25 Years Of Politics And People
Wednesday - July 22, 2009
I’ve written approximately 935 Mostly Politics columns for MidWeek. And, with this issue’s, I’m one shy of 50 MidWeek cover stories - most of them profiles of Hawaii political figures.
I can’t imagine a better beat. Hawaii’s political landscape is layered like none other in the country. It includes the kama’ainamalihini dichotomy, the Oahu vs. Neighbor Island tensions, a multi-ethnic population that requires cross-ethnic alliances, a strong union component, a growing conservative Christian one, and a social, cultural and political effort by the Islands’ indigenous people to gain a degree of sovereignty.
This fertile, diverse political culture has produced, in Senate Appropriations Chair Dan Inouye, one of the most powerful politicians in the nation. It’s produced a long list of political firsts: the first Japanese-American state governor in George Ariyoshi, the first Hawaiian state governor in John Waihee, the first Filipino-American governor in Ben Cayetano, the first female Asian-American member of Congress in the late Patsy Mink, the first Chinese-American United States senator in the late Hiram Fong, the first AJA member of Congress and U.S. senator in Inouye, and the first Hawaiian U.S. senator in Dan Akaka.
And I’ve had the great honor of interviewing all those first-timers - sometimes at great length, often repeatedly - for either a Mostly Politics column or a MidWeek cover.
Hawaii’s also produced a president. And while I’ve yet to interview him, I’ve not given up hope. The diversity that so enriches Island politics helped form the young man who would one day become president. Covering Barack Obama’s run for that office in MidWeek column and cover last year was my great good fortune - and certainly a terrific journalistic ride.
But there’ve been others. I first met Linda Lingle more than a quarter century ago. She was an impressive first-term Maui councilwoman. I’ve written two MidWeek cover stories about her, the first when she was still the mayor of Maui, but talking about challenging Ben Cayetano for governor in 1998.
When she mentioned the possibility of running against an incumbent Democratic governor, I said something like, “Huh? Are you mad?” Lingle wasn’t, and she came within 5,000 votes of unseating Cayetano. Four years later, she would become the first Republican governor in 40 years.
Then there’s Cayetano himself: Honest, candid, smart and a political handler’s nightmare. Cayetano rose from the powerless purgatory of the lieutenant governorship to two terms as governor. In that office he struggled with a recession, a brief recovery, 9/11 and another recession. And he did well. More recently, Cayetano’s written the best book on Hawaii politics since Lawrence Fuchs’ Hawaii Pono.
The Hawaiian sovereignty movement has consumed its share of Mostly Politics columns as well. A decade-and-a-half ago it probably possessed more vitality than it does today. I’m not sure why, but something’s been lost. For a while there, the Trask sisters, Haunani and Mililani, the Hokule’a skimming back and forth across the Pacific, a governor and United States senator of Hawaiian ancestry, and excited - and often angry - young Hawaiians demanding to be heard. Taken together, they had more juice than both the two major political parties, the unions and the conservative churches combined.
And I’ve liked the mayors. Frank Fasi never lost his edge, even during his last mayoral term from 1988 to 1992. He just ran out of time. Jeremy Harris and Mufi Hannemann knew little but contempt for one another, but both - like Fasi - were not content merely to fill their office. They meant to govern, to do something.
From my MidWeek perch, Hawaii politics has provided a wonderful show. And I know that at least my 11 regular readers have enjoyed it with me.
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