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BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Jesse Franklin-Murdock was on the elite team of four students at ‘Iolani School that won the 2010 National Economics Challenge Championship conducted by the Council for Economic Education. The Iolani team beat out 1,200 teams across the country and was honored by former Gov. Linda Lingle at the capitol.

This summer, Franklin-Murdock, who graduated from Iolani in 2010, took a job as a canvasser for Imua Rail, the well-funded pro-rail campaign organized by Pacific Resource Partnership.

Franklin-Murdock said he was one of about 35 canvassers. He said about 15 of the 35 canvassers were unemployed carpenters who were paid $20, while the others were not carpenters and instead were hired through Remedy Intelligent Staffing and were paid $12 per hour.

But all of the canvassers were told to say they were unemployed carpenters, even if they were not.

The canvassers were told specifically to say they worked for Imua Rail and were not allowed to disclose they worked for Pacific Resource Partnership but they were not told why.

“It was a terribly managed canvass and we were given some very odd talking points,” Franklin-Murdock said. That included saying the $5.2 billion elevated rail project will be completely debt free and money set aside for rail cannot be returned/used for other projects, facts transportation experts dispute.

Canvassers also were not treated well, Franklin-Murdock said. “On numerous occasions they were kept late without pay. … All of the PRP Hawaii members were quite aloof and made no effort to talk to any of the canvassers.”

Hawaii Reporter noted some months ago that residents were complaining that canvassers from Imua Rail were trying to intimidate them by coming to their front door to ask them whether or not they supported rail.

Imua Rail Canvassers were told their main task was essentially to ask people if they supported the rail and move on to the next house, Franklin-Murdock confirmed.

PRP Hawaii’s controversial leader John White met with the canvassers on two occasions.

“John White gave a speech to us on July 5th at a training luncheon at Tsukiji. He also came down to assist with the field operation one day,” Franklin-Murdock said.

Franklin-Murdock quit his job after two months because he was concerned about PRP Hawaii’s management of the campaign and agenda.

“PRP would benefit hugely from the rail project, as billions of dollars in contracts would be awarded to the contractors it represents, which is why they are spending upwards of one million dollars trying to sink Ben Cayetano’s (mayoral) campaign,” Franklin-Murdoch said.

Cayetano is one of three major Honolulu mayoral candidates in the August 11 primary. The other two, Peter Carlisle and Kirk Caldwell, support the city’s $5.2 billion, 20-mile elevated steel on steel rail project.

“It is extremely troubling to me that an organization whose purpose is to funnel money to large contractors has positioned itself as one of the major voices in a debate that ideally should be about transportation and what is best for Hawaii–not about lucrative contracts and windfall revenues.”

He said PRP Hawaii is “using deep pockets to steer the debate about rail away from discussing what is best for Hawaii and toward what is best for their organization” and urged the public to consider this “enormous conflict of interest” the next time they see an Imua Rail advertisement.

Jim Dooley, investigative reporter for Hawaii Reporterissued a story on August 1 disclosing the Pacific Resource Partnership “poured nearly $900,000 into this year’s Honolulu mayoral race, much of it on negative advertising that targeted anti-rail candidate Ben Cayetano.”

PRP’s financing comes from the Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program Fund, a non-profit trust fund that receives contractually-mandated contributions from companies that have signed labor agreements with Local 745 of the Carpenters Union here.

The primary source of all the spending is the Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program Fund, a non-profit trust that had assets of $17.2 million as of August 31, 2011, according to an IRS tax return filed last year. (See 2010 tax return)

As reported earlier this month by Dooley, PRP and the Carpenters Union together spent some $1.5 million from 2008 to 2010 promoting Honolulu’s proposed 20-mile, $5.2 billion rapid transit project.

John White of PRP Hawaii said he will not respond to inquiries from Hawaii Reporter.

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