Political Tittle-tattle: News and Entertainment from Hawaii’s Political Arena

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”After Years, Millions Spent on Attack on Oil Companies, State Admits There is No Case”


There is no evidence Hawaii’s oil giants — ChevronTexaco Corp. — ripped off either the consumers with monopolistic, exorbitant prices leading to Hawaii’s high gasoline prices, or the state, by not paying its fair share of taxes, according to yesterday’s announcement by the state attorney general. Charges the oil giant heads adamantly denied over the years.

This news came yesterday just a year after two Michigan accounting professors, Jeffrey Gramlich and James Wheeler, claimed the oil giants ran profits through an offshore joint business to avoid paying $563 million in taxes, and inflated prices for crude oil. Allegations that led to an investigation by a Chicago law firm, Winston & Strawn, which initially told the state its case against the oil companies was essentially a sure slam dunk, so much so that the law firm agreed to take the case on contingency.

But it is this same law firm that last month delivered a report to the state attorney general’s office saying there is no case — no proof the oil companies committed any crime. The attorney general said earlier the state would decide whether to sue ChevronTexaco based on this report.

Spokesman for the state attorney general, Hugh Jones, told the media he believes the professors had good intentions, but did not have all the information they needed to accurately assess the situation.

At least one of the professors said publicly he stands by his assessment. And that he believes the decision by the attorney general is political and predictable coming from the pro-business administration of Gov. Linda Lingle, even going as far as claiming the governor’s campaign contributions from big oil swayed the state’s decision.

The state attorney general denies the charges.

”Lawmakers Have to Eat Their Anti Oil Words”

Some of Hawaii’s powerful lawmakers boosted their careers with anti-big oil propaganda, and ran re-election campaigns with this as a primary issue, promising Hawaii consumers relief from high gasoline prices.

Taking a page from their national Democrat colleagues who for the last several years have tried to smear Republican administration and Republican congressional leaders for being supportive of oil and gasoline dealers, Hawaii lawmakers, including former Democrat Gov. Benjamin Cayetano, pursued litigation against these companies with a vengeance.

But their claims have proven baseless.

Unfortunately, however, their public attacks made for good copy and campaigning, especially with Hawaii’s highest in the nation gasoline prices, so they received extensive news coverage for their irresponsible and untrue rhetoric.

Sen. Ron Menor, D-Mililani, was one of the key advocates in punishing the oil companies by pushing legislation that forced gas price caps on regular gasoline sales. He continually bashed Chevron on the floor of the Senate and in press statements.

Congressman Ed Case also made many negative statements publicly about the oil companies, which he said was the reason he enthusiastically supported gasoline cap legislation.

Sen. Paul Whalen and former Rep. Jim Rath, both Republicans from the Big Island, also introduced and pushed hard for gasoline caps, saying they had to bring relief to their Big Island constituents, despite harsh words from their Republican colleagues opposed to the cap legislation.

Hawaii Democrat lawmakers also had their share of oil company defenders — including Sen. Lorraine Inouye from the Big Island and Sen. Cal Kawamoto from Waipahu.

Through the entire debate over gas caps and gasoline prices, these lawmakers did not focused on the state’s part in keeping gas prices high.

Hawaii government charges 56 cents per gallon of gasoline in taxes — the highest taxes in the nation. Many Republican legislators advocated reducing or eliminating this tax in order to reduce prices, rather than force a cap on the businesses and consumers. A cap that, according to many of Hawaii’s gasoline dealers, would have kept Hawaii gasoline prices above market value several times over the last year.

”Visitor Bureau Chief Steps Down After Scathing Audit”

President and chief executive of the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau, Tony Vericella, resigned yesterday after the state auditor released a report highly criticizing the HVCB and Vericella for a number of questionable financial expenditures and practices.

Vericella, 50, head of HVCB since 1997, stepped down voluntarily, ironically just a week after the HVCB board supported him with a unanimous vote of confidence.

The state audit, released officially two weeks ago, found the HVCB awarded a lucrative contract to a former vice president, used state funds inappropriately for Vericella’s personal expenses, including paying for his hotel room movies and speeding and parking tickets, and had questionable accounting practices. This was the third audit by the state auditor highly critical of the HVCB.

Vericella apologized after the most recent audit and reimbursed the bureau. He said in a public written statement that he believes his resignation is in the best interests of Hawaii and that by stepping aside the HVCB will be able to move forward unimpeded with the essential task of marketing the state of Hawaii.

But Vericella still may not be out of political hot water yet. He may still face investigation and questioning by the state attorney general and the state Legislature for his management of the HVCB and his expenditures of state funds. Those close to the investigation into HVCB say they believe Vericella stepped aside to deter an investigation into the potential criminal acts by him and others during his tenure.

The audit, which was the catalyst for the negative publicity HVCB received, also resulted in a series of hearings called over the last two weeks by Democrat lawmakers in the House and Senate tourism committees.

Sen. Tourism Chair Donna Kim, D-Kalihi, was so outraged over the report that she threatened to establish a House-Senate Investigative committee with subpeona powers much like the one that currently exists to investigate allegations of fraud and waste in Hawaii’s public education system. Kim, who told Hawaii media that Vericella’s resignation will not solve the agency’s problems, scheduled a fourth hearing with the Senate tourism committee next Monday at 1:30 p.m. in Room 212.

Vericella tried to end his career on a positive note in his public statement yesterday: “I am very proud of what HVCB has been able to accomplish during my tenure and believe the bureau’s record of achievements during that time speaks for itself. I have put my heart and soul into showcasing Hawaii, and everything I have done has always been with the best of intentions for the people of Hawaii.”

”Fourth Person is Arrested from Towill in City’s Investigation of Mayor’s Campaign, Administration”

Honolulu police arrested a fourth person on money laundering charges last Friday connected to one of Hawaii’s largest engineering firms, R.M. Towill Corp., as a part of the city’s nearly 2-year investigation into campaign and procurement practices by the campaign and administration of Honolulu Jeremy Harris.

Robert Y.H. Ko, 72, a retired comptroller for the company, was arrested on suspicion of money laundering, illegal operation of a business, making campaign contributions under a false name, and an illegal business practice known as monopolization.

Three other Towill officials were arrested and released during the past month for essentially the same offenses, nearly 20 people have been arrested in the investigation and dozens more are being questioned.

”Hawaii Lawmakers Leave Town in Droves”

Around 40 percent of Hawaii’s lawmakers, or 31 of 76 state legislators, left town this weekend to attend the National Conference of State Legislatures in San Francisco, scheduled from July 21 to 25. Hawaii taxpayers are funding the trip.

Those attending include nine Democratic Senators Melodie Aduja, Roz Baker, Willie Espero, Carol Fukunaga, Les Ihara, Lorraine Inouye, Cal Kawamoto, Ron Menor and Shan Tsutsui; 15 Democratic Representatives including Felipe Abinsay Jr., Jerry Chang, Kenneth Hiraki, Jon Riki Karamatsu, Bertha Kawakami, Marilyn Lee, Michael Magaoay, Romy Mindo, Blake Oshiro, Marcus Oshiro, Scott Saiki, Brian Schatz, Maile Shimabukuro, Alex Sonson and Joe Souki. Seven Republican Representatives also are at the conference including Brian Blundell, Kika Bukoski, Chris Halford, Bertha Leong, Barbara Marumoto, David Pendleton and Cynthia Thielen. No Republican Senators opted to attend.

At the conference, Rep. Cynthia Thielen, R-Kailua, was elected to the executive board of the Women’s Legislative Network of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Thielen becomes one of the western regional members of the 14 member executive committee. She previously served on the Women’s Network Advisory Council.

Rep. Colleen Meyer, R-Kahuluu, has been elected to replace Thielen on the Advisory Council. Two advisory members are appointed from each state.

The Women’s Legislative Network of NCSL is a program of the NCSL Foundation for State Legislatures. The Network membership includes all women legislators by virtue of their election to office. It evolved from a loosely knit organization of women legislators in 1985 into a highly respected organization of women legislators from across the nation.

”Show for Parents Goes Live on KHVH”

Dr. James LeVine and co-host Beth-Ann Kozlovich bring The Privilege of
Parenting: how to raise great kids in the 21st century to KHVH AM 830
Airwaves on Saturdays from 1 to 2 p.m. Organizers say the show is live, call in, it’s a place for parents to gain strength for job number one.

LeVine brings to the show his professional training in planning, his years of university teaching, and most of all, his personal experiences and insights as the father of three and grandfather of five.

Kozlovich is the producer and host of Hawaii Public Radio’s “Town Square,” now in its fourth year.

Together they will further develop the concepts in the book, The Privilege of Parenting: how to raise great kids in the 21st century, by LeVine, with national and local parenting, child development and educational specialists.

”No Danger from Cell Phones”

Good news for the world’s 1 billion cell phone users.

An Australian study concludes long-term cell phone use may not carry the dangers experts first thought, according to a story on the United Press International wire.

In January 2002, researchers at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital embarked on a world-first study, using live human brain cells to test whether long-term mobile phone use could cause cancer.

The research used an electromagnetic device to simulate the impact of chronic, intermittent exposure of the brain to electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones over a sustained period.

The Sydney Sun-Herald said Sunday the trial was designed to test a 2001 St. Vincent’s hypothesis that suggested mobile phone radiation could cause cancer among long-term users.

But contrary to that original study, the results showed “the effect of GSM RF energy on gene transcription in human astrocytes (nerve tissue) is minimal.”

”Poodles Rule”

For all the poodle lovers out there — good news — poodles aren’t just fluffy, they are talented.

Guide Dogs of America, which has long trained retrievers and shepherds to help the visually impaired, has decided to add poodles to its stable, according to a report in the UPI.

The group based in Sylmar, Calif., announced Friday a new pilot program to train standard poodles, so visually impaired people with allergies could still have a guide dog, The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.

Because of their unique coat, poodles are considered hypo-allergenic. The dogs are also exceptionally intelligent, easy-going and trainable, the report says.

Guide Dogs of America on Friday gave the first five standard poodle puppies to volunteers who will provide companionship and basic training for the dogs over the next 18 to 20 months. The dogs will undergo formal guide dog training when they reach 2 years, officials said.

After the training is complete, the organization matches the dogs with owners based on several criteria such as lifestyle, energy pace and environment.

For all the cat lovers out there, no cats, no matter how cute, are trainable as guide cats. They just don’t have the personality for it.

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