Hawaii state representative visits with ex-headhunters in North Borneo


by Representative Gene Ward Ph.D.         Monday, September 23, 2013


Recently, I returned from his former Peace Corps village in the remote area of North Borneo, near Tawau, Sabah, to prepare for the special legislative session called by Governor Abercrombie.

In the Peace Corps, I served two years in a village comprised of Murut tribesmen whose immediate ancestors were only a couple of generations removed from blow-pipe warriors in the jungles of Borneo.

My colleagues and I built the first school in the village. I served as its headmaster and first grade teacher before handing it over to the government. The school is still in operation today and has expanded greatly.

“I was delighted to see how much the village had changed from being poor and backward in 1967 to now where just about every house has electricity and running water and many villagers own a motorcycle or a car,” Ward said upon his return to Kuala Lumpur where he was visiting with family.
With my wife, Faredah, we were escorted to the Peace Corps village by the office of his legislative counterpart, YB Representative Dato Haji Syed Abas, who represents the Tawau area in the legislature in the capital city of Kota Kinabalu.

I served a second time in the Peace Corps in 2005-2006 when I became the Country Director for East Timor where I supervised the work of 46 volunteers in the poorest country in Southeast Asia.

Before leaving Tawau, I met with members of the Tanjong Rotary Club to plan a possible joint-venture project for the villagers with the Waikiki Rotary Club of which I have been a member since 1983.

Image“I’m really proud to have been a part of an idea (Peace Corps) that is bigger than one’s self or one’s nation. These villagers started out with literally nothing, but the resettlement scheme provided them a house and 15 acres of oil palm, and the rest is history. It personifies and proves the Peace Corps’ motto, “If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day; if you teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.”

While traveling, I was kept apprised of the status and public opinion of the possible special session by the numerous emails and phone calls received by my office, most of which were against holding a special session on same-sex marriage. I also participated in the Minority Caucus meeting with Governor Abercrombie via video conferencing (Skype) at the State Capitol discussing the subject.

Public deserves time to be heard

Image  September 15, 2013

By Rep. Aaron Ling Johanson, Rep. Beth Fukumoto, Rep. Richard Lee Fale and Rep. Lauren (Cheape) Matsumoto


ImageThe heart of a strong democracy is built on a commitment to provide people the opportunity to voice their opinions. The same democratic system that gives legislators a platform to debate is designed to provide at least that level of opportunity to the very people government is intended to serve. But the upcoming special session to address same-sex marriage will likely deny that opportunity to many.

No matter where public opinion lies, every person who wants to have a say in his or her government should be given a chance to be heard. Yet, the governor’s proposed bill may only be heard in a single joint committee, and the public will not have time to fully and openly debate this complex issue. Perhaps conversations will take place behind closed doors, but that’s not what democracy is supposed to be. This should worry anyone who hopes for a better future for Hawaii.

As legislators age 33 and younger, who come from a generation disenchanted with politics, we believe that openness, transparency and maximum public debate are the only way to restore faith in the democratic process.

When our generation looks to government, large numbers of young people feel disenfranchised or apathetic because they see too much happening behind closed doors. They wonder whether government is listening to them and whether they can actually make a difference. They routinely question whether the policy decisions made by government are merely a foregone conclusion. A truncated session will only reaffirm that notion.

One of the foremost reasons that all of us ran as Republicans, largely against the status quo, was to ensure that there was some guarantee of open, transparent debate in our state government. Irrespective of one’s political affiliation, open and public debate on any issue that affects us all is in everyone’s best interest.

Proponents have argued that this issue has already been debated for 20 years and that everything that there is to discuss has already been discussed. Though this issue may be settled in the minds of many politicians, the volume of calls and emails to our offices would indicate that the issue is not settled in the minds of the public.

It should be noted that much of the public and many current legislators were children when this debate began. In fact, only one of us was eligible to vote in 1998 when a constitutional amendment on this issue was considered. The voices of our generation should matter, too.

As young representatives of our districts and our generation, we want to be fair to the public by ensuring that government serves its people both thoughtfully and responsively. We were inspired to run for office by a deep desire to see everyday people more involved in a transparent process and will continue to advocate for openness on this and many other important issues.

Whether or not same-sex marriage draws sufficient support to pass, people of all ages and backgrounds should be welcomed to participate.

Despite what established politicians have tried to conclude, this issue has not been settled. The public deserves ample time and respect from the system whose sole purpose is to serve them.