On Politics: In a profession based on trust, state lawmakers must learn that cooperation is the rule

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The speaker of the House, Rep. Scott Saiki, has 29 years of service in the Legislature, so his reading recommendations should make good advice.

When giving his opening remarks at the start of the Legislature in January, Saiki was addressing a 76-member state House and Senate, a political group with 18 freshmen and another six having only one term’s worth of experience. So it made sense he would be starting with the basics.

“Let me mention one other thing. The Sesame Street playbook,” Saiki told the youthful members.

“The Sesame Street word of the day is: “cooperation.”

“Cooperation is the process of working together toward the same ends.

“In order for Hawaii to be successful, we must all endeavor to be in cooperation with each other,” the veteran told the newcomers.

Excellent advice for a group that would turn out to be more fractious than most. Republicans, just six out of the 51 state House slots, easily voted in Rep. Lauren Cheape Matsumoto as GOP leader, although newcomer Brenton Awa and senior GOP member Sen. Kurt Fevella spent some time tussling over who would be GOP leader and who would be the floor leader, the only two positions available. Fevella won.

The House Democrats had a major mid-session explosion when it was disclosed that freshman Kailua member Rep. Natalia Hussey-Burdick was upset with what was reported as many House members drinking at a private gathering in Saiki’s office. Hussey-Burdick, who disliked the failure of a pet bill that would assist local midwives, issued a press release saying that “I texted a friend about my concerns that some people at the party seemed likely to drive drunk, and my friend in turn alerted members of the HPD. The police never arrived, and instead, word of this tip to the police somehow made its way to the people attending the party.”

Reporters asked Saiki if there would be repercussions. According to news reports, Saiki said no discipline would be taken against any House members, Indeed, House rules require that members vote to launch a formal investigation before any action can be taken.

In her press release, Hussey-Burdick said, “After much introspection I see now that the kind thing to do in this situation would have been to check in with my colleagues and try to arrange a safe way for them to get home. I have apologized to my colleagues for choosing an unkind course of action …”

Although Hussey-Burdick noted that “I am working to repair my relationships with my colleagues to move on from this unfortunate incident,” it will be difficult in a profession based on trust.

In politics, the public appreciates the outspoken crusader as compared to the tattletale. Good examples are Hawaii’s two U.S. Senators, Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono. Both are longtime Hawaii Democrats who came up through the Hawaii Legislature and took positions opposing major political leaders.

Hawaii’s senatorial duo can take pride in their latest ratings. The national public opinion outfit, Morning Consult, last week released a survey conducted of job approval between Jan. 1 and March 31. It shows Schatz as the nation’s highest rated senator, 65%. Hirono held the eighth-highest job satisfaction rating with 60%.

When incumbent governors were surveyed, Hawaii’s Josh Green came in sixth, with an approval rating of 62%. If state legislators are looking for career models, Schatz, Hirono and Green have the numbers that are worth considering.

Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays. Reach him at 808onpolitics@gmail.com.

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