Kaua’i Election Could Trigger Senate Reorganization

The 2015 senate coup and power-grab lead by the anti-environmental senators, Jill Tokuda and Gil Keith-Agaran resulted in Kaua’i senator Ron Kouchi taking over the senate presidency.  At that time senators who weren’t playing ball with development and chemical companies were ousted from their committee chair positions.

Sen Ron Kouchi
Sen Ron Kouchi

But on Kaua’i there is dissatisfaction with Sen. Kouchi for his “bullying” style, use of state funds for cronies, and lack of responsiveness on Kaua’i issues.  For example, although some money was allocated to fix Kauai’s horrendous traffic problems, residents are angry that Kouchi has not used his leadership position to actually move improvements forward.

Residents  are also upset that Kouchi voted in favor of Sen Tokuda’s bill to defund affordable housing and DLNR.  This 2015 bill was crafted to obscure Kouchi and Tokuda’s fingerprints.  It removed the conveyance tax set-aside for DLNR and capped the amount going to affordable housing.  Then it funded the lost DLNR for 2 years.  On July 1, 2017 DLNR will abruptly lose $30million in funding as a result.  But at that time, Tokuda and Kouchi will act surpised and shocked, I tell you, shocked!

Challenger Kanoe Ahuna wants affordable housing and DLNR funding restored.  She sees both as issues important to Kaua’i residents.

According to Ahuna, “Affordable housing and housing for our kūpuna is a top priority for Kaua’i residents.  Instead of taking money away from this, I will work to get us the funding we need to ensure our residents and their children are not priced out of their own birthplace.”

She added, “Removing thirty million dollars from the DLNR budget is going to have a devastating impact on Kaua’i residents.  We depend on state parks like Kōkeʻe, Polihale, Hāʻena and the Napali Coast for our family recreation.

Hawai’i already spends less on natural resource protection (despite being dependent on it for tourism) than many other states.  For instance, Oregon with 2.8 times the population spends 6.7 times as much on resource protection And  tourism isn’t even in its top 10 industries.

Kouchi  support the bill which allowed companies such as AirBnB (a donor to his campaign) to collect transient vacation rental taxes without disclosing the possibly illegal (unpermited) TVR owners.  In response, Ahuna while agreeing that the missing TAT revenue was a problem,  expressed concern about the role of illegal TVRs driving up home prices and removing homes from the local inventory.

“Vacation rentals are an important part of our tourism economy, however illegal vacation rentals threaten housing and job security for our local families, and by not paying to state and county tax dollars then burdens our local residents through taxing through other means.”

Kouchi using his position for business dealings has also created scandal.  He inserted special interest deals into the 2016 budget that benefit his associate, Kevin M. Showe. According to the Star Advertiser:

In addition to the proposed Kapua deal, senators also inserted language into the Senate draft of the state budget bill this year to provide $5 million to Kauai County to buy a Kauai apartment complex called the Courtyards at Waipouli that is owned by one of Showe’s companies.

Courtyards at Waipouli is a workforce housing project developed by Showe under a 2007 agreement with the County of Kauai that required Showe to provide affordable housing as a condition of rezoning for a resort project called Kauai Lagoons.

Showe’s company K D Waipouli LLC developed the 82-unit Courtyards at Waipouli, and Kouchi represented K D Waipouli before the Kauai County Board of Water Supply in 2009 on issues related to the project, county records show.

Kouchi, who was appointed to the state Senate in 2010 and became Senate president last year, has done business with Showe for years. Kouchi has invested with Showe, and worked for at least seven years for Showe’s companies as a community relations representative, according to state and county records.

Kouchi’s donors (and he collected a whopping  $87,561.78 on his last disclosure) are a who’s who of construction, tobacco, insurance, and timeshare PACs including AirBnB and a Monsanto lobbyist.

Ahuna’s donors appear to be family (Apana) friends and residents of Kaua’i.

 

Big Five A&B gets legislature to overrule Court

When Native Hawaiian Legal Corp won a landmark case against A&B forcing A&B to return East Maui stream water, the decision was hailed as a step forward in reining in a missionary company whose environmentally damaging practices have continued for 140 years.  A&B has traditionally controlled enough legislators to get away with anything.  But finally, the Court called a halt on their exploitation of the environment and Hawaiians.

But wait!

A&B induced legislators friendly to them, in particular, Joe Souki and Kyle Yamashita, to sponsor legislation to overrule the court decision on the “holdover” permits.  DLNR invented the status “holdover” so that A&B could pull millions of gallons per day from East Maui for 13 years without doing the environmental assessment that is required by law.  The court ruled that yes, this was a fiction and that DLNR couldn’t invent a special category of permit designed to excuse A&B from complying with the water rules.

A&B, through the Farm Bureau, then issued a highly misleading flyer to the legislature listing entities with “revocable” permits in an attempt to confuse legislators into thinking that HB2501 applied to other entities.  But the fact is, that only A&B has “holdover” permits and this bill has no effect on anyone else.  When some of the entities mentioned on the flyer were interviewed they not only didn’t know their names had been used but were highly incensed that they had been used to support a bill that they opposed.

Kahea had this to say:

The people of East Maui have long awaited the full return of water to their streams. Almost all of their water has been taken by Alexander & Baldwin Company, which has been diverting millions of gallons of water every day for decades primarily for its commercial sugar production. We know there is more than enough water to ensure diversified agriculture (including hemp) on Maui, for healthy streams and a vibrant taro-growing community. There is more water flowing through the streams of East Maui every day than is consumed on the entire island of O‘ahu. Now that A&B has announced its last sugar plantation will close by the end of 2016 and the courts have ruled the state improperly allowed A&B to continue diverting water from public land without permits, we expect the streams to flow again.

But the streams have not been fully restored. Despite ongoing litigation which has invalidated their water permits in addition to an incomplete contested case, A&B is using its billion-dollar political influence to aggressively pursue a bill in the state legislature to evade a court ruling against them. Proposed measure HB2501 would allow A&B to divert an unlimited amount of water indefinitely without environmental review or mitigation for the harm to East Maui residents who rely on that water for drinking, bathing, cooking, and growing taro.

To begin to restore the balance in our environment and justice in our community, A&B’s “water theft” bill (HB2501) cannot be adopted into law.

Sen Gabbard killed the senate version of the bill but the House passed HB2501, helped by Speaker Souki and an astonishing lack of critical thinking by the House members.

As the House bill crossed over to the Senate for another bite of the apple, A&B concentrated on convincing senators that overruling the court decision would help food production on Maui.  Never mind that they intend to grow biofuel crops and perhaps lease a small amount of land to a cattle operation.  Oh, and lease 1,000 acres to Mayor Arakawa to make sure he continues supporting them.

Additionally, A&B appears to have continued water diversions despite the court invalidating their permits.

Nonetheless, the senate explicitly removed A&B from HB2501 which left it legislating A&B’s cover story (e.g. nothing, since no one else had a holdover permit.) Apparently A&B and the Farm Bureau did such a good job getting the senator’s completely bamboozled that they now had a bill that was unnecessary but which they thought was protecting small water users with revocable permits – water users who had never asked for the bill but had only been used as cover for A&B’s special interest bill.

As was expected, the bill went to conference committee and A&B was put back into HB2501 making it once again, an illegal bill designed to help a single company.  (A no-no in the Lege and the reason the State Supreme Court invalidated the Superferry Act 2)

Coincidentally, the day prior, A&B announced they would release water in the seven most contentious streams of East Maui.  Legislators hailed this as a selfless act – without understanding A&B was only partially obeying the court order requiring cessation of water diversions.   The Court voided A&B’s permit to divert this water.  A&B’s PR is indeed masterful.

The most charitable interpretation of the conference committee’s action is that the legislators brokered a deal whereby A&B released the most contentious of water diversions in exchange for getting their special interest bill passed.

The less charitable interpretation is that many senators have taken quite a bit of money from A&B and know that A&B controls the Forward Progress Super PAC with its $10,000,000 donor PAC.  Babes Against Biotech did the research:

A&Bcontributions

As the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp said:

“Over one hundred years ago, shrewd and politically-savvy sugar barons acquired control of vast amounts of land and resources to exploit for their commercial enterprises. … Today, history repeats itself, as A&B has once again used its clout to entice certain Hawaii state legislators and agencies to defy — even collude to overturn — a court order declaring A&B’s East Maui diversion of any streams flowing across 33,000 acres of state ceded lands for its commercial enterprise to be illegal.”

But wait!  There’s more!

The House under Speaker Souki, decided to protect A&B and HB2501 from further legal action by defunding the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. in the judicial supplemental funding bill, SB2102 .  Yes.  Speaker Souki’s House not only created a special interest bill undermining the court decision on water,  but is also attempting make sure that the illegal bill won’t be challenged by defunding the public interest law firm which won the case in the first place.

Somehow we suspect this will not stop the plethora of environmental and Hawaiian organizations from challenging HB2501 as a special interest bill created for the benefit of a single company.

 

Big win for Monsanto/Syngenta in state senate reorganization

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.

Read moreBig win for Monsanto/Syngenta in state senate reorganization