The Debrief: How to end corruption in Hawaii’s government? Key lawmakers weigh in

State Sen. Karl Rhoads and state Rep. David Tarnas discuss what lawmakers are working on to improve accountability and transparency in our local government.
Published: Jun. 16, 2023 at 1:13 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 16, 2023 at 1:53 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Corruption is not something new in Hawaii’s government, but what’s being done to stop it?

In just the past few years, Hawaii has seen the largest ever bribery case in state history, in which a Hawaii businessman paid about $2 million in bribes to a former Maui official.

That same businessman, Milton Choy, also provided bribes to former state Sen. Kalani English and ex-state Rep. Ty Cullen, both of whom pleaded guilty and admitted to receiving bribes from Choy to introduce — then kill — bills establishing programs that would have benefited Choy’s industrial cleaning company.

There were also incidents of fraud and corruption at the county-level, including the infamous Kealoha corruption trial.

With a record of these cases happening the question now becomes: How can Hawaii’s government restore the public’s trust?

To break down ethics reform at the Hawaii State Capitol, state Sen. Karl Rhoads and state Rep. David Tarnas sat down with HNN’s “The Debrief” to discuss what lawmakers are working on to improve accountability and transparency as well as the measures that were passed in this past legislative session.


While both admitted there is a lot of work that still needs to be done, they believe they are on the right track.

“I do think that because of the bills we passed, there’s more people in government that are going to get caught doing illegal things than there were before. And in the short run, people are going to say, ‘Look, it’s getting worse. It’s not getting any better.’ I don’t think that’s the way to look at it,” Rhoads said.

“I think that once would be crooks realize that there’s a high probability they’re going to get caught trying to steal taxpayer money, they’ll stop doing it. But things may actually get worse or at least appear to be worse in the short run.”

When asked why corruption and fraud is happening in the first place, Tarnas said in short, it boils down to “greed and a lack of moral compass.”

“These are folks that decided to do something illegal fully knowing that this is illegal, and they did it anyway. I was appalled. But, you know, all the legislators I’m working with, these are very honorable people and we play fair,” Tarnas said.

“It’s just upsetting when you have a few bad apples that choose that they think they’re above the law, but they’re not above the law. And it’s time we stop this behavior.”