Danny de Gracia: Repeal Hawaii's Public Land Development Corporation

A small board of appointed officials has the power in Hawaii to do anything it pleases. Photo: The Hawaii State Legislature in session. (U.S. Navy file photo)

HONOLULU, February 2, 2013 ― The State of Hawaii’s Public Land Development Corporation represents the perfect manifestation of the kind of dystopian, public-private moral hazard that America’s founders fled from in the Old World of Europe and sought to prevent in the Republic, fearing such entities would not long be safe companions to liberty.

Empowered with a charter “to make optimal use of the public land for the economic, environmental, and social benefit of all the people of Hawaii,” the small appointed board of directors of the PLDC have been given by Hawaii Act 55 (2011) the outrageous dispensation to be exempt from not only taxation, but “all statutes, ordinances, charter provisions and rules of any government agency relating to special improvement district assessments or requirements” and to do “any and all things necessary to carry out its purposes.”

In Federalist No.10, James Madison warned, “a body of men are unfit to be both judges and parties at the same time.” He said further, “When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government, on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens … Either the existence of the same passion or interest in a majority at the same time must be prevented, or the majority, having such coexistent passion or interest, must be rendered, by their number or local situation, unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression.”

If allowed to stand, the legislative precedent set by the PLDC not only places Hawaii but the rest of the United States on a policy trajectory towards oligarchical command-and-control planning. What the continued existence of the PLDC says to all is that a small panel of handpicked individuals should have the right and authority to determine what is most profitable for the state and what is best for the environment and all who live in it.

While today’s declining economy and resulting dwindling public revenues have made many state legislatures anxious for schemes to jumpstart their economies and bring in desperately needed cash, agencies with such broad dispensation as the PLDC are not the answer, and more often than not they promote the kind of moral hazard that confiscates and destroys public wealth rather than expands it.

Greed, desperation and perceived fiscal necessity are no excuse for tyranny. The very preamble to Act 55 (2011) which states, “The corporation shall identify the public lands that are suitable for development under this chapter, carry on marketing analysis to determine the best revenue-generating programs for the public lands identified, enter into public-private agreements to appropriately develop the public lands identified, and provide the leadership for the development, financing, improvement, or enhancement of the selected development opportunities” is repugnant to the American tradition of representative government.

In its ruling of Reynolds v. Sims the Supreme Court made it clear that “neither history alone nor economic or other sorts of group interests, are permissible factors in attempting to justify disparities from population-based representation. Citizens, not history or economic interests, cast votes. Considerations of area alone provide an insufficient justification for deviations from the equal population principle. Again, people, not land or trees or pastures, vote.

We should worry that as America’s economy continues to weaken and its currency erodes further, states such as Hawaii and others will follow the pattern of Russia, Greece and other nations that have been fiscally imperiled. They leverage their public lands to foreign controlling interests, all for the sake of maintaining the revenues of government. That kind of mercenary attitude towards the stewardship of public trusts isn’t representation, it’s prostitution and if permitted to stand, will break the soul of our country.

In Hawaii’s state legislature, a measure, Senate Bill 1, has been introduced and referred to committee to strip the PLDC of its authority. At present it has been stalled and has not yet been heard. In fact, the bill was mysteriously scheduled for a hearing three days ago, then deleted from the agenda. There are those who would look at such a legislative quagmire and say that this is just fine, and that the state Senate should wait and see what the House does, so as to permit the lower chamber to take the political heat. But this is not a time to wait and see. This is a time to act and to act courageously.

As a political scientist, I’m reminded of a maxim of international law: ex injuria jus non oritur – that is, unjust acts cannot create law. Every legislator in the Hawaii State Capitol swore an oath to uphold and defend the rule of law, not injustice masquerading as law. Every legislator has a responsibility to strike injustice, not to wait for its evaporation in the hope of political convenience.

We must not, as Martin Luther King warned be “more devoted to order than to justice” nor “prefer a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” The Senate was not elected to wait, it was elected to act.

I urge you – whether you live in Hawaii or live across the United States and recognize what kind of precedent an organization the PLDC represents – to contact the members of the Hawaii State Senate and request forthright a hearing for Senate Bill 1. A single e-mail, sent to sens@capitol.hawaii.gov will be received by the entire upper chamber.

We are living in difficult times but we must not grow weary in doing good, nor in defending our Republic. Though this legislative issue may seem small, it is but the presenting tip of an iceberg that has grown massive from years of bad governance, and if allowed to stand, will shipwreck freedom. If in this time of peril any of us are to sail safely to new horizons of prosperity and justice, we must all break apart this iceberg of injustice with the fire of our collective conscience.

As John Adams warned, “The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our people in a greater measure than they have it now, they may change their rulers and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty. They will only exchange tyrants and tyrannies.”


Danny de Gracia is a political scientist who lives in Hawaii. For more articles, interviews and to find out more about Danny, follow him on his official blog!

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Danny de Gracia

Dr. Danny de Gracia is a political scientist and a former senior adviser to the Human Services and International Affairs committees at the Hawaii State Legislature. From 2011-2013 he served as an elected municipal board member in Waipahu. As an expert in international relations theory, military policy, political psychology and economics, Danny has advised numerous policymakers and elected officials and his opinions have been featured worldwide. Now working on his first novel, Danny resides on the island of Oahu.

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