State senator to seek US House seat held by Gabbard

HILO (AP) — A Hawaii state senator plans to run for the U.S. House seat held by Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

Democrat Kai Kahele announced his plans Monday. Kahele, a Native Hawaiian, is the Hawaii Senate’s majority floor leader and a major in the Hawaii Air National Guard.

He was appointed in 2016 to the seat held by his father, the late Gil Kahele, who died while in office. Kai Kahele later was elected to the seat. He represents Hilo, a small city on the mostly rural Big Island of Hawaii.

Kahele said he wanted to carry on the dream of his father, to build a better Hawaii for all.

Gabbard, who represents the 2nd Congressional District that includes Maui County has said she intends to seek the Democratic nomination for president. She hasn’t said if she’ll give up her seat to run.

Postal Service will keep open historic Kauai post office

LIHUE (AP) — A historic post office on Kauai will remain open after the U.S. Postal Service reversed a decision to shut it down.

The service had announced its decision to close the Lihue Post Office in December 2017, prompting hundreds of letters and coconuts to be sent to the service in support of keeping the post office open.

The agency planned to close the Rice Street office to consolidate operations at its carrier annex facility next to the Lihue Airport. The consolidation also aimed to solve ongoing parking problems and access issues at the historic building.

“After a thorough review of our options, we decided it would be in the best interest of our customers and the Postal Service not to relocate our retail services from our Rice Street facility,” said spokesman Duke Gonzales.

The Lihue Post Office built in 1939 is listed in both the national and state registers of historic places.

The Lihue community was committed to saving the post office, Historic Hawaii Foundation Executive Director Kiersten Faulkner told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. The organization had partnered with the Lihue Business Association and the National Trust for Historic Preservation to keep the office in operation.

“I was just thrilled to see it and really excited to see this outcome,” Faulkner said.

Kauai County Mayor Derek Kawakami thanked officials for their work in keeping the office open, especially “the people of Kauai who saw the value of maintaining our sense of place and rural character.”

Lamb stolen from Big Island animal shelter

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — A lamb named Loa was stolen from a Big Island animal shelter and another sheep injured in the theft had to be euthanized, officials said.

Hawaii Island Humane Society staff discovered the months-old lamb was missing from the Waimea shelter Monday, West Hawaii Today reported.

Someone likely jumped over the entrance gate, the organization said. Staff members found a broken inner fence leading to the shelter’s pasture, which was home to the male lamb, two goats and three other sheep. The lamb was taken sometime between Sunday morning and Monday morning.

The burglar likely tried to steal the other sheep because one had an injury possibly caused by a lasso, the organization said. Staff decided the sheep had to be put down.

“This is a big concern because this has never happened out here in Waimea,” said Roxy O’Neal, a region manager of the organization. “We’ve had instances of theft in Kona and Keaau but not typically here, especially for a farm animal to be stolen out of our pastures and to have another one injured in the process is definitely concerning for us.”

The lamb was taken to the shelter about a month ago. Loa requires constant care to survive.

“Knowing the nature of an animal that requires special needs, it’s critical that this particular animal is found and receives its feed in order for it to survive,” said Regina Dodaro Romero Serrano, director of shelter operations

Big Island police are investigating the theft. A $200 reward is being offered to find Loa.

Gabbard apologizes for past LGBTQ statements

By AUDREY McAVOY

The Associated Press

HONOLULU — Presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard on Thursday responded to criticism about her past work advocating against gay rights by apologizing in a video.

The nearly four-minute-long clip, which was shot in her Washington, D.C. backyard, shows Gabbard standing in the snow saying that her views have changed significantly since she made statements that were hurtful to LGBTQ people.

The Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii has apologized for such statements before. But she has come under renewed criticism since she announced during a CNN interview last week that she would run for president.

Gabbard, 37, campaigned against same-sex marriage with the group Alliance for Traditional Marriage and Values when she was a state representative in her 20s. Gabbard’s father, who is now a state senator and was a Honolulu City Councilman, founded the organization to lobby against same-sex marriage.

Gabbard explained in the video that she grew up in a socially conservative household and was raised to believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. But she said she has since formed her own opinions from her life experiences.

“When we deny LGBTQ people the basic rights that exist for every American, we are denying their humanity — denying that they are equal. We are also creating a dangerous environment that breeds discrimination and violence,” she said.

Gabbard added she knows LGBTQ people still face discrimination and fear their rights will be taken away “by people who hold views like I used to.”

In 2011, as she prepared to run for Congress the first time, Gabbard said she changed her views on gay marriage after deploying to Iraq and Kuwait with the Hawaii National Guard.

She said serving in the Middle East showed her that former positions were rooted in the mistaken idea that it’s the government’s role to “define and enforce our personal morality.”

State sets earlier closing time for Iolani Palace grounds

HONOLULU (AP) — The grounds of the Honolulu palace of the Hawaiian monarchy will close earlier to eliminate the potential for vandalism and vagrancy, officials said.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources announced this week that the Iolani Palace State Monument will close at 6 p.m. starting Feb. 1, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported .

Nighttime vagrancy and items, such as hypodermic needles left on the grounds, are reasons for the change, said Curt Cottrell, division administrator. Security workers currently have to wait until 11 p.m. to remove people for “illicit nighttime use,” he said.

The decision to close earlier was made “to better protect the sanctity of the palace and preservation of its invaluable buildings and grounds,” the department said.

The Division of State Parks consulted with the Friends of Iolani Palace, determining the earlier closing time was necessary. The Friends organization has a long-term management lease for the palace, the coronation pavilion and the barracks.

There also has been increasing vandalism over the past several years, including damage to a palace window and graffiti on historic structures, department officials said.

In February 2014, a 30-year-old man and a 21-year-old woman smashed a 130-year-old glass door and were spotted on surveillance video walking through the palace’s grand hall.

In June 2017, 57-year-old Michael Aquino was indicted for breaking glass panes on three palace doors that were more than 100 years old, as well as breaking a glass door at the state Capitol.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to felony criminal property damage.

4 arrests after men occupy OHA lobby

HONOLULU (AP) — The Office of Hawaiian Affairs says 12 people forced their way into the state agency’s lobby and assaulted two staff members.

A statement from the agency says the 12 forcibly removed staff members from the lobby of their Honolulu office and occupied the lobby.

Honolulu police say four men ranging in age from 27 to 62 were arrested and booked for third-degree assault.

Trustee Kelii Akina says he received messages from his staff to stay away from the building and that other trustees there at the time were evacuated.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is a semi-autonomous state agency tasked with improving the conditions of Native Hawaiians.

There are nine publicly elected trustees.

The incident comes on the anniversary of the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom.

Divers swim with great white

HONOLULU (AP) — Divers monitoring a rotting whale carcass off the shores of Oahu this week found themselves face-to-face with a massive great white shark, prompting state officials to warn recreational divers and snorkelers to stay out of the water near the dead sperm whale amid reports some people have climbed onto the carcass to take its teeth as souvenirs.

Smaller tiger sharks left when the possibly pregnant great white came to dine on the dead whale Tuesday, diver Ocean Ramsey told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

“She was just this big beautiful gentle giant wanting to use our boat as a scratching post,” said Ramsey, who posted images of the encounter. “We went out at sunrise, and she stayed with us pretty much throughout the day.”

Ramsey studies sharks, advocates for their conservation and leads cage-free shark diving tours. Ramsey and her team observe and identify sharks and share that data with state and federal partners.

Hawaii waters are usually too warm for great whites compared with California’s Pacific coast, where they feed on sea lions and elephant seals, Ramsey said. She estimated this shark was more than 20 feet long and 8 feet across.

The giant white might have headed to Hawaii because of hunger and a need for extra nutrients in pregnancy, Ramsey said.

The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources said in a statement Wednesday that the decomposing whale carcass had drifted to about eight miles south of Pearl Harbor after being towed 15 miles offshore days earlier.

The department said tiger sharks have been “almost continuously” feeding on the whale and said it was aware of photos of the great white.

The agency’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, Chief Jason Redull, said people should stay out of the water around the dead whale.

“We don’t want anyone to get hurt if a shark swimming around the carcass mistakes them as food. Understandably, some people want to get into the water either out of fascination or to get photographs, but it is truly dangerous to be around this carcass with so much shark activity,” he said.

The agency said there are reports people climbed on top of the whale carcass and removed its teeth, which may be a violation of state and federal laws.

Officials said the carcass it is currently drifting away from shore, but a predicted shift in the winds could once again push it back toward Oahu.

The shark could be the famed Deep Blue based on her size and markings, Ramsay said. Deep Blue is believed to be the largest white shark ever recorded. Ramsey previously swam with the huge shark on research trips to Guadalupe Island, Mexico.

“Big pregnant females are actually the safest ones to be with — the biggest, oldest ones — because they’ve seen it all, including us,” Ramsey said. “That’s why I kind of call her, like, a grandma shark.”

Sharks usually only bite when they’re curious or mistake people for their natural prey but are unpredictable, she said.

Hawaii lawmakers consider minimum wage hike

By AUDREY McAVOY

The Associated Press

HONOLULU — Lawmakers gathering for the first day of a new legislative session said Wednesday they will consider raising the state’s minimum wage.

The state last boosted its minimum wage in 2014, when legislation gradually increased it from $7.25 to $10.10 over four years.

Senate President Ron Kouchi said his chamber would discuss an incremental increase and Gov. David Ige told reporters after Kouchi’s speech that he’s considering a raise to $15.

Ige said officials will need to balance the needs of working people and small businesses.

“How would the small businesses be able to respond to increasing their costs to $15? I think there will be lots of conversations about how we can do that,” Ige said, adding that most jobs in Hawaii are created by small businesses.

Sen. Kurt Fevella, the Senate’s only Republican, said lawmakers should try rolling out a minimum wage hike for government workers first.

House Speaker Scott Saiki said lawmakers need to “re-examine wage disparity, while also considering the impact on those who pay wages.”

Kouchi said his chamber would also address legalizing marijuana, boosting affordable housing and reducing homelessness. He singled out help for the Big Island as it recovers from last year’s Kilauea lava flows, and Kauai, as it recovers from last year’s flooding.

“We are not going to be strong if each one of our counties aren’t strong,” Kouchi said in his speech. “So we want to see you prosperous and healthy again.”

On legalizing marijuana, Ige said he had some concerns because Hawaii is isolated from the rest of the country and it’s illegal under federal law to possess marijuana depending on the amount being carried.

“Any person coming to the islands has to know that they’re crossing a federal boundary which would make them subject to criminal sanctions,” he said.

Sen. Kalani English, the Senate majority leader, said he believed the issue had reached a “tipping point” as many states have legalized marijuana for either recreational or medical use. Hawaii already allows it for medical purposes.

English, who represents parts of Maui, Lanai and Molokai, said marijuana would be a revenue source for Hawaii because the state could tax it.

The state Senate now has an opposition party member for the first time in two years after voters in Ewa Beach elected Fevella. The 25-member chamber was all-Democrat from 2016 to 2018.

The state House has five Republicans and 46 Democrats — the same breakdown as last session.

Education funding, the minimum wage, the detention of defendants before trial and bail reform are also expected to be key issues this session.

Lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn on May 2.

Audit: Consultants hold key jobs in Honolulu rail agency

By AUDREY McAVOY

The Associated Press

HONOLULU — Private consultants hold key senior positions inside the Honolulu agency building the city’s rail line, yet the agency fails to consistently monitor their performance, the state auditor’s second report on the enormously over-budget rail line said Tuesday.

Those jobs include project director, who is responsible for the rail line’s design, construction and project budget. Another is the position responsible for overseeing all cost estimates and cost management.

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation paid HDR Engineering Inc. about $9.6 million last year for the services of 19 employees in these jobs. That works out to $42,105 per month per employee or $505,260 a year for each worker.

HDR employees are paid and evaluated by their employer, not HART, the report said, and HDR doesn’t share employee evaluations with the agency. HDR employees oversee the work of other HDR employees as well as other consultants working for other private companies.

This leads to “consultants managing consultants,” the report said. The agency, meanwhile, fails to consistently follow through and monitor HDR and HDR’s employees, it said.

“The buck all too often stops at the consultant, not HART,” the report said.

The auditor said HART explained that it hires consultants because it’s unable to find highly qualified candidates willing to accept a city salary. It also doesn’t want to hire workers and then have to terminate them once the rail line is built, the report said.

HART CEO Andrew Robbins, in a letter to the auditor, said the agency agrees its performance oversight and evaluation need to be strengthened. HART will replace consultants with city staff wherever possible, but the needs of the project must be considered, he said.

HDR told the auditor that “at no point” has it been considered by HART or others as “a cause of cost or schedule increases.”

The Hawaii State Auditor plans to issue two more reports on the troubled rail line, for which estimated costs ballooned to $9.2 billion last year from $5.1 billion in 2012.

The first report published last week found city officials prematurely awarded contracts for the rail line a decade ago to minimize public criticism and show the project was moving along, but this practice dramatically swelled costs as plans changed.

The state Legislature ordered the audit after it approved new taxes to cover the rail line’s budget deficit.

Huge trash-collecting boom heads to the Big Island for fix

HILO (AP) — A trash collection device that broke apart while deployed in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii was scheduled to arrive to the Big Island on Sunday. The 2,000-foot long floating boom was being towed to Hilo after its support crew discovered that a structural malfunction had caused an 19-yard section to detach late last month, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported. The U-shaped barrier was towed in September from San Francisco to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — an island of trash twice the size of Texas. The barrier is intended to act like a coastline to trap pieces of plastic swirling in the patch while allowing marine life to safely swim beneath it. The harbors division was coordinating with The Ocean Cleanup organization, said Tim Sakahara, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation. “The organization will perform damage assessments, which will help determine the length of time the asset will be in Hilo Harbor,” Sakahara said. “Harbor operations will continue as scheduled without impact to other vessels or the general public.” The Ocean Cleanup said the cause of the malfunction hasn’t been confirmed, but officials believe metal fatigue and a local stress concentration could have caused the fracture in the boom.