A Busy Week In Hawaii Politics

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - September 06, 2006
| Del.icio.us

Last week was a busy one for those of us who follow politics too closely for our own - or anyone else’s - good.

* KHNL-TV televised a “speed-campaigning” gathering of the 10 Democratic candidates for Congress from the 2nd District. The event took place at the Kapolei High School cafeteria. Each of the candidates answered questions from eight-10 citizens for eight-10 minutes. A gong went off, and the candidates moved to one of the other 10 groups of citizens.

KHNL anchor Howard Dashefsky, like the barker in a 10-ring circus, offered brief profiles of the candidates and told the viewing audience where they were going next.

The following morning I heard a couple of wags complain that “it wasn’t good television,” that it was boring.

I couldn’t disagree more. KHNL, with the help of its sister station K-5’s cameras and sports expertise, moved seam-lessly from candidate to candidate and group to group. To be sure, by the second hour of the two-hour program we were often hearing the Democratic 10 repeating themselves to a different group.

But we also got a better sense of them and - if the audience was there - some of the candidates certainly improved their standing. The little-known Joe Zuiker, for example, was exceptionally articulate in his opposition to the war in Iraq and his desire to see more diplomacy and people-to-people relationships between the United States and Islamic countries.

Colleen Hanabusa’s abundant skills as an advocate were also on display. Both Gary Hooser and Brian Schatz demonstrated an energy and commitment that may well have picked up a vote or two. Clayton Hee succeeded in offering a softer Clayton Hee, while still expressing his strong support for Sen. Dan Akaka and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Ron Menor and Matt Matsunaga also had their moments.

* But television can do you damage as well. Ask Dan Akaka and his campaign advisers if you run into them. The AARP-PBS so-called debate last Thursday was awfully tough on the senator. His delivery was halting; he was overly dependent on his notes; and save for his introductory and concluding remarks, he didn’t come close to commanding the stage.

To be fair, it wasn’t much of a stage. U.S. Rep. Ed Case came off as articulate and in command of his material, but - by his own admission - he isn’t Mr. Lightness and Mirth. Between the two of them, the setup of the stage and the questions tailored for the AARP sponsors, watching the program was just a tad more exciting than watching that proverbial paint drying.

* Then there was the death of former Gov. William Quinn. Bill Quinn was Hawaii’s last territorial governor - and its first state governor.

Quinn came to Hawaii in 1947 as a lawyer straight out of Harvard, looking for a chance to warm himself and his young family up after a succession of Boston winters. In 1956, almost as a lark, he printed up some signs that read “Win with Quinn” and announced his candidacy for the territorial senate as Republican

Quinn didn’t win, but he ran well and he caught the eye of Dwight Eisenhower’s Secretary of the Interior Fred Seaton. Seaton was concerned that on the eve of statehood Hawaii’s Republican governor, Samuel Wilder King, was projecting too conservative an image. So he called Quinn to Washington, introduced him to the president, and offered the young man the Hawaii governorship.

Quinn took it, and during the last two years of the Territory of Hawaii made himself popular enough with the voters to beat Delegate-to-Congress John A. Burns to become the first state governor.

That’s when the trouble started. He fought a rising Democratic tide in the electorate, his own obdurate Republican colleagues who controlled the state Senate, and his own political innocence. “Call me naïve or stupid,” he once said. “I must take responsibility for not building the Republican Party or the Quinn machine.”

But he did his damnedest to structure the first state government and - by most accounts - did a good job of it. In 1962 Burns beat Quinn in a rematch.

Quinn never held public office again. He served as president of Dole Pineapple and enjoyed a long and prosperous legal career with the firm of Goodsill, Anderson and Quinn.

But on the eve of his retirement he said: “Being governor and trying to do the best you could for all the people of Hawaii, the people who are well off and the people who are disabled and people who are poor, and trying to use your own imagination and creativity and energy to do the best you can for them - it doesn’t pay anything, but it’s far and away the most satisfying of any of the things I’ve ever done.”

A good man, and a good governor.

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