Much has been said about the need to compromise, about the need to “meet in the middle” and that there should not be “litmus test issues.”
I beg to differ.
Yes, it would indeed be nice if we lived in a world where everyone put the greater good of the community and the planet first, but unfortunately that is not the case. In the world of policy and politics, people mostly fall into one of two categories. Either they conduct themselves in a “survival of the fittest and every man for himself” mindset, or work from a perspective that “we are all in this together, and we are our brother’s keeper” value base.
While there are shades of gray that cloud the boundaries and overlap that occurs between these two perspectives, these two positions seem to represent the primary values base upon which most people approach the table.
Meeting a profit centered corporation who is causing harm to people and the environment “half-way” when representing the public trust is difficult and sometimes unconscionable.
How much harm to people and the environment is acceptable, and what price must the corporation pay for the right to cause the harm?
How many jobs does it take to offset one child’s birth defect, or reoccurring asthma among a neighborhood community for that matter? How many jobs does it take to offset the pollution of a coastal waterway caused by the industry that creates those jobs?
We need elected officials willing to say NO and who recognize that compromise is not always the best strategy.
Yes, compromise is often a necessary part of reaching solutions between competing interests, but this should not be the default position of those charged with protecting the public interest.
Corporations and others in positions of power and wealth are constantly at the public policy and government entitlement table pushing to gain an advantage, and increase their profits. This is how the world works when it comes to the intersection of government and free enterprise.
We need elected officials whose default position is a willingness to push back against the power and influence, rather than simply roll over under the guise of compromise.
There are many issues and values that for me anyway do in fact represent litmus test issues when it comes to evaluating those in government leadership positions. Supporting international corporate interests that cause harm to health and the environment on a global scale is one such litmus test, regardless of how many jobs they claim.
Supporting large landowners in circumventing the public process in order to fast track their own land development interests is another deal breaker for me.
The litmus test list for me is long actually and includes those politicians unwilling to disavow the policies and positions of the NRA and those who do not support equal rights and equal treatment for all people.
In each of the above examples, the interest groups that benefit from government actions have invested heavily in the political process. In some cases, the elected officials responsible for regulating an industry are employed by companies within that same industry.
In a small community, the impact of corporate donations to local charities, schools and sports teams wields significant political influence as well. Direct campaign contributions are of course also an important part of the financial influence mix.
Anyone who believes that there is a level playing field and that our elected leaders should be sitting at the table and attempting to meet these corporations and wealthy power players halfway, has clearly never endured that experience.
For starters, those holding the reins of power and money set the parameters to determine what “half-way” really means. They have legions of marketing people whose job it is to “frame the narrative” and thus manage the discussion. The question from industry to government is never framed as a yes or no, but rather the yes is assumed and it is only about “How much can we get?”
And as an elected official, who will be joining you at the table? Try to visualize this for a moment. Sitting next to you will be an elected colleague employed by the industry (expected to set aside his bias in favor of the public interest), and across from you will be another representative of the industry (who officially represents the industry but professes love of the community as well).
Advising you will be government agency people (planners, attorneys etc) who one day will likely seek to be employed by these same industry interests. Advising the industry will be former government agency people who now have that job the existing agency person will one day be seeking. Truth.
Those serving in public office are elected to represent and protect the interests of the people, and not the interests of the corporations and our own little oligarchies here in Hawaii. In an election year especially, they need to be reminded of that.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.