Kirk Caldwell Compares Honolulu Rail to Landing on the Moon?

During last night’s mayoral debate, former Honolulu managing director Kirk Caldwell sarcastically asked retired Governor Ben Cayetano whether or not he would ask President Kennedy what his backup plan was in response to his challenge to go to the Moon.

I think it’s worth reminding the former managing director of a few things:

Funny Caldwell should mention going to the Moon, because the cost of a single Saturn V rocket launch was $185 million in 1969. By contrast Honolulu Rail is $5.3 billion. One could therefore say it is cheaper to go from the Earth to the Moon than from Kapolei to Manoa. (And for those of you wondering, the last Space Shuttle launch into orbit only cost $450 million.)

There is absolutely no comparison between an Apollo space capsule and Honolulu Rail. I mean, is this the best our elected officials can come up with? President Andrew Johnson rode on rail in 1869, while the NASA Apollo astronauts rode on a rocket in 1969. I was born in 1979 and I was told we’d have flying cars by now. In case anyone has forgotten, this is the 21st century. Rail? Really? Is that the best and most awe-inspiring technology that our politicians aspire to these days? If rail is the Apollo spaceship of 2012, our politicians either have a shrinking imagination or a such a low opinion of the average voter that they think someone would actually be inspired by that.

This being said, one can’t help but concede that space travel and Honolulu Rail do have one thing in common: both have out of this world, astronomical costs to taxpayers. But it’s time to come back to Earth. And contrary to what our special interest funded politicians say, rail is not a done deal. When politicians start saying “rail will not be stopped” or “it will take World War III to stop this” – and yet a majority of voters oppose the project – that ought to tell you we have a failure of democracy and its time for new elected officials. The Declaration of Independence tells us “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.”

Yes, Honolulu, you have a right to alter and abolish Honolulu Rail. In a free society, when the majority of the people demand a change, it’s the job of their elected officials to make it happen. No excuses. Honolulu works for us, we do not work for Honolulu.

Now I’ll leave all of you with this: Kirk Caldwell alluded to JFK’s famous 1962 Rice University Moon speech and rather cheaply tried to make it sound like Ben Cayetano was standing in the way of progress. Yet, as a Texan living here in Hawaii I’d like to remind Kirk Caldwell that if he’d listened to JFK’s entire speech, he would have remembered President Kennedy also told the people of Houston, “this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward, and so will space.”

Steel on steel wheel rail is so yesterday. Kennedy’s entire speech was about new technology, not antiquated technology invented 209 years ago. This is the space age. We deserve better engineering … and better elected officials.

Danny de Gracia is the economic policy adviser for Grassroot Institute and is an elected member of the Waipahu Neighborhood Board. He holds a master of arts in political science from Southwest Texas State University. Contact him by e-mail at degracia@fas.harvard.edu.

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