Constitutional Amendment Campaign Filled with Conflicts

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BY GARRETT TOGUCHI – With the Star-Advertiser being the state’s only daily statewide newspaper, it should be the responsibility of other local news organizations to question the Star-Advertiser’s role in this year’s elected/appointed BOE constitutional amendment.

The Star-Advertiser has been less than objective in its coverage of the issue. Following a barrage of staff blogs and articles critical of the BOE, the paper published on Oct. 18, 2010 a “guest” editorial by Colbert Matsumoto.

The paper failed to disclose that Mr. Matsumoto is on the Board of Directors for Oahu Publications Inc., the Star-Advertiser’s owner. Mr. Matsumoto is also President of Island Holdings, part owner of Oahu Publications Inc.

The next day, the Star-Advertiser editorial board supported the constitutional amendment question in an opinion piece as unconvincing as its headline, “Appointed BOE deserves a try.”

Hawaii’s Children First Chairman Randy Baldemor, who has been a recent staunch critic of special interest influence in BOE elections, was paid some $10,000 between January and April 2010 to lobby the legislature to pass the appointed BOE constitutional amendment.

In addition, as president of Honolulu-based DiscoveryBox, Mr. Baldemor has contributed $62,474 in consulting and other services to Hawaii’s Children First campaign against an elected BOE.  Another Hawaii’s Children First spokesman, Mr. Matsumoto, happens to be a DiscoveryBox director.

Mr. Baldemor’s wife is executive director of Hawaii’s Teach for America, which profits from Department of Education contracts and stands to potentially benefit even more should Hawaii’s Children First backers or friends be selected to serve on the BOE or influence appointments.

One of Hawaii’s Children First’s arguments against an elected BOE is that voters don’t know who the candidates are, and that they have no information about their positions.  As the only statewide daily newspaper, the Star-Advertiser has a responsibility to the public, on such an important issue as education, to provide multiple comprehensive opportunities for the public to learn about BOE candidates.  Arguably, coverage has been minimal.

Short of laws requiring political donors to disclose potential and existing conflicts of interest, Hawaii’s various media should reserve a sense of responsibility to uncover those conflicts and expose them for the public’s best interest.

The Star-Advertiser and other local media have made half-hearted efforts at exposing sources of more than half a million dollars in expenditures by Hawaii’s Children First to pass the amendment.

Democracy works best when the people are protected from misinformation and provided accurate, balanced, unbiased facts from credible sources. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser has failed to do that and should be held accountable by other media. The legislature, meanwhile, should protect the public from further slanted political campaigns by passing stronger disclosure laws.

Garrett Toguchi is the head of the Board of Education.

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