DOWNTOWN HONOLULU (KHNL) - Is there a rail conspiracy? Reaction Thursday night from one of the people targeted in a political newspaper ad taken out by Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann.
It was an effort by the mayor to set the record straight in the polarizing debate over the future of mass transit in Honolulu.
Hannemann accuses mainland "ultra-conservative groups" of coming to Hawaii and dictating how local people live their lives. He mentioned, in particular, the president of a think tank called the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.
The debate over the future of mass transit in Honolulu has recently become as noisy as the traffic along Nimitz highway itself. Mayor Hannemann's newspaper ad this week targets a woman named Jamie Story. Thursday, she gets to respond to his allegations.
In one corner, Mayor Mufi Hannemann, a staunch advocate of light rail for Honolulu. In the other corner, Jamie Story, president of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, a think tank that opposes rail.
"Oh, I was shocked," said Story. "It all started with a letter to the editor earlier in June."
She worked for a similar organization in Texas, described by Hannemann as, "a self styled think tank with a far-right extremist agenda." He says that group is behind the anti-rail movement.
"There's no reason to doubt that ultra right wing conservative groups with a Libertarian bent are influencing Stop Rail Now," said Hannemann.
"Grassroot Institute is a free market think tank," she said. "That means we do research on various policy issues from education to transportation to taxes and spending."
Hannemann claims she's part of a mainland conspiracy to derail his project.
"I'm not going to let big time, oil money interest, chemical companies -- Texas based -- come to Honolulu and tell us what's good for us," he said.
While Story is from the Lone Star state, the former Miss Texas says her group is not funded by big business.
"First of all, the Grassroots Institute, to my knowledge, has never received any donations from any gas or auto related companies," she said. "We'd welcome it if we did, but no one's offered it."
In his newspaper ad, Hannemann refers to Wendell Cox, who is credited with defeating rail in a handful of U.S. cities. He and Story also worked for the same organization in Texas.
"Eight or ten years ago, they did hire Wendell Cox," said Story. "But the Texas Public Policy Foundation just like the Grassroots Institute, works not only on transportation, but on health care and education and government accountability issues. So Wendell Cox and I have never crossed paths."
Story added she began working for the Texas Public Policy Foundation long after Cox left the organization.
Members of the Grassroots Institute of Hawaii include Cliff Slater, Dale Evans, and Panos Prevedouros, vocal opponents of rail. But Story says they act as advisers. They don't dictate what she does.
"They don't approve if I write something," said Story. "They're just there if I have a question. That's the extent of it."
Story objects to Hannemann characterizing the debate as local versus mainland.
"I think he's kind of treading on thin ice when he talks about mainland people coming over because he himself has been forced to talk to mainland contractors and there's nothing wrong with that," she said. "Just like there's nothing wrong with mainland people coming here to work on policy issues."
A polarizing issue affecting the people of Oahu.