The good lieutenant
Lyla Berg / Honolulu Weekly has been talking to candidates for Lieutenant Governor–before the other races suck all of the oxygen out of the proverbial room. This week, we spoke with State Rep. Lyla Berg, a former educator, a theater performer and a community activist.
Like so many people who will be voting this year, I don’t know too much about you. You have perhaps the lowest media profile of any of the major candidates for LG.
It’s because I’m not a career politician. I’m an educator, a single mother, an activist. I perform, I’m involved in the arts.
At the same time, politics are in everything, so having to navigate through the worlds of education and the arts has allowed me to see what’s going on across the state, and feel connected to communities across Hawaii. That’s why I ran for the state House in 2004.
I was the founder of Kids Voting Hawaii and then state coordinator for Project Citizen. Looking at the outcome of the 2004 session, I was amazed at the shenanigans that went on. My son challenged me to run.
I grew up in Hawaii. I came back to teach in Kailua, and really began to understand the challenges facing us. I went to Molokai to be a teacher and a vice principal. I began to understand the complexities of each island. It was a slow process of waking up, recognizing how fragile the environment is here. I wanted to be part of the leadership.
Speaking of the environment, you were a leader on the barrel tax bill. What happened with that? To a cynical reporter, it seemed like politics as usual, with most of the money intended for alternative energy eventually being diverted to the general fund.
I think the bill was a typical example of a political fatality. When it started I was one of the advocates, because it was a policy put into place to address a specific problem. What happens is the bill morphed and was compromised, as so many bills are. Like my plastic bags bill a few years ago morphed from a vision of no more plastic bags, to the point where I had to kill the bill. Or the Legacy Lands bill, which is now a misnomer for what happened in that bill. The bill was supposed to take a portion of the conveyance tax to go into the environment. Then it got compromised by adding more options to the use of the tax, and ultimately some loose connection was made to housing. A strong environment leads to more houses somehow, was the theory. This kind of thing happens all the time.
But in the end, you still supported the barrel tax bill, right?
In the very end, I did support it, with reservations, because as Cynthia Thielen said to me at the time, it was better than nothing.
How do we get beyond better than nothing?
That’s a great question. That is the question I am asking people. Unfortunately, the public is not always privy to the process, and these things happen when nobody is watching. And also there is such a disdain for politics and politicians. And the public does not appear to be willing to do their homework. They are not informed on the issues, and on what happens inside the Legislature. And so at the very last moment, there’s a little nudge in our stomachs that says, if I don’t vote for something like the barrel tax bill, my opponent will use this against me. And it works, because people do not know the subtleties.
The public does not have access to information. I’ve seen that there are very few who come down to the Capitol. And I understand that, people are busy, they work, they have kids. But left to ourselves, we’ll do what we’ll do. And it’s very disconcerting.
Why are you running for LG?
For me the opportunity in the LG’s office is to continue the outreach with communities and be the conduit of information from the community to the governor. The LG is responsible for the Office of Information Practices, which oversees the Uniform Information Practices Act at the Federal level. What this is designed to ensure is transparency, participation and communication. I can’t wait for the opportunity to ask the department directors, what is their plan to ensure that the public has uniform access to information, to documents and to the goodwill of public employees. That’s at the core.
In addition, and maybe this is just my personality, is that through the communication, obligation, responsibility and process, there’s a fabulous opportunity to have community groups learn from other groups across the state.
Through the LG’s office.
Definitely. Because everyone is so busy with their own stuff. During the shark tours issue, Hawaii Kai was able to connect with North Shore. During the Surfing Reserves discussion, I was able to bring Honolua Bay on Maui into the conversation with some of the Hanalei people. There are fabulous things going on in our communities. I think the LG could provide the leadership, to learn how to strengthen communities and learn how to break the gridlock of the political process.
I have to say, that’s very interesting.
Depending on the governor, we may have a governor who is very open, and then we may have one who is more directive in style. The public must have a place where they know they have an ally.
In this role we are questioned a lot on our position on issues. I find it amusing that there’s this belief that the LG can change the course of legislation. The LG is a partner for the governor. Partnership is not obedience, it’s full-fledged collaboration,
That’s the mark of statesmanship, and I want to be a statesperson. It is an office of dignity and one that I would be proud to serve in.