I’ve asked each of my 2017 Session Staff to write a post about their experience here at the Capitol. We hired 5 part-time staff this session, to give a group of young people some first-hand experience with the legislative process. Our goal is to build future leaders, and for them to help their communities and friends to participate in the process.
Zachary Espino, Connor Hummel, Eliza Wilcox, Buddy, Natalia Hussey-Burdick, Jennifer Barra and Michael Beichler. Missing: Yu-Jin Cho.
Measuring the Pulse of Hawai‘i
I went on an all-access tour of the State Capitol Building as part of a job a few years back. I thought this gave me an intimate knowledge of the Capitol. It did, of a sort. It wasn’t until approximately eight years later, however, that I started to understand the way the building, the people, and the process all interact. Hungry for experience and eager to use my budding legal education, I reached out to Sen. Laura Thielen and asked for an internship.
The training was fast and thorough. I leaned about all the different offices, departments, and the legislative process. My introduction to the Senate wasn’t all Power Points and walking tours, although there were plenty. The opening day ceremonies in the Senate were a celebration of Hawai‘i. There was poi pounding, hula performances, and a keiki ‘ukulele hālau from Wai‘anae. The energy and excitement were palpable.
The energy carried through to the session. Everything moves at a faster pace at the Legislature, everything except the elevators. The politics of passing a bill were surprising. After a member introduces a bill it is assigned to committees. If the Senate leadership assigns the bill to committees where the chairs are not amicable to the purpose of the bill it will likely be a nonstarter, no hearing will be scheduled. That is how many a good bill dies. Conversely, bills are given life with the scheduling of a hearing. The hearings fly by and with nothing more than a quick deferral by the committee chair, again, the bill can die before anyone blinks an eye.
I shouldn’t be surprised. This is politics after all.
My favorite part of working at the legislature is hearing the chatter around the building and talking to people. It feels as if I am measuring the pulse of the State. I learn about people’s problems and concerns, and the issues effecting communities, government agencies, and stakeholders.
Sometimes those concerns overlap with my personal concerns and passions. I have been researching, tracking, and reporting on legislation seeking to regulate short-term vacation rentals, a topic that resonates with me as a north shore resident. Working at the legislature has helped me to see the many perspectives on the issue and challenged me to justify my position with facts and information, not merely opinion and beliefs.
On the whole, the prevailing positive mind-set, breadth of views, and willingness to compromise have convinced me that the pulse of Hawai‘i is strong and healthy. I do feel, however, that the veracity of debate on important issues is severely lacking, or has been hidden behind closed doors by those who value reputation and perception above efficacy and transparency. Restoring public debate may further open politicians up to critique, or encourage eager challengers in upcoming elections. But the alternative is just as undesirable, an opaque process, divorcing citizens from decisions by removing the accountability that comes with being on public record.
*Mike Biechler is an Environmental Law and Native Hawaiian Law certificate candidate at the Richardson School of Law at UH-Manoa. He is currently serving as an Intern in Senator Thielen’s office working on land use issues. When he is not in the library, you can most often find Mike surfing O‘ahu’s north shore, where he also moonlights as a server and a DJ.