Friday, September 9, 2016

Trying Times for Honolulu's Top Cop

When Officer Louis Kealoha (“Louie” as he’s known by friends and family) got the top job as chief of police for the Honolulu Police Department in 2009, hope and change was in the air. Perhaps it was left over from the historic rise and election of another Honoluluan—President Barack Obama. Perhaps everybody was eager for HPD to press the reset button, raise morale, and have more accountability with the public. Either way, everyone was excited about the chief, even if he didn’t have the same kind of experience as the other candidates for the job.
Kealoha grew up in Honolulu. Five years after graduating from high school (he went to Damien in case you’re wondering), he joined the force. It was 1983. He was on patrol in the city for thirteen years before moving through the various departments within the force.
Captain Kealoha skipped two ranks to become the administrative head of the biggest police department in our State. At his swearing in, his wife and deputy prosecuting attorney for the City, Katherine, told reporters that “family and friends are his first priority and I have to say all of the officers at HPD are included in his term as family.”
But family has got the Kealohas into real hot water—serious kine. One summer’s night, just before midnight, someone drove to their Kahala home and stole their mailbox. Seemed simple enough.
Katherine Kealoha, naturally, called the police. She told them that she reviewed their house’s surveillance footage and told them that the thief was her estranged uncle, Gerard Puana.
It just so happened that Uncle Gerard sued the Kealohas alleging elder abuse, fraud, and theft. Puana and his nonagenarian mother claim that they gave thousands of dollars to Katherine, their attorney relative to invest. They claim that she used large portions of the money as her own spending money.
Katherine vociferously denied these claims in court and in public. She told the press at the time that her uncle “had no money (zero) to give me, and his claim that he gave me large sums of cash is absurd. Gerard is no under criminal prosecution in federal court for stealing a mailbox, and is being defended by a public defender.”
She was right about the prosecution. Puana was arrested and prosecuted in federal court for destroying the mailbox. Things got even weirder when Chief Kealoha testified. He told the jury that his uncle-in-law had been arrested in a completely unrelated case—a big time, off-limits topic at trial.
The Court declared a mistrial and Puana was never convicted. Later, federal prosecutors met with Puana’s lawyer, dropped all charges against Puana, and asked FBI to investigate HPD’s handling of the whole thing.
Then the Police Commission got into it, sort of. The only oversight for the chief of police is the Police Commission—and independent group of civilians that has the power to investigate allegations of misconduct by police officers and evaluate Kealoha’s performance. The Commission also has the power to fire him.
Behind closed doors, the Commission met with Kealoha and in the end took no action against him. Commissioners told the press that it would yield to the federal investigation. That started a row in itself.
This year the Commission membership got a shakeup when former federal prosecutor, Loretta Sheehan, was appointed by Mayor Kirk Caldwell. She introduced herself to the public by demanding that her Commission start investigating the chief. She was immediately met with criticism within the City government.
Puana’s defense lawyer, Alexander Silvert, the same public defender, acknowledged the effort, but blasted the Commission in a press release issued last month.
Silvert told the press that after the mistrial, federal prosecutors dismissed the case against Puana “after we disclosed to them the evidence of police misconduct we had uncovered.” He criticized the Commission’s unwavering support for Kealoha and their failure to take Kealoha’s word. “One does not rely solely on the word of the fox to tell you whether he stole and ate the chicken from the henhouse,” he wrote.
Now, the Department of Justice has sent out a special prosecutor from San Diego to investigate the Kealohas and HPD. This week, the Kealohas hired their own defense attorney. Other cops are being summoned before a grand jury to participate in the investigation. Everyone is waiting to see what will become of the investigation.

It’s high drama in Honolulu. Reforming a police department is no easy task—even when the police want reform too. Remember, it was Kealoha who began his tenure with the goal of being more transparent and open. That seems like a long shot these days.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Imprisoning the Impoverished

          How often do you think of Richard III that late medieval king of England who had a crooked spine and was villainized by William Shakespeare in the eponymous play written two hundred years after his death?
          I must admit. I seldom reflect on him either. But his contribution to our legal system is tremendous. One of the big things Richard III gave us was something that still remains part of our society—bail.
          Yes, during his turbulent reign over England in the 1480s, he introduced a system designed to keep the accused out of custody before trial. This was a rather long time ago, mind you, and bail was a novel reform. Back then, the accused would spend a long time imprisoned before they went to trial—sometimes years.
          Bail was designed to ameliorate all of that. The concept is simple: once accused of a crime, you have the right to post bail—a monetary amount—that would keep you out of jail before trial and conviction. That way, you would not feel pressured into going to trial or the delays before trial would be less burdensome.
          The concept of bail was carried over to the American colonies two hundred years after Richard III. By the time we got around to writing up the Bill of Rights in the federal constitution, bail was part of our legal system. But there was still a problem.
Not everyone can afford bail. Even though bail was designed to ensure pretrial liberty, the amounts could be too high for any person to meet. It would effectively make bail pointless. The Constitution addresses this with the Eighth Amendment that not only prohibits “cruel and unusual” punishment, but guarantees that bail amounts are not “excessive.”
          In the last three hundred or so years, bail has been getting steadily higher and higher. That should be no surprise. Everything costs more compared to 1789. What started happening was that businesses would post a bond for an individuals who couldn’t afford to pay the whole amount. The bond was a surety to the court that allowed the accused to get out of a jail before trial and sentencing.
          But not everyone can afford a bail bond. What about them? Should they be allowed to get out of jail too? Many these days think so. Who determines bail?
          Let’s say you get arrested on a Friday night at the start of a three-day weekend. Courts are closed until Tuesday. Depending on the crime, the police will set bail according to a fixed schedule. If you can afford to post a bond with a bail bonds man or pay the amount outright, great. You’re free to go.
          But if you can’t, you have to wait to get in front of a judge and ask that bail be reduced to amount you can afford to pay. But that’s four days and three nights away. By then, especially if it’s a minor offense, you may want to get out, settle your case regardless of any defenses, and be done with it. It happens more than you’d like to think. Statistics show that 70% of all incarcerated people nationwide are in what we call pretrial custody—they haven’t been sentenced and are waiting for trial.
          So is that okay? Maurice Walker didn’t think so. Walker was arrested in the City of Calhoun, Georgia for the offense of being a “pedestrian under the influence” on the Thursday before the Labor Day weekend. He’s poor and has a serious mental health disability. He could not afford the bail set by the police. Because of the court’s scheduling days, he didn’t get in front of a judge to lower his bail or release him before trial until the day after Labor Day. Walker spent a total of six days in jail without access to his medication.
Walker sued the city on the grounds that the bail fixing scheme discriminates against the poor. The federal court agreed and ordered the city to implement constitutional post-arrest procedures. The city, however, appealed and it’s grinding its way through the legal system.
Last week, the Department of Justice surprised everyone and joined Walker’s appeal. The DOJ agreed that the bail-fixing scheme unconstitutionally discriminates against the indigent.
We will have to wait and see what happens in Georgia. So far, Hawaii’s bail-fixing scheme has not been challenged. But there may be a lot of Maurice Walkers in the wings.     

Friday, July 1, 2016

Reconciling Our Imperialist Past

          We really like to celebrate democracy in this country. This weekend expect fireworks, barbeques, and rodeos commemorating our break from England. We abhorred being a colony, a backwater place far from the center of politics and culture where we had no say in Parliament in London. And so—exactly two-hundred and forty years ago on Monday—our self-proclaimed representatives got together in Philadelphia and declared our very own Brexit from Britain.
          A lot has changed. Our country has developed its own history, accents, sports, culture, and, of course, government and courts. This week the Supreme Court wrapped up its term for the year. Unfortunately, it declined to review a case that a lot of us in the Pacific had our eyes on.
The case raised troubling questions and went to the heart of what it means to be an American; more specifically, an American-Samoan.
Let me explain. Over a century ago, we were at war against and defeated Spain. Unlike European powers that unabashedly controlled territories around the globe, we Americans liked to imagine of ourselves cut from a different cloth. We broke free from colonial oppressors and started a new country. The thought of having a colony of our own was incongruent with our democratic tradition.
And yet, we had just conquered a European country with a very old and expansive empire that once contained most of central and South America, the Caribbean, and a scattering of islands spread over the Pacific. Through treaty negotiations, we acquired some of their old holdings in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Pacific, which included the Philippines and Guam.
This was part of a grander plan. In addition to the old Spanish holdings, the United States encouraged the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom and in 1899 acquired from the Germans what we now call American Samoa.
These acquisitions sparked a national debate. Was this the end of our democracy? Massachusetts Senator George Frisbie Hoar eloquently pointed out in the Senate chamber that the United States had no business running colonies: “Now, I claim that under the Declaration of Independence you cannot govern a foreign territory; a foreign people, another people than your own; that you cannot subjugate them and govern them against their will, because you think it is for their good, when they do not; because you think you are going to give them the blessings of liberty.”
          But Senator Hoar was in the minority. Another Senator summarized the position of most of his colleagues with this: “Providence has given the United States the duty of extending Christian civilization. We come as ministering angels, not despots.”
          So much for anti-imperialism. But whatever happened to those acquisitions and the people living there? That’s where Lene Tuaua comes into play. Tuaua was born in American Samoa and later moved to California, where he was educated and served as a corrections officer. Tuaua and others served in the United States military. Many saw action in Vietnam and other conflicts. But they’re not citizens of the United States. They are what Congress calls “non-citizen nationals” and their rights and privileges don’t flow from the constitution. They’re a creature of congressional legislation.
          This should sound familiar for most students of Hawaiian history. It is not unlike the ambiguous and unclear standing locals had during the long territorial period for Hawaii. Except this is the twenty-first century.
          Tuaua and a few others, including a Hawaii resident, brought a lawsuit challenging the power of Congress to define their non-citizenship. They argued that the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment makes it clear that everyone born in the United States “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.” This would include American Samoa.
          Not so. What stood in the way of their interpretation is a series of cases decided by the high court during the old debate over colonies. These cases—appropriately named the Insular Cases—carved out an ambiguity for territories that weren’t quite States, but not free from the United States either. In other words, the Court provided the Constitutional cover for imperialism to happen.
          The rationale for the Insular Cases is not surprising. In one opinion, the Supreme Court noted that far-flung lands “inhabited by alien races, differing from us in religion, customs, laws, methods of taxation, and modes of thought” may make the administration of government and justice “according to Anglo-Saxon principles” impossible. (Hawaii would later prove that wrong when it became a State in 1959).
          Tuaua and the others figured it was time to depart from this line of cases. Perhaps the strangest turn came when the Obama Administration opposed the plaintiffs and urged courts to uphold Congressional power. The case made its way to federal appeals court and it looked like the Supreme Court of the United States was going to take it up and hear the case. Hopes were riding high, but were dashed last month when the Court refused to review it.

          Congress prevailed and Tuaua and the others are still “non-citizen nationals.” It’s too bad. A rejection of colonial and territorial status would have righted the ship and affirmed our disdain for colonies—just like the first generations of Americans centuries ago. It would have made Independence Day a bit brighter this year.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Kihei House Race Heating Up

    It’s hot in Kihei. That fact is neither newsworthy nor controversial. But what is newsworthy is the heating up of the South Maui House seat. Democrats have got a real primary on their hands this year.
    In one corner you have our incumbent, the twenty-seven- year-old Kaniela Ing—arguably the youngest incumbent in our State’s history. Ing ran for office in 2012, beat out three other candidates in the primary, and then beat then-Republican and former-police officer incumbent George Fontaine.
     Ing grew up on Maui. His campaign website boasts of having a father who waited tables at Raffles in Wailea while his mom sold shoes at Liberty House (that was the anchor store at the Queen Kaahumanu Center back in the 1980s for you newcomers). He worked in pineapple fields over the summer and graduated among the first class of the Kamehameha Schools Maui Campus in 2006.
     He was the first in his family to go to college and is proud of it. In college he made a splash by being elected the first neighbor islander to serve as the student body president. His spouse is a civil rights activist. They have a newborn son.
     Then there’s his challenger: Deidre Tegarden. It’s unclear if she came from Maui, but she did attend McKinley High School in Honolulu. Her mother was a journalist and she had the fortunate opportunity to travel extensively through Asia as a young woman. She earned a degree in Chinese and Japanese studies from the University of Maryland.
     She’s fluent in Chinese and Japanese and lived abroad before moving to Maui in 1997. Her first job on the island was with the Outrigger Hotel and Resort in Wailea as the Conference Services Manager. She was also a manager of the Hula Bowl Maui event, where she was in charge of logistics, sales, and marketing.
     Tegarden’s background appears to be in coordinating ceremonies and events between Hawaii and Asia. In government she worked under the administration of Mayor Charmaine Tavares and later Governor Neil Abercrombie as Chief of Protocol for the State of Hawaii.
     Tegarden has been campaigning hard in Kihei. Her signs can be found from Maui Meadows to Kalama Park. She’s also got the endorsements of major labor unions on the island, including hotel workers and carpenters. Ing, however, has the endorsement of the Sierra Club and is starting to campaign too.
     The race is just starting to heat up. This week, the Maui News reported that in announcing his Sierra Club endorsement, Ing argued that the primary election “presents a clear choice between the old boy network’s trajectory of unchecked growth or a new grass-roots approach of smart growth and environmental stewardship.”
     Tegarden was quick to respond and called the announcement a “petty political rhetoric and attack.” She got into it herself by claiming that Ing has the one of the lowest attendance rates in the Legislature and that he is the “only Neighbor Island committee chair not to pass any legislation these past two years[.]”
     Ing shot back. He called the attendance dig a “mainland-style attack” that has “no place on Maui.” He explained his tardiness was caused by committee meetings running late and by being on Maui. He explained some absences were caused by health concerns for his partner and the birth of his son.
      As for passing bills, Tegarden got it wrong. Ing told the Maui News that he authored a bill requiring state board members to have some kind of training in Native Hawaiian law and landscaping to require native indigenous plants.
     But there’s more to it than that. In 2014, Ing introduced and was the first to sign off on a bill that allowed same-day registration, a progressive move toward opening the voting franchise. The bill allows those who would otherwise be eligible to vote but were late in registering, to vote at absentee polls or the voting booth itself on election day. It has the dramatic effect of increasing the voter franchise and empowering more people to participate in democracy. Ironically, Gov. Abercrombie, Tegarden’s former boss, signed it into law.
     And of course there’s the high school. Both candidates are crediting themselves in getting a Kihei High School built. Ing says that he helped funnel monies toward its construction and secured the support of lawmakers to make it happen. Tegarden credited herself for walking the ranch land grounds in 2011 with former Gov. Abercrombie, who later “signed the paperwork to acquire the land.”
     And so it begins. Everyone likes to claim that they want to run a clean campaign, but I have my doubts. I think folks actually want to the see the candidates go at it like this to see what they’re made of. It may be hot in South Maui right now, but given that this is just the start of what could be war of words between the candidates, it’s only going to get hotter.

Friday, June 3, 2016

A Meditation on the H-Word

I use a word in my column that until recently has never caused pause for me until recently. It’s a word we all know. I have known it my entire life. It’s been used to describe me. I’ve used it to describe myself and used it to describe others. But perhaps I shouldn’t.
I use the word “haole” interchangeably with Caucasian and white. No, I don’t apply the word to non-Hawaiians like Asians or even Portuguese. It was just the word we use to describe white people in Hawaii. But then not too long ago, someone pointed out to me that the word brought back painful memories of his school days, when local kids would use the term with disdain. I started talking to others about the use of the word, and many whites consider it racist or prejudicial.
Let’s start with its meaning; its literal meaning. One story is that the word means “without breath or life.” Many believe this word became associated with foreigners—particularly white foreigners—who were ignorant of the traditional greeting among Hawaiians, in which people got close enough to share each other’s breath. Those who didn’t do that were considered “without breath” or life (ha meaning breath or life and ole meaning without).
This origin has its critics. University of Hawaii linguist Albert Schutz pointed out that this origin story is too dismissive of the languages use of long vowels and glottal stops. The word haole has neither the ‘okina or the kahako, while the shorter words ha (with a long “a”) and ’ole does. For Schutz, there is no evidence that this is the true etymology of the word.
The term was around before statehood. Nineteenth-century scholar, David Malo, uses it in his writings to refer to not people, but things that were of foreign origin. Chants use the word to describe people from far off places like Tahiti or the Marquesas.
At some point, the word went from describing something foreign to describing an ethnic group: Caucasians. When that happened is unclear, but it might have happened fairly early on. Hawaiian dictionaries point out that Native Hawaiians used the term to apply to Americans and Europeans during the period of the kingdom.
Now I personally have nothing wrong with the word—even when it’s used as a pejorative. Kanaka maoli, a newer term used to describe Native Hawaiians, have a long and justified list of grievances against the whites who came to the islands.
Caucasians may have brought over things like mirrors, nails, and other trinkets that were alluring at the time, but they also brought disease, capitalism, and a way of thinking and life that resulted in complete destruction to their way of life and culture. They were the harbingers of great change for the islands and its inhabitants. And not every change was a good thing.
Being mad at what happened is understandable. After all, the whites came to these islands and took everything. They introduced diseases, converted inhabitants to a new religion, made up private property, and then brought about the overthrow of an independent kingdom.
The sentiment isn’t reserved for just Hawaiians. During the plantation era, sugar and pineapple companies brought in whites to run their plantations and it didn’t matter how much experience they had in the islands. They oversaw workers and managers of other races. Even in our post-plantation era, Caucasians still are in management and leadership positions—and it’s worse when folks are imported from the mainland.
At that point, the word haole meant more than just white, which is why Portuguese folks aren’t considered haole. Locals use the term to describe a certain insensitivity to the island way of life. For example, if a person comes into a workplace and constantly talks about how things are done in far off and arguably more efficient places like California or the mainland, you might be branded a haole.
Which brings its usage on school campuses, the beach, and just about anywhere else in the islands. Is it an insult? Sure. It can be. The noun is oftentimes preceded by colorful adjectives like “dumb,” “stupid,” or of course, the gerund form of the f-word. It is oftentimes used to describe a white person who is out of step with local culture, but sometimes it is used well within local culture.
For many newcomers, who grew up and became accustomed to living within a white majority on the mainland, this is a jarring and shocking experience. But that doesn’t mean it’s justified to make fun of someone’s race.

And that brings me back to my column. At first I felt that the word haole was perfectly fine. Those who were insulted by the term or hurt by it are just being too sensitive and need to realize the long history of imperialism here. But at the same time, it is unfair to judge folks and their attitudes toward the islands and its people by virtue of the color of their skin. So maybe I am the one who should be more sensitive.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Hawaii's Legacy of Segregated Schools

          Oliver Brown was a welder for the Santa Fe Railroad living in Topeka, Kansas. His daughter went to a public school. But instead of walking seven blocks from their home to Sumner Elementary. Linda had to ride in a bus every day. The Browns were black. Sumner Elementary was for white students only and it was against the law for Linda to attend.
In 1951, Brown joined others in a class action against his local Board of Education. They sued on the grounds that laws designed to segregate white children from children of color was unconstitutional.
          Racially segregated schools were found all over the country. It was against the law for a white student to go to schools designed for children of color. And of course, children of color were absolutely prohibited from going to a white school.
          After years of arguing their case through the federal courts, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled these laws violated the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This week marked the sixty-second anniversary of perhaps the most famous opinion from the high court.
That opinion changed the way we do things. Racially-segregated schools are not only unconstitutional, but the changes in our society have made it repugnant for most people. But what about Hawaii?
Unlike the Jim Crow South or Kansas in the 1950s, the territory didn’t have black letter laws that racially segregated the schools. It was more subtle than that. Hawaii took different approach.
Mandatory education for children in the islands goes back to the days of the Hawaiian Kingdom. In 1835, the government started requiring children to go to school. Back then, most of the children were either Hawaiian or the descendants of white missionaries. The mass immigration of Asian and other European workers had yet to come.
Segregation started when the missionaries, most if not all of whom were white, built schools designed primarily to educate their own children and to isolate them from the native population. Perhaps the most famous example of these schools is Punahou School established in 1842. (In contrast, the Lahainaluna Seminary in 1831 was designed to educate the Hawaiian people.).
By the time the United States acquired the islands as a territory at the start of the twentieth century, the majority of public school students were Asian-American children of plantation laborers. The few haole students tended to go to private schools.
But after the expansion of the military in the islands brought a new wave of whites migrated to the islands, newcomers were hesitant to send their children to school with the Asian-American sons and daughters of plantation workers.
The federal government reported in 1920 that many white and Hawaiian parents did not want to send their kids to public schools “because their children would be outnumbered in their classes by the orientals, who have little in common with them and whose language difficulties impede the progress of all.” Parents also complained that integrating proper English speakers with students from non-English speaking homes held them back. They also feared that if they were left with a majority of “non-American” students, they would be susceptible to foreign influences.
The territory’s education agency, the Department of Public Instruction, responded by setting up special schools for students who were proficient in proper English. Pidgin wouldn’t cut it.
And so a dual education system grew in Hawaii. English Standard Schools like Roosevelt High School on Oahu or Kaunoa Elementary in Spreckelsville on Maui had a majority of haole students. Everyone else went to “district schools” like McKinley High School.
As the years went on, criticism mounted. In 1940, a little elementary school in Nuuanu Valley was selected to become an English Standard School. The local kids at Maemae Elementary were going to be bussed out of their community to make way for haoles. Protests erupted in front of Iolani Palace.
Parents with Asian, Hawaiian, and Portuguese surnames petitioned the government arguing that the segregation of children who don’t speak proper English was prejudicial and unfair. After all, it was up to the schools to teach proper English in the first place. Maemae Elementary ended up becoming a partial English Standard School anyways and some kids had to be bussed out.
Gradually, the pressure lead to the end of the English Standard School system. By the time the Browns won their case in 1954, Hawaii had become more integrated. Of course, there were still holdouts. Maui held on to its English Standard Schools until 1963.
Most people these days agree with the holding and agree that the Hawaii experiment was a bad one. And yet, to this day, there are still schools that are predominantly white and those where most students are people of color.

It’s still happening.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Factions and Tribalism in the State House

There are 51 elected officials making up the Hawaii House of Representatives, each of whom represents districts throughout the state. Forty-four are Democrats, seven Republicans. That tells us very little.
This week, the online publication Civil Beat uncovered the fluid and chaotic groups that constitute the House. The groupings in the House are much more fractious than Democrat versus Republican.
The tribalism in the House begins (and ends) with Maui's own Joe Souki. Souki has been in the House since 1982. He served as speaker of the House for six years in the 1990s.
So what does the speaker even do? The speaker is the top spot presiding over the business of the House. The speaker's role is to assign other House members to subcommittees and dole out who presides as chair over what. Needless to say, it's a powerful position. Legislation lives and dies by the complicated procedure of hearings, committee reviews and readings in the House.
Anyway, Souki presided over the House for six years before stepping down from the position in 1999. Maui has had its fair share. Before Souki, Elmer Cravalho of Paia and Kihei's Tadao Beppu both held the post in the 1960s and '70s.
The new speaker came from Oahu, is younger than Souki by at least 20 years, but had been in the House for a longer period of time. Calvin Say had been representing the district covering St. Louis Heights, Palolo and Kaimuki since the late '70s. When he became the speaker, he was the first Chinese-American to hold the post.
Say's speakership was long and contentious. He held the post for 13 years. Say developed a system of allies in the House and sidelined those who opposed him.
For a Democrat, he's pretty conservative. For example, Say drew a lot of heat in 2010 over civil unions. After then-Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed the bill, progressives and labor unions pressured the Legislature to hold a special session to override the veto. The Senate appeared to be willing, but Say's House wouldn't budge. The matter was dead.
Then there was the issue of where Say actually lived. During his time as speaker, Say faced a residency challenge. Did Say really live in the district he represented? His house on 10th Avenue became the subject of controversy in 2014 and 2015. It may have looked vacant, but he was vindicated and successfully proved what he had said: He resides in Kaimuki.
No one really cared by then. He had been stripped of the speakership. Over the years of Say's leadership, a number of sidelined representatives formed a group of their own and were named the Dissidents.
In 2013, the Dissidents were able to ally with some moderate Republicans who were used to being sidelined and took down Say and his allies. The new speaker needed to have experience and needed to keep the peace among Dissidents, Republicans and others along for the ride. They brought back Souki.
Souki has been speaker for the last three years, and he's still going strong. Souki has his supporters who are neither Dissidents nor Say supporters. In the three years under his leadership, the name Dissident has stuck, even though they are a majority of lawmakers in the House and even though they basically can dictate policy, finance and procedure as they see fit.
They've flexed their muscles over the last three years, passing progressive legislation. They've established marijuana dispensaries, hailed the long-awaited, same-sex marriage bill, and have addressed other progressive causes.
Of course, Say is still around, but his supporters are dwindling. The only real opposition is a handful of hardline, conservative Republicans, and a few splinter groups that break from the pack every now and again.
One group is nicknamed the Fab Four, and it's spearheaded by Upcountry's Kyle Yamashita. Yamashita's group started as just four, but lately his number has increased to include a few others. They are less progressive than the majority and often vote as a group on bills. Their positions are oftentimes indistinguishable from another splinter group, the Three Amigos, named after three Oahu Representatives.
In case you're wondering, Maui is doing well. Angus McKelvey is a longtime Souki supporter. Kaniela Ing and Justin Woodson are considered Dissidents (even though Woodson wasn't around when Say was speaker). Lynn DeCoite is new to the scene and her allegiances aren't yet known.
Now that the business of the House is over, the election campaigns can begin in earnest. Splinter groups come and go. Even majorities dwindle. This is the true ebb and flow of Hawaii politics. All of them are Democrats. We get that, but the alliances formed in the People's House are much harder to discern. The divisions don't seem to be based on policy or geography. It's, well, just politics.