Editorial writers are paid to take positions on issues, and reporters are paid to report. In recent years I have found myself in a strange position straddling two jobs: someone who tells you the news, but who is regularly called upon to analyze or explain things in plain English.
This comes up even more when I give speeches, since I always take questions and people make it clear they’re looking for a honest answer, not necessarily an opinion they share. This, I might mention in passing, is a wonderful thing, in an era where the Internet is literally programed to reinforce whatever views you already possess, rather than to challenge them with any contrary views.
When asked by Honolulu rail, I always start by warning my audience that I am “a rabid rail supporter,” who thinks even neighbor islands should buy transportation corridors now for future transportation arteries that include rail. It makes sense to me in a state where nearly all the population is laid out in a linear fashion due to the geography of the islands. I state my view plainlyto the groups I speak to, in part so they, if they feel otherwise, can ignore me.
In Honolulu, I see rail as essential to logical land use and controlled growth. Building rail anywhere takes development pressure off of everywhere else, like the North Shore. And, critics of rail to the contrary, it is easier and cheaper to build a rail line than another freeway. It works in other cities, no matter what you’ve heard, and no matter how much it costs it will be a drop in the bucket compared to the other proposed solutions.
I have also been frustrated at some of the tactics used by a very small number of opponents: the college professor who initially pretended to be an unbiased analyst before coming out as a leader of the anti-rail movement; the local politician who pretends he does not oppose rail but merely wants to ensure it is “done right,” which is code for studying it to death; the visiting consultant who was touted as an independent observer until his third or fourth visit to attack the project.
This could all be ignored if it did not have any effect, but sometimes I meet someone who is buying it, usually someone who cannot imagine using rail himself, so he figures no one else will. That’s understandable, but I come from D.C. so I know how great rail is in a congested area. On a regular day it’s good; on a bad day for the roads, it’s better. And Honolulu is much better suited for rail than D.C., where a third of the commutes are circumferential.
The newest development is the mayoral candidacy of Ben Cayetano, which has had the practical effect of turning the entire campaign into yet another rail referendum, since the former governor focuses on this issue almost to the exclusion of anything else (though reporters who don’t insist on bringing up other issues share the blame.)
This poses a difficulty for me, for two reasons. The first is that I like Ben Cayetano, respect his intelligence, thought his memoirs were really well-written and interesting, and admired his conservative fiscal management when he was governor, which made the recession a lot less of a calamity for the islands than it might otherwise have been. He’s still wrong about rail, as far as I’m concerned, but I won’t demonize someone who isn’t a demon. Like the other two major mayoral candidates, Cayetano is a good man with positive as well as negative traits, and we could do worse than any of these three fellows. I know there were some who were put out by his blunt criticism of Sen. Dan Inouye – I was kind of surprised myself – but generally speaking it’s probably worth extending some leeway to a politician willing to express himself plainly as Cayetano did, even if I think we all know that Sen. Inouye is anything but “out of touch.”
The second difficulty is, while I feel strongly that rail is a good project for the state that is being unfairly attacked by a small number of people, I don’t feel comfortable making a big deal about it during the mayoral campaign, since Cayetano’s high profile opposition means any strong statement for rail becomes tantamount to suggesting that you vote against him. Ultimately, however, I guess Cayetano himself has forced rail supporters into this position. It’s too bad, since, if he were a rail supporter, I would expect Cayetano to be dogged in making sure it’s built right, with large parking garages at the outlying stations and good feeder service from buses, and rapid, sensible expansion to more parts of the island.