It was a little weird to hear two perfectly intelligent men of substantial achievements who care deeply about Hawaii arguing over two complete non-issues in the debate Monday night.
Former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and former Rep. Neil Abercrombie, in this and other debates, have discussed Hawaii Superferry and timeshare tourism. They might as well leave these topics on the table. I almost hate to bring this up because I enjoy amiable relations with both guys. And I hear their aides, spokeshumans and other impedimenta are increasingly temperamental as the campaign wears on. But I'm going to proceed anyhow. Vote against them if they can't take a joke.
Hawaii Superferry went broke, not merely because of the court challenges against it, but because its basic economic model was flawed. It would have required way more usage by the average resident than it could ever have reasonably counted on. I speak as a Superferry supporter who felt much of the opposition to it was invalid. I rode it once and really enjoyed it. I said at the time that the criticisms of it were more properly directed to other boats in the water that the same people have simply allowed to sail and proliferate. Yet it needed more revenue than it was ever going to get.
The ships are gone, sold off, and the company has died. Not only that, but both Hawaiian Airlines passenger service and Aloha Air Cargo service between the islands have improved a lot since Superferry "sank the island," as they said in the Master & Commander novels. Superferry's not coming back, so talking about it is kind of a waste of time at this point.
Monday night, one of the boys hit the other on a statement he apparently made about timeshares becoming an important part of Hawaii tourism. Even to bring it up is disingenuous, because there's not a darn thing any mayor, governor or congressman can do about the hotel industry's diversification into timeshares. It's not an issue to be handled one way or another depending on who gets in. It's an economic reality that hotel chains can more readily get funding for timeshares than hotels (quicker, surer return) and they're discovering that timeshares cushion downturns: people who have already paid for their room will use them.
The fake issue on timeshares stems from the fact that you need workers to clean hotel rooms but timeshares are often cleaned by the people inhabiting them. The hotel unions understandably push for the greatest possible number of hotel jobs - that's what I would do - but any implication that one candidate or another is more sympathetic to the union on an unchangeable fact of lodging life is like trying to position your opponent as soft on drought.
Timeshare helped Hawaii a lot during the recession, and may even have helped the union workers who have nothing directly to do with those units, by speeding up the recovery. This is important because a lot of hotel workers who never lost their jobs still suffered a lot by having their hours cut back substantially.