The Last Moderate Republican

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - May 25, 2005
| Del.icio.us

Jim Hall died last week. He’d been battling several different cancers for many years. He was 74.

Most everyone of a certain age in Hawaii politics and journalism knew him: as a former executive director of the state Republican Party, as a campaigner for Republicans, as a candidate himself, as a GOP staffer and as the champion of several causes.

I met Hall soon after I arrived in Hawaii in 1970. One memorable New Year’s eve a year or so later — as fireworks crashed and banged outside the house — Hall, myself and a couple of others argued the night away about the American presence in Vietnam. I, of course, abhorred it. Jim saw it as a noble cause, one that we could not run out on.

While emotions ran high that evening, the next day all was well. With Jim, it was always about the issue. He didn’t hold grudges, and he was no idealogue.

Hall may have been the last Republican moderate — eventempered, witty, willing to hear the other side. In short, a far cry from the hard-eyed theocrats and slay-the-beasters who now own the GOP.

Hall came to Hawaii in 1961 as an East-West Center grantee. He spent three years at the University of Hawaii working on a master’s degree in overseas operations.

“Jim was elected president of the East-West Center Student Association, back when that meant something,” says his friend of 47 years, Paul Hooper. “He was a general troublemaker around UH in those years.”

Degree in hand, Hall went overseas — to Vietnam as an employee of the Agency for International Development. By 1968 he was back in Hawaii where he and a friend or two decided Hawaii needed a two-party system, so they threw themselves into Republican politics, championing Nelson Rockefeller’s campaign for the presidency.

Hall worked as a state senate and house staffer from 1969 to 1972, and from ’72 to ’74 he served as executive director of the Hawaii Republican Party.

The Republican Party of the early 1970s rested in the middle of the political spectrum: D.G. “Andy” Anderson, Pat Saiki and Fred Rolfing were its stars.

In 1974, Hall left party work for a piece of party patronage: He headed for Micronesia as press secretary to Ed Johnson, the Trust Territory’s high commissioner. Four years later, Hall was back in Hawaii looking for a campaign. He signed on with George W. Bush’s 1980 campaign for the presidency.

Bush lost, and Hall was at loose ends. In 1984, however, he found a slot as an administrative assistant to Andy Anderson, the Honolulu managing director under Democrat-turned-Republican Mayor Frank Fasi.

I remember drinking beer one evening in early 1981 with Hall and two other City Hall staffers. One of them rhapsodized about the genius of Da’ Mayor. When the sycophant stopped and headed for the restroom, Hall smiled, shook his head, and said, “Until a few weeks ago, I thought Fasi had horns and a tail.”

In 1986 Hall left the Fasi administration for a patronage job in Washington. But a halfdozen years later he was back in Hawaii, again working in City Hall — this time for Mayor Jeremy Harris.

Harris dumped him in 2000, and Hall soon found himself back where he had begun politically, as a researcher for the state house minority.

Through it all, whenever he was in town, Hall’s opinion pieces could be found in Honolulu’s two daily newspapers. “Jim was probably responsible for publishing more op ed pieces than anyone else in Hawaii,” says friend Hooper. “And only 20 percent of them were written under his own name; most carried the by-line of some Republican member of the House.

“Jim was a walking encyclopedia of contemporary political issues. And he knew every resource site on the Internet or in the Legislative Reference Bureau. He could work up a position paper on almost any subject.”

To be sure, but Hall knew education, drug rehabilitation, and reapportionment best. On the latter two, in particular, he probably knew as much as anyone in politics in Hawaii; elected officials from across the political spectrum turned to him on both subjects.

Hall tried for political office himself: once for Congress, several times for the state House from Waikiki, and — in his only successful efforts — for the neighborhood board in Kapahulu.

But Hall’s life testifies to the often pivotal role of the nonelected staffer. They also serve — and Jim Hall served very well indeed.

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