Opening Day Remarks 2004 – Senate President

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“Robert Bunda Image”

Gov. Lingle, Lt. Gov. and Mrs. Aiona, Congressman Abercrombie, Mayor Arakawa and Mayor Baptiste, Former Governor and Mrs. Ariyoshi, Former Governor and Mrs. Cayetano, Lieutenant General Dierker, Lieutenant General Renuart, Rear Admiral Godlewski, Colonel Champoux, Colonel Anderson, esteemed colleagues, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen:


Aloha and welcome to the 2004 session of the Hawaii State Legislature.

I would like to again acknowledge the members of the armed forces who have joined us this morning. Many men and women under their commands have been deployed to Iraq and elsewhere to defend our nation. We wish these brave citizens god speed and a safe return home. Please convey our sentiments to them and relay our gratitude for their courage and sacrifices.

On a more personal note, I want to express my appreciation to the military for their effort on a battlefront closer to home. When the community of Wahiawa was threatened by an invasive aquatic weed that had the potential to destroy Lake Wilson, the military, as they have so often done before, came to our aid as neighbors and as allies. Salvinia molesta, or the green monster as it was called, was an extreme example of how a small problem can become a major one when allowed to grow out of control. In an extraordinary display of cooperation among state, county, and federal agencies, the salvinia was extracted from the lake, one truckload at a time, and what was once thought a hopeless situation by some mainland experts, became a model of what could be achieved by cooperation and collaboration.

I would like to acknowledge the efforts of Major General Rick Olsen and members of the military, our Congressional delegation, Mayor Jeremy Harris, and Governor Linda Lingle, all of whom elevated the crisis to a top priority. The open water now reflects the importance of working together in harmony, and the benefits of making the search for a solution our total focus.

I would like to suggest that we can, and should, apply the same formula to some of the other problems facing our state today. Foremost among them is Hawaii’s ice epidemic. Our crystal meth problem has dominated the headlines and the public’s attention for many months. Every violent crime today seems to be linked in one way or another to ice addiction. The Legislature took decisive action in forming a bipartisan task force to examine the scope of the epidemic and to recommend solutions. After months of gathering direct community input, the task force came up with a comprehensive package of legislative proposals. In the days ahead, let’s focus on these solutions, which include substance abuse treatment for adults, early intervention and treatment for juveniles, expanded prevention beginning at the middle school level, support for an expanded Drug Court, and more effective coordination of law enforcement.

Such a comprehensive effort is not without its cost. But the combination of stronger law enforcement and active community involvement will provide the tools to stop the spread of this deadly disease. Ice has invaded our communities and must be stopped or it will strangle our hopes for safe and secure neighborhoods, and continue to cause death and destruction. We simply cannot afford not to fight back with whatever it takes to bring the problem of drug addiction under control.

For critics who claim spending money on prevention is a waste of time, I say this: When it comes to the safety of our children, our families, and our entire island community, we must devote adequate resources to the war on drugs or we will continue to lose ground. We must not let the issue turn into a public relations battle that has little to do with real solutions. Even the most ardent supporters of incarceration will admit that stricter punishment alone will not solve the drug crisis. The real solution is education.

The education of our children is crucial to the well-being of our society. President John F. Kennedy once stated, “A child miseducated is a child lost.” The failure to properly educate our kids will mean more families will suffer, not only due to drugs and other criminal activity, but to low-paying jobs, substandard housing, and insufficient medical care. Those fortunate enough to experience success will be forced to subsidize the cost of caring for those who fail. Simply put, we cannot afford not to prepare our children for life in the 21st century. We, as a community, need to come together on the subject of reform.

Every state seems to be struggling with President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, the federal mandate that sets strict standards for academic performance, measured primarily by test scores. School districts across the country are desperately seeking ways to raise student performance to avoid federal sanctions. Consultants are having a field day advising school districts on how best to achieve reform and student success. Some school districts have become virtual guinea pigs for untested and unsubstantiated — that have yet to prove their worth. Here at home, our own system is under constant attack as being ineffective. A call for a complete overhaul of the system is being touted as the only way to achieve true reform. Principals and teachers are being taunted for not caring more about their students than their own job security and faulted for not being willing to take risks. To them I say, hold on and do not lose your enthusiasm for your profession. You are appreciated — you are needed — you are the ultimate solution to the crisis in our schools.

If there is any issue that deserves our complete and total focus, it is the subject of educational reform. We are talking about our most precious resource, our children. How much are we willing to risk when their future success is on the line? Are we willing to take a chance with an experimental approach to educational governance before we are convinced it will work? To let political agendas dictate our decision-making would be dishonest. Our decisions today will impact our schools well into the future, decisions that could mean setbacks instead of success for our students. With so much at stake, how can we afford not to take the time to investigate any idea thoroughly before we make a decision. We need to look at all the evidence and we will.

Colleagues, all proposals for reform will soon be on the table. As you listen to testimony from students, parents, teachers and administrators, from business groups, and others, I ask that you keep an open mind and be receptive to all ideas and opinions. It has been said that in a democracy, the public has a right to know not only what the government decides, but why and by what process. Ours is an inclusive process and no one is ever deliberately left out of the discussion. I warn you to be careful of evidence that appears to have been orchestrated more to support one particular point of view than to achieve true reform.

For those who argue that our schools are broken, I say our schools are working but need our support — not our scorn. To those who attempt to control and micromanage educational governance, I say we would be better served by stepping back and letting educators do their jobs. We need to trust the dedication of our teachers, and support the authority of our superintendent.

Two years ago, I stood before you on opening day and commended the initiatives taken by our new superintendent, Pat Hamamoto. She had quickly addressed the challenges of her position and had instituted a series of reforms that decentralized authority and encouraged decision-making at the complex level. I believe she is moving in the right direction, at the proper pace, and given the appropriate support, will continue to implement reforms that will yield reliable results.

Some initiatives that we have seen elsewhere and which should be given our full consideration include a move towards smaller classes and smaller schools, raising the entry age for kindergarten and establishing universal preschool, increasing salaries and offering rewards for outstanding teachers and principals, providing full funding for charter schools, and boosting campus security and student safety. A number of these ideas have already been established in our local schools and we must continue to encourage those kinds of innovations.

On this occasion last year, I expressed my frustration over our mounting traffic problems. I doubt if there is a commuter from the population centers of Central or Leeward Oahu who doesn’t squander two hours or more a day in our snail-like traffic. With the number of registered vehicles on Oahu reportedly reaching one for just about every man, woman, and child, I am restating my support for a light-rail, mass-transit system linking our major urban centers. Granted, there are many differences to be resolved and funding sources to be identified, but we cannot afford to cut off discussions on this issue so critical to our future quality of life. We must find a way to keep this idea alive so our children will not suffer from our shortsightedness and failure to act.

And what relief can we offer motorists in the meantime? Again, we need to work together on all levels of government to focus on solutions. Contraflow lanes and modifications to existing roadways look promising. Let’s rethink the traditional work day for state and city employees to reduce congestion during peak hours.

Decentralizing government services out to Kapolei, Waikele, or Mililani would mean fewer cars on the road. Discussions should resume in earnest on the future of a West Oahu campus that would take one of every four university students out of the commute from rural Oahu to Manoa. Employers, both private and public, could explore the mutual benefits of personnel doing business from their homes. Where there’s a will, we can find a way.

Two nagging consumer issues will be under consideration this session. The first is an amendment to our gasoline cap legislation to peg prices to a nationwide survey of prices for all grades of gasoline and diesel. Prices of fuel remain abnormally high for motorists, and in the absence of any other meaningful attempts to stimulate competition or get satisfaction from oil companies, we will continue to work in this regard.

The second is our effort to address the high cost of prescription drugs. State and other jurisdictions across the nation are offering many proposals to help their residents cope with drug costs, ranging from buying directly from Canadian pharmaceutical companies to using the buying power of state government to extract steep discounts from manufacturers and distributors. The Legislature will continue to refine our program, renamed Hawaii Rx Plus, so it can serve as many of our people as possible.
In conclusion, let me say this:

When all is said and done, our duty and our responsibility as elected officials is to devise the best solutions possible to the concerns facing the people we serve. Like the victory on Lake Wilson, we arrive at those solutions by overcoming obstacles to working together and integrating our resources at the local, state, and federal levels. We have shown that we can work together to solve a crisis; let’s build upon that foundation of cooperation and teamwork. This approach is effective; this approach is efficient; this approach is good government.

Aloha and Mahalo.

”’Senate President Robert Bunda, D-North Shore, can be reached via email at:”’