Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Is 50.6% a Win for Rail?

Official results for Oahu can be found from the state office of elections:

One can see that all state and county questions passed or failed by a clear margin, except for the rail question for which the votes and percentages were:

YES 155,880 (50.6%)
NO 140,623 (45.6%)
Blank Votes 11,441 (3.7%)

If one accounts for the disproportional promotion, support from several special interest groups, and powerful "old boy" backing, then the result is not only surprising but it is embarrassing to the pro-rail cause.

Recall this poll reported in The Honolulu Advertiser putting rail support at 59%. It came in late August 2008 (, well before the October advertising storm by rail supporters: "Another rail poll, similar results: 59 percent of voters in People's Pulse survey back $3.7 billion project. That 59 percent level compares with 38 percent of voters who opposed the project, according to the People's Pulse poll ..." The problem is that the election votes in support of rail are barely over 50% and nowhere near 59%!

Proponents of rail had a $110 million engineering and marketing team and flooded airwaves, TV screens and print media. In comparison, opponents had peanuts; they did no TV promotion and only minimal print media promotion.

I understand and support elections of officials with a 0.6% or even a 0.01% margin. The elected person will stay in office for a limited and prescribed amount of time.

However, moving ahead with a multibillion dollar infrastructure project with a life cycle of over 100 years on a 0.6% "advantage" is an entirely different choice. Clearly 49.4% of the voters did not say yes to the project.

We can boot a crooked or ineffective elected official or re-write a bad law or amendment. But we cannot undo a multibillion piece of infrastructure which will cost us roughly three times the annual City budget. A two thirds majority would have been appropriate for this choice.

Of course, in the short term the railroading process is likely to proceed unabated, but in the longer term a permanent derailment is likely.