Making a difference in public office is a good thing

Walter Lewis, in his recent guest editorial (TGI, Oct. 24), called me a “career politician,” as if it were a bad thing.

It is true that social/political change for the better has been my life’s work. I am proud of my work.

My achievements of 26 years in elected office (not 40 years, Walter) have significantly reduced the cost of living and increased the quality of life for families and businesses on Kauai.

It seems that Walter does not appreciate being able to afford a home or use public transportation — perhaps because he has not had to struggle for those things in his life.

Nor does he understand how important these things are for everyone in our community, regardless of whether you use public transportation or live in affordable housing. When we enable a brighter future for children who are able to do homework in a safe, comfortable, affordable home, and parents don’t have to work multiple jobs because housing is only 30 percent of their household income (the county’s guideline for affordable housing) — we all win!

When a community reduces its contribution to climate change and its dependency on oil, helps families save $2,500 or more per year by riding the bus, and takes cars off the road by providing convenient, reliable and affordable transportation at a cost of a few million dollars more per year rather than $80 million to widen two miles of highway, we all win.

When we put aside park space (I have been instrumental in acquiring over 250 acres of shoreline space at Poipu Beach and Blackpot parks, Ninini and Crater Hill) where families can enjoy the outdoors, spend time with each other and escape the stress of daily life, we all win.

When we carefully craft laws for farm worker housing without creating a loophole for country estates, we all win.

When government functions productively and efficiently, we all win. (Who’s been trying to reduce the $1 million annual subsidy to the Wailua Golf Course from the general fund? Who has advocated for years for an accurate payroll system to reduce inaccuracies that hurt both county workers and the county’s general fund? Who has pointed out the problems with collective bargaining that could lead the county down the path to bankruptcy, ultimately hurting union members and everyone else? Who has repeatedly pointed out that the county could save millions of tax dollars if the administration appointed and hired managers by merit rather than politics? Who had the courage to vote for some fee increases so we can fix our roads, keep a sound county credit rating and continue to provide services?)

This is my record as a “career politician.” I accept Walter’s accusations — I’m guilty of all of the above.

Walter claims I did not pursue legal work in my career. This reveals his very limited concept of the law. While I may not do the kind of legal work that Walter used to do, I use my law background every day drafting and analyzing ordinances, reviewing documents and problem solving. I simply have a different calling to fulfill than Walter did — public service rather than private practice. Neither is better than the other, and both deserve respect.

Finally, Walter says that I have exploited a loophole in the charter provision that limits council terms to four consecutive two-year terms. Loophole? “Consecutive” means consecutive — one following the other. If Walter thinks it means anything else he is violating the rules of interpretation we were taught in law school.

Furthermore “intent” needs to be respected. “The people” voted on the existing charter provision. This is democracy in its most fundamental form. Surely, Walter doesn’t think that the voters in approving that provision didn’t know what they were doing and really “meant” that councilmembers should not serve more than eight years in office ever! Imagine applying that rule to someone like the late Sen. Dan Inouye!

I believe the requirement of consecutive years is meant to balance the fact that term limits violate the most fundamental principle of democracy: “The will of the people.” Why should anyone not be able to run for office and “let the people decide” whether a person is too old or stale in mind or body instead of an arbitrary rule? Rather, term limits are a reasonable way to enforce the concept of “sabbaticals” — taking time out to do and learn different things, and yes, giving others a chance.

However, let us not assume, as Walter does, that length of time in office prevents fresh thinking, clear vision or sound ideas. Do we disregard the experience, insight and wisdom of our kupuna?

Yes, we need fresh new perspectives as well as wisdom and experience; however, neither the young nor the old have a monopoly on any of that.

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JoAnn Yukimura is a member of the Kauai County Council.

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