MORE MONKEYS, LESS WEASELS: As we first reported last Monday the magical "Recusalgate" transformation of one Foster Ducker from selector to candidate for the vacated 14th District State House Seat vacated by Mina Morita, finally got the Leo Azumbuja treatment Sunday in the local newspaper, providing a series of the usual half-assed factoids (Factoid: Did you know that a factoid is not really a fact?), unresearched pronouncements and irrelevant quotes and citations.
But one quote did catch our eye describing the prestidigitation involved in Ducker's metamorphosis:
“It came a little bit out of the left field for me,” he said. “I was sitting in the selection committee and all of a sudden I was sitting in front of the selection committee.”
Yup, he was just sitting there minding his own business and, as if in a dream, "all of a sudden" he replaced Morita's choice for replacement, Joel Guy who has been the presumed replacement.
That of course made room for the golden boy Derek Kawakami to follow his ancestral destiny. Gee, why would anyone claim that the the whole process has the smell of a backroom deal?
The problem is that when it comes to conflicts of interest it becomes hard to see the forest for your own personal tree.
For the Democratic Party it looked like a matter of their rules for recusals, according to Azumbuja's mish-mosh which quoted our friend District 14 Democratic Party Chair, Susan Wilson, as saying:
“Do you know what the rule is on the council?” she said. “The rule on the council is you just say, ‘Gosh I have a conflict of interest,’ and then you’re allowed to vote on it.”
Of course Wilson- and Azumbuja- obviously missed the 2008 County Charter amendment which modified the Code of Ethics' Section 20.04D, Disclosure, to say, in relevant part
Any elected official, appointed officer, employee, or any member of a board or commission who possesses or acquires such interest as might reasonably tend to create a conflict with his duties or authority... shall make full disclosure of the conflict of interest and shall not participate in said matter.
So, we decided to drop Wilson an email setting the record straight.
But Wilson was more interested in setting the record straight on the reason why Ducker was permitted to run and vote despite the conflict of interest, since, as is the usual complaint about Azumbuja, she was haphazardly quoted.
We agreed to let Wilson have her say so here's what she wrote- in full- about the situation. See ya on the other side.
State of Hawaii Democratic Party Constitution does not require recusal, but I think at its next state convention the issue could be worth discussion again. Right away, in mid February, I posed the recusal question to the Democratic Party Central committee. An answer came back from a central committee member. In essence it was, with so few registered democratic voters coming forward to hold precinct offices all over the state it was advised precedent has been inclusion rather than the opposite. In the specifics of District 14, I welcomed that answer as I needed full district council member participation on all levels of what I hoped would be a serious process. For example there is only one precinct officer in one of district 14's biggest precincts. If he would have decided to be a candidate and recusal was required about 400 or so registered democrats in his precinct would have had no vote at the table. Likewise, at one point two district council members were considering throwing their names in the pot. Again, I looked to the Party's core value and was comfortable with precedent. All council members were in accordance, and we are a council of eight. I then took it a step further and set up a very fair leveling voting procedure. What came out of this process was a standard of civic involvement worthy of emulation. And, yes, Foster Ducker participated in the voting. And, yes, he did become one of the three names forwarded on to the governor as one of District14 Council choices for the governor to consider for appointment. Our council did not have the power of appointment. And, yes, one candidate who seemingly had considerable headwind coming in was not chosen to move forward. I have no idea who voted for who. It was a secret ballot. Three clear winners were chosen on the first ballot. And, yes, a candidate who supposedly was favored by our former Representative to take over her unfilled position, even before the process had started, did not move forward. I'd say what happened was anything but politics as usual. It was democracy in action. And, finally, grace in defeat, is a sign of maturity and leadership.
It's not like Wilson would be the first to miss what the problematic part is in your typical "conflict of interest." Certainly some of the recent appointments of Governor Neil Abercrombie have raised eyebrows when big contributors and campaign leaders received nods for various positions. And when it comes to the champion of cronyism, our own warbling Warrior, Mayor Bernard Carvalho, few can hold a candle to his penchant for promoting his pals.
What they all seem to miss is that any conflict of interest is anathema to good governance way before it ever leads to corruption.
It's the very potential for that "tit for tat" and "quid pro quo" that raises the hackles of voters leaving the perception of the opportunity for wrongdoing to appear to be the reality of illicit dealings.
The potential conflict of interest is an actual conflict of interest. Appointees should not come prepackaged with baggage that causes people to roll their eyes and shake their heads back and forth. Rather they should be like Caesar's wife... beyond reproach.
The message from the good governance community is that if your laws- or rules- allow conflicts of interest to be, not just the exception but, the norm perhaps it's time to change that rule.