This is an election year and in Hawaii that means things will start heating up politically. We will begin to see the usual commercials of candidates promoting themselves and others criticizing their opponents. We can also expect elected officials to be reluctant about making decisions that may offend their constituents and risk their election. It’s also a time when there is heightened scrutiny over who gets endorsed by whom as many closely follow the money trail of special interests.
Not Immune from Politics
In the past, even unions were criticized for being a special interest. Many believed unions had elected officials in their back pockets. While we cannot speak for all unions, we know that UHPA has operated differently. We know faculty are much more comfortable operating within the safe confines of academia and would prefer to stay out of politics. However, we also know faculty are not naïve and recognize it is impossible to be immune from politics.
A Multi-Party Collective-Bargaining Agreement
Faculty know that their collective-bargaining contract is based on an agreement with four parties: the Governor, the UH Board of Regents, the UH administration as the employer, and UHPA on behalf of faculty members. Even a collective-bargaining contract has a political dimension. It is important that those on the opposite side of the bargaining table have integrity, and faculty have a vested interest in making sure those in the positions uphold fairness.
The Impact of Legislators
The legislature also affects the lives of faculty. Certain legislators continually try to push the envelope and encroach in UH decision-making. They justify their flagrant disregard for the state constitutional protection of the UH’s autonomy by claiming it is their responsibility to have oversight over how taxpayer dollars are used — which many see as a thinly veiled excuse to second-guess UH decisions and interject their personal views.
Support for Integrity in Government
Fearlessness and fortitude based on high ethical standards and an uncompromising commitment to integrity are important to UHPA. Our decisions and actions reflect these values. We recently affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the national union powerhouse representing a growing number of faculty in higher education, and we recently voiced our concern demanding transparency in the UH Board of Regents’ search process for a new UH president that was featured in USA Today.
UHPA’s Endorsement of Scott Saiki
So it comes as no surprise that UHPA feels it is important to align ourselves with elected officials who share our same values. That’s why we’re proud to endorse Scott Saiki early in the year for re-election to the House of Representatives.
Saiki, a Democrat who represents Ala Moana, Kaka‘ako and downtown Honolulu, celebrates his 30th anniversary of service in the House this year, and has served in a leadership role as Speaker of House since 2017.
Commitment to Economic Diversification
He has been an advocate of diversifying our local economy so that we are not as heavily dependent upon the visitor industry. In an interview with Civil Beat in 2022, he said “the state can play an important role in diversifying our economy by making Hawaii a stable place to experiment and generate initiatives. This requires stabilization of our state and county government infrastructure (e.g., taxation, land use, permitting), a stable judicial system, private sector financial systems (capital), and an educational system that prepares youth and workers but also attracts other skilled people to Hawaii.”
The UH system’s 10 campuses — seven community colleges and four universities — collectively serve as an economic engine for our state and a Carnegie R1 research institution that has created jobs and spun off new industries. Saiki has also advocated that Hawaii’s schools and universities enable skill-building so that young people can compete in our changing economy.
This vision for the UH is the kind of progressive, forward-thinking leadership we need for our state, our faculty and our students. Legislators who constantly tear down and micromanage do not move our state forward.
Saiki has also demonstrated his leadership during the controversies involving Mauna Kea. He was willing to step into the volatile, polarizing situation to find solutions to address cultural, environmental and economic interests. He proposed the creation of a working group to assess an alternative Mauna Kea governance and management model. With the hard work of his colleagues in the House, HB2024 became law, and the Mauna Kea Authority was born. It showed the state the power of collaboration and has inspired others to work together.
Promoting More Sunshine in Government
Following the unscrupulous actions of certain legislators, the House of Representatives, under the leadership of Saiki, created an independent commission to look at ways to improve government transparency through reforms in ethics and lobbying activities. The commission’s scope included ethics, elections, campaign finance, criminal prosecution, fraud and open government. The process gave Hawaii voters hope for a better future.