Monday, December 8, 2008

Oh, What a Tangled Web We Weave

I recently got sucked into a political scandal that developed on Maui after the Nov. 4 election.  I have to admit, local politics here are a bit bewildering to me. I think maybe you need to live here for a while before it all starts making any kind of sense. But the uproar over the Nishiki brouhaha has been rather loud, and it caught my attention, so I started to do a little digging to figure out what was going on.

So Wayne Nishiki, it seems, was a retired county council member.  (On Maui, there is no city government, only county government, which also includes the islands - counties- of Lanai and Molokai.)  He left politics 4 years ago - to do what, I'm not sure.  Seems he has a stand at the farmers market?  At any rate, during his tenure on the council, Nishiki was well known for his anti-development stance.

Development is a very hot button topic here.  Really, it's kind of a dirty word.  The prevailing sentiment on the island is the "anti" standpoint, which I do get.  Without proper laws in place, it's hard to control development, and your elected officials really have to want to do it.  And most people have no interest in Maui becoming another Oahu.  From what I've seen of Oahu, I totally agree with that, because yeah, yuck.

Apparently, during his retirement, in 2005, Nishiki accepted a $100,000 business loan from Dowling, the biggest and "slickest" (as I have heard it described) development company on the island.  Then, in 2008, he decided to run for the council again.  Nishiki won the council seat, by a mere 2,000 votes, in November.  However, he had neglected to file the proper paperwork to publicize the loan he received in 2005.  In fact, news of the loan didn't didn't reach the public until a week after the election.  And that's when the sh*t hit the fan, as they say.

There are a lot of people angry with Wayne Nishiki.  The more cynical believe that this was a long-term, evil plan.  He gets the loan in 2005, waits a few years, and then gets re-elected so he can start scratching a few backs.  While that seems a tad far-fetched to me (it seems a rather long time for Dowling to wait to get their payback), I do get where people are coming from.  I wouldn't trust pretty much any politician as far as I could throw them, particularly not after what we've seen in the last 8 years on the national level.

Nishiki says the loan was innocent. He says that he became friends with Dowling over the years.  I'm inclined to actually believe him. I certainly have friends who believe the exact opposite of me, and they would probably give me money if I needed it. I find it hard to believe that a man who spent 14 scandal-free years opposing development would have such a sudden change of heart. But I could be wrong.

What I find less innocent is his "neglecting" to file the paperwork until when it would coincidentally do the least amount of damage to his campaign.  I think it's pretty obvious he did it on purpose.  He knew it was a political hot potato, and he knew it would likely scuttle his campaign.  So he went the route of most politicians and did something underhanded to win the election.  A politician caught being dishonest?  Really not the most shocking thing in the world.

I think the best thing he could have done for himself is disclose the money from the very beginning of his campaign.  He might not have won, but I think he would have had a shot. Americans in this day and age are hungering for politicians they can trust. I think they would have had some amount of admiration for a man who disclosed potentially scandalous information right from the start.

The question is, what happens now? Many are calling for him to resign. Certainly, if he stays, his whole tenure will be tainted. He will never be able to vote on any Dowling projects without the specter of this looming over his head. If he votes for a single one . . . I can already hear the howls of anger.

I don't know what the answer is, but I'm looking forward to keeping my eye on it.

1 comment:

line of flight said...

I think one of the main points of the story is missed. Wayne Nishiki could not have had any idea that his opponent and the Maui News would not report on this issue until after the election. The form was due in August and the Board of Ethics had it on their agenda in the meeting in October -- which gets e-mailed to Maui News reports when it is posted -- a month before the election.

The Maui News' story attempted to paint Wayne as the only bad guy but I think a few fingers needed to be pointed at the media as a whole for its utter failure to cover this issue.

The other issue is the fact that the Board of Ethics has no legal right to withhold publicly disclosing ethics forms once they are filed. They haven't adopted lawfully promulgated rules on the matter. And the practice itself seems to contravene the Ethics Code.

I think those issues of media independence and the Ethics Board's failure to comply with the Ethics Code itself and the people's right to know can't reasonably be imputed onto Wayne.