health & Environment.  She outlines her reasons in her blog.

Posted in Corporate Control of Hawai'i, Donna Mercado Kim

Balfour a climate change denier

climatechangedenier

Sources tell us that when Gov Ige’s people asked Bill Balfour  whether he thought climate change was an issue to worry about with regard to water, he indicated that he felt it might or might not be real and might or might not be caused by humans, and said if it was,  it was “God’s will”.

And Gov Ige  nominated him to the Water Commission knowing this?  Perhaps we should have asked David Ige whether he is a climate change denier too.

Here are the phone numbers for the WTL Committee. The final hearing is Friday, April 17 at 1:15pm in room 224.

Chair Laura Thielen: 587-8388  senthielen@capitol.hawaii.gov

Vice-Chair Brickwood Galuteria: 586-6740  sengaluteria@capitol.hawaii.gov
Les Ihara: 586-6250  senihara@capitol.hawaii.gov
Maile Shimabukuro: 586-7793  senshimabukuro@capitol.hawaii.gov
Gil Riviere: 586-7330  senriviere@capitol.hawaii.gov
Sam Sloan: 586-8420  senslom@capitol.hawaii.gov
Russel Rudermann: 586-6890  senruderman@capitol.hawaii.gov
Gov Ige  586-0034

 

Posted in Ige's Bad Appointments

Balfour Confirmation continued to Friday

WTL Committee on Balfour confirmation

The WTL committee appeared dissatisfied with Bill Balfour’s grasp of the water code he’s been nominated to administer and asked him back on Friday at 1:15pm to grill him on the two decisions he made that were reversed by the Hawaii Supreme Court.  (GM820 Measure Status)

Balfour appeared uncertain, asking “In two days?” as though he either couldn’t count the days between Wednesday and Friday or was uncertain he could bone up on water law in only two days.

One has to wonder why he would have trouble with water law since he served on the Water Commission previously.  But this could explain why his two major decisions were reversed by the Court as illegally favoring the plantations.

Voters were outraged by yet another of Gov Ige’s corporate appointments to administer Hawaii’s natural resources.  Especially when the Balfour nomination so closely followed the Carleton Ching debacle.  There appears more in common with these two nominees than initially realized.  Both seem utterly clueless about water law.  This is most unexpected in someone like Balfour who actually served on the Water Commission making decisions (theoretically) based on that law.

When asked about climate change he replied that fossil fuels are burning up the ozone (!!) When asked about the 100 year history of streams (whether they were intermittent or diverted and no longer flowing to the sea). He answered that he had only been around for 83 years and so didn’t really know. When asked about a steam in Maui that no longer reaches the ocean, he answered that “sand hills” (dunes) blocked the the passage of the water to the ocean and he didn’t know what to do about that.

We leave it to the reader to spot the egregious errors in every single one of his answers.

Those who oppose this nomination worked with a short deadline.  The nomination was announced less than a week ago.  Despite this, a petition against Balfour’s confirmation garnered 3,524 signatures.  Phone calls exceeded the WTL senators’ voicemail limits and staff for the governor said ruefully that they had received “quite a few calls.”

 

Posted in Ige's Bad Appointments

Tokuda: Tax break for rich OK. No break for poor

taxcorporations

Bart Dame on tax justice:

Nationally, we tend to blame the Republicans for giving so many tax breaks to the corporations. But in Hawaii, the Democrats have controlled the tax structure for over 50 years and low-income people pay about 13% of income in taxes while the very rich pay only about 8%.

The chair of the State Senate Ways and Means committee, a nominal Democrat, just decided to not even hear a bill which would block a tax cut for rich people scheduled to go in effect at midnight, December 31st.

She says there is no money in the budget to increase tax credits for low income people, but gives a $48 million tax cut to those earning over $250,000. She hopes you won’t notice. I hope you do.

HB886 was passed by the house, was making its way through the senate when it came to a screeching halt in Sen Jill Tokuda’s Ways and Means committee.  Sen Tokuda refused to hear it.  Dame explains:

It would have done 3 things:

1) Raise the renter’s tax credit for low income people. This has not been adjusted for inflation since 1981.  Interestingly, the renters tax credit is a pretty effective way to prevent or catch tax cheats who don’t declare their rental income.


2) Raise the Food Tax Credit to (partially) compensate low income Hawaii residents for the general excise tax we pay on food. This has not been adjusted for inflation since 2007.

3) Delay for 5 years a tax cut for those earning over $250,000, scheduled to go into effect, unless the legislature acts, at the end of 2015. HB 886 was the last opportunity for the Lege to stop this tax cut.

Using the excuse, “there is no money,” the only bill WAM has moved forward which gives even a SMALL tax cut for low income residents, is SB555, which would adjust the Food Tax Credit for low income residents.

So there is “no money” for credits for the poor but there is money for tax cuts for the rich?

Who would have thought that a Democrat would support cutting taxes for the rich and letting the poor pay a higher effective tax rate?  Hello?  Isn’t a progressive tax system one of the planks of the Democratic Party Platform?

Posted in Tax Justice

Balfour’s decisions overturned – hey, let’s appoint him again!

balfour

Nowhere on Bill Balfour’s resume does it mention that he previously served on the Water Commission.  That’s not surprising because he probably doesn’t want the WTL committee to ask him about all the pro-plantation decisions he made which were subsequently found to be illegal.  In one he was warned that the decision he was supporting was illegal prior to his vote but went ahead anyway.

As Evan Tector found when he researched Mr. Balfour’s decisions:

Mr. Balfour’s decisions were contrary to the public trust doctrine and other mandates under the State Water Code:

* He voted to give large water companies continued access to large amounts of water at the expense of restored stream flows and Hawaiian water rights in the Na Wai ‘Eha case in Central Maui. The Commission’s decision was appealed to the Hawai‘i Supreme Court and reversed.

* He voted against granting Hawaiian practitioners a contested case hearing over Alexander & Baldwin subsidiary East Maui Irrigation Company’s long-standing and destructive diversion of millions of gallons of water per day from East Maui streams. The Commission’s decision was appealed to the Hawai‘i Supreme Court and reversed.

* He voted to dismiss a petition to designate the Keauhou Aquifer as a Water Management Area before the petitioner, National Park Service, even had the opportunity to present its case. The petition is moving forward and information is being gathered by the Commission’s staff.

There is growing opposition to the Balfour nomination despite the public’s weariness in responding Governor Ige’s numerous bad nominations.  How can one man come up with so many bad nominees?

A petition has garnered over 500 signatures and conservation organizations are beginning to wake up to the damage someone with such a poor record of following the law would do as a Water Commissioner.

But unlike the Ching nomination which was made with plenty of time for review, this last-minute appointment came during a two-day grace period to the original deadline for the governor to submit his names.  As the legislative session winds down, this nomination is not getting the time and scrutiny it deserves.

The hearing is this Wednesday April 15th.  Not the long lead time that the Ching nomination had.  Hopefully the WTL committee will examine this nominee with the same thoroughness that they gave Ching, despite the rush and despite the unwillingness to buck a governor of their own party.

Again, Governor Ige, we have to ask:  “Who is advising you on these terrible nominations?  Did you learn nothing from the Ching debacle?”

 

Posted in Ige's Bad Appointments

Ige once again picks the worst candidate for the Water Commission

How is it that given 3 terrific candidates, Governor Ige goes unerringly for the very worst one – the one that represents developer/plantation/Monsanto interests?  Who is giving the governor this bad advice?

Right now, those who believe in following the water law and following the state constitution’s mandated water hierarchy and public trust doctrine hold a slim majority.

Instead of confirming Denise Antolini’s interim appointment, Governor Ige has picked Bill Balfour, who has spent 39 years as a sugar plantation executive.  He spent 19 years as president and manager of Pioneer Mill Company, Oahu Sugar Company, Lihue Plantation Company and McBryde Sugar Company. He also served as an Amfac executive.  A major portion of his life has been spent diverting streams to sugar plantation uses.

Considering the East Maui Streams case which seeks to return the water that HC&S is diverting from streams to their central Maui sugar plantation is currently before the Water Commission, one has to wonder why the governor would pick yet another nominee with a clear conflict of interest.

Worse yet, Balfour has worked as a consultant for Monsanto.  In 2013 the Water Commission turned Monsanto down for a larger water allotments on Maui and Oahu.  Since then tMonsanto has worked hard to insert themselves into Water Commission business.  In 2013 they managed to get their lobbyist appointed to the water commission nominating committee.

What a coup for the Monsanto lobbyist on the Water Commission Nominating Committee!  It may have taken two years but now they have a seat on the Water Commission.

Antolini is an associate dean and law professor at UH’s Richardson School of Law.  She heads up the environmental law program.  As such she is eminently qualified to sit on the Water Commission whose decisions are based on environmental law.

Here’s the question to Governor Ige:  Do you want the Water Commission to follow (and know!) the law or do you want to turn the majority of commissioners into a rubber stamp for the plantations and their successor development/water operations?

Update: Monsanto lobbyist Alan Takemoto is no longer on the Water Commission Nominating Committee.  Monsanto Attorney Yvonne Izu is.

Posted in DLNR, Governor, Ige's Bad Appointments

Gov Ige nominates Suzanne Case to chair DLNR

Jittery voters waited to see if derailing the Carleton Ching nomination would be a good move or an “out of the frying pan into the fire” thing.  The wait is over.  And everyone can breathe a sigh of relief.

Gov Ige appointed Suzanne Case, the executive director of the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, to chair DLNR.  This is an experienced administrator who knows environmental law and whose heart is in the right place.

Well done, Gov Ige!

Here’s the Nature Conservancy’s mission:

From mauka to makai, The Nature Conservancy works with local communities, businesses and people like you to protect Hawaii’s best natural lands and waters. Since 1980, we have established a statewide system of Conservancy preserves, helped create new wildlife refuges and expand national parks, forged partnerships to protect our most important watershed forests and coral reefs, and led efforts to stem the tide of invasive species entering the state.  All total, we have helped protect more than 200,000 acres in the Islands.

Sounds like a good fit.

Case grew up in Hawaii, went to Stanford and has a law degree from the prestigious Hastings Law School. According to Gov Ige’s press release:

She is a 28-year veteran of The Nature Conservancy and has served as its executive director since 2001. She oversees all operations of the Hawai‘i program including 16 preserves totaling 53,000 acres, working in native forest, coastal and marine conservation, directly and through partnerships on six main Hawaiian Islands. She also oversees the Palmyra Atoll nature preserve and research station in the Pacific.

Hard to find fault with these kind of qualifications!

 

Posted in DLNR

The Story of the Carleton Ching Nomination (Big Island News)

From Big Island News

Posted in DLNR

Ige withdraws Ching nomination at the 11th hour

Red-shirted opponents of the Ching confirmation wait to enter the Capitol building

With the Capitol filled with red-shirted opponents of the Carleton Ching nomination to chair DLNR and voters glued to their Akaku and Olelo TV, the senate went into a long recess directly after President Donna Mercado-Kim called the Ching confirmation agenda item.

Speculation grew and an hour after convening, Kim announced that the governor had withdrawn the Ching nomination.

By that time there were 8,545 signatures on a petition asking the senate not to confirm.

Red-shirted opponents of the Ching confirmation wait to enter the Capitol building

Red-shirted opponents of the Ching confirmation wait to enter the Capitol building

We’ve been told that supporters of the Ching nomination may have had the votes to pass it but that there was just too much downside to going on the record with a public vote. Supporters knew this was an issue that would haunt them – especially after Ching messed up which he was sure to do.

Those voting no on the nomination had the possibility of vetos and defunding hanging over their heads.

We’ve heard that after the senators couldn’t figure out how to confirm Ching without going on the record with their votes, the Majority Leader, Sen. Kalani English prevailed upon the governor to withdraw his controversial nomination. This was a wise course of action given that few nominations engender so much controversy and split the senate so evenly.

UPDATE: Hawaii News Now is reporting that two yes votes switched to no at the last moment and the no votes had the majority 13-12 at the very end.

UPDATE 2: Reports from two different sources say that the yes votes switched as early as Tuesday night and that, in fact, the governor did not have the votes needed.  Even more reason to withdraw and save the senators voting yes from voter retribution.

Posted in Governor, Lobbyists Tagged with: , ,

Letter from Sen Russell Rudermann re Ching confirmation

From Sen Russell Rudermann:

Thank you for writing. During the Water and Land (WTL) hearing, I voted against the nomination of Carleton Ching and will do so again when it comes up for a floor vote by the full Senate. Below is the text of my comments I gave at the WTL hearing, which I thought I would share with you now:

In about a hundred votes on appointments, I have only voted “no” once and have never spoken against one. I take the situation seriously and feel the need to carefully explain my vote. It is not easy to oppose a nomination. But when I feel it will harm the future of our state, it is my job to rise above expedience and have the courage to do so. Doing this job and taking seriously our responsibility to be a check and balance against mistakes by another branch of gov’t, can be uncomfortable, but not doing it is inexcusable.

Mr. Ching is a genuinely nice guy. He’s very likable, has a good heart, and is obviously of high integrity. If confirmed I will work with him in good faith and support him in every way. But that is not the point. The question we face, which we are charged by the constitution to answer, is he qualified and capable of doing this important job?

I accept that I might not politically like a nominee, but he or she may still be qualified. This is not the case here. In this case, as an environmentalist, and one of the thousands who care so deeply about not only Hawaii’s short term economy, but about its long-term sustainability and unique natural resources, I must speak out about the great harm that confirming this nominee would bring. Not only potential harm to the environment and Hawaii’s precious shared resources, but also certain harm to the public trust in our government.

The comparison to PLDC is unfair: this is the PLDC times 10. Instead of a branch of DLNR devoted to development instead of preservation, we are now looking at refocusing the entire department through a lens of development instead of stewardship and preservation. Did we learn anything from that episode? How important is stewardship of our public lands to the people of Hawaii? Did we hear the outcry, or must we repeat history because we failed to learn that lesson?

I can find no better words to describe the situation than those of Mr Randy Awo, 27 years serving DLNR, culminating a head of DOCARE: “The nominee’s entire career track has been the polar opposite of DLNR’s mission.” He wisely pointed out that we cannot separate what someone does from who he is.

No one’s preparation for such a job is complete, of course there will be a learning curve for anyone. But, we require subject matter expertise in every other department’s director. Would we hire a Tax director and ask that she learn accounting on the job? An A.G. w/o legal expertise? A Transportation director w/o transportation experience? Of course not. Yet in this case we are asked to approve a nominee with no experience, commitment or aptitude for the job. In such a complex and important department the lack thereof is a huge disqualification. Today we confirmed two Directors, each of whom had decades of specifically relevant experience in the subject matter.

To think that such subject matter experience and knowledge is not needed in this case, is to display a lack of concern for preservation and conservation. It displays a surprising dismissal of the concerns of those who care about our environment and cultural heritage.

It’s been said that no subject matter knowledge is needed; simple management experience is sufficient, then the nominee can learn on the job. But this nominee’s management experience in no way compensates for a complete lack of subject matter knowledge. Most of his experience is lobbying and development, not management.

The nominee has several times referred to land as a “Piece of dirt”. Not Aina, not land, not an important resource, but as a commodity to be used and profited extracted from it. Make use of it or let someone else do so. No concept of preservation, or the importance of maintaining this finite resource for future use. I find this telling. I find it deeply troubling and indicative of the narrow mindset of a developer versus a conservationist, nor even of someone who has a balanced view of such issues.

Endangered species – nominee says we must “evaluate, prioritize, & try to save the most important ones.” And this is true. But to a biologist, or conservationist, or a lover of God’s creation, there are no unimportant species. There is no ‘balance’ or sweet spot to be found in protecting endangered species. The right thing to do is to fight for each and every one. Just like ‘pieces of dirt’, once they are gone, they’re gone forever.

Where is a sense of stewardship, which is at the very heart of DLNR’s mission?

Advocacy for groups opposed to preservation and conservation is what comprises most of the nominee’s life experience – attempts to distance himself from those efforts is curious after longstanding commitment to those efforts. Claiming he was largely unaware of LURF and BIA’s efforts in the exact opposite direction is not acceptable.

Once again, a very nice guy, likable, with a good heart, and I am sincere in this. He’s good at what he does –this is not the point. It’s not sufficient. Sudden awakening to concern about the future is welcome but not sufficient to qualify. Willingness to abide by the law is welcome but not sufficient. Qualifications are required, and profoundly lacking. I’m glad he wants to work for Hawaii’s future, but his qualifications suggest a very different position would be in order.

If there were no better qualified applicants, then the answer is to cast a wider net. The assistance of the environmental and preservation community could have been sought, but was not. Several DLNR division leaders could be promoted, some are in this room, some not, resulting in a boost in morale instead of the demoralization this nomination will cause. We would then have someone with knowledge of the organization, the laws under which it operates, and its core and mission.

I again reference Mr. Awo- he was not only one of the most eloquent testifiers you heard from but by far the most qualified. He describes the level of concern within the department over this nomination is unprecedented. And the inappropriateness of this nomination as being on an entirely different level from any other previous nominee, and any previous director. My own discussions with staff in the Department, who are of course unable to express their views, confirms this.

DLNR’s mission is “Enhance, protect, conserve and manage Hawaii’s unique and limited natural, cultural and historic resources held in public trust for current and future generations of the people of Hawaii nei…”

Carefully absent is a mandate to develop, profit from, or treat as a commodity, or as expendable, Hawaii’s shared resources.

Endorsement of this nomination, aside from other appointees, comes almost exclusively from the development community. This glaring fact is really as important as the rejection by the preservation community in arguing for the rejection of the nomination. This is not a development department. This nomination is anathema to a commitment to the department’s mission.

The distrust and disillusionment of those who hope for a more fair, honest and open government is palpable. I need not point out the perception of revolving door among lobbyists and important positions of public trust. We all know how that works, and today we expect better.

What do we do with 90+% opposition from the public? If we remove development interest groups and appointees, the opposition is 98%. How cynical and arrogant would we be to ignore this? Mr Awo described the attempts to marginalize the opposition as irresponsible. I agree. Those who volunteer their time to work for the environment are not special interests! It is disturbing to hear the nominee characterize them as such.

I stand with those who genuinely take the DLNR’s mission statement to heart. Those of us who have demonstrated a commitment to environment and preservation are united that this choice is not only wrong, but disastrously wrong. We are united as no other issues other than the PLDC has united us, and for the exact same reasons.

As Mr. Awo implored us to do, I urge my colleagues: put aside political expedience and do what’s right for Hawaii now.

If we take our duty to advise and consent seriously, if we care about good government and public trust, if we care about the will of people we were elected to represent, or if we take the stewardship of Hawaii’s precious resources seriously, then we must reject this nomination.

Mahalo,
Russell
Senator Russell Ruderman
Hawaii State Senate

Posted in DLNR

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