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State of Repair - Extended Version

6 Leaders Discuss Power & How to Fix Hawaii

(page 1 of 8)

Who & why

Hawaii Business invited six influential people in Hawaii to talk about power in the Islands and how to create positive change. The moderator was Jerry Burris, editor-at-large of Hawaii Business. The panelists were:

Haunani Apoliona
chairperson, Office of Hawaiian Affairs

Ben Cayetano
former governor

Kitty Lagareta
CEO, Communications Pacific and former chairwoman of UH Board of Regents

Colbert Matsumoto
CEO of Island Insurance Co. and
court-appointed master of Bishop Estate/Kamehameha Schools, 1996 to 2001

Peter Ho
president, Bank of Hawaii

Randy Perreira
executive director, Hawaii Government
Employees Association, and president of state AFL-CIO

For the version of this Hawaii Business forum that appeared in print, click here.

Burris: There’s a certain nostalgia about how things worked in the old days. There’s a story about Jack Burns (governor 1962 to 1974) and how he decided the Community Chest wasn’t functioning properly, so he summoned Jack Hall (former ILWU union leader) and Lowell Dillingham (a leading businessman) and said, “Make it work.” And they said, “OK, boss,” and they did. There was kind of an easier way to see where effectiveness and power rested. It appears that things are a little more diffuse now. So the purpose of this is not just to be gossipy about who has power, but how do you get things done? How do you make change in Hawaii – positive change? Who do you go through? What institutions? What individuals? What groups? If we assume that change is a positive thing – that there are things that need to be fixed to move ahead – where do you go to make things happen? It doesn’t have to be politically. It could be community people getting together to do something, although I think, eventually, politics come into it.

Cayetano: I’m not sure I know the answer right now. My experience has always been in the political arena. Whether it has to do with business or other things, politics does have an impact. So if you’re asking where to go, you go to the governor and you go to the Legislature to make your case and try to get things done. But it’s not that simple. This being the state that it is, interpersonal relationships count a lot. I think that is very, very important. I don’t want to sound like this is nepotism, but when my wife chaired the Chamber of Commerce, she managed to get passed one of the really important bills for businesses – and that was the moratorium on the unemployment trust fund. It worked. It was a coming together of unions and business. She told me afterwards that one of the reasons why the chamber couldn’t get anything done in the past was because the people who represented the chamber had very little connection, in interpersonal terms, with the members of the Legislature.

Burris: So, even today, relationships with political people in the Legislature are critical to getting things done.

Six influential Hawaii leaders talk about how change happens
in Hawaii. From left, Haunani Apoliona, Kitty Lagareta,
Colbert Matsumoto, moderator Jerry Burris, Randy Perreira,
Ben Cayetano and Peter Ho. Photos: Rae Huo

Cayetano: Well, this is probably the same for business and everything else because when you talk about power, for example, and you look at business, historically, you can look back to the days of the Big Five. They had these interlocking directors. You’ve got basically the same things today except the faces are different. The complexions of the faces are different. Whether it’s choosing the university president or the football coach – the people who are usually brought together tend to be the same people.

Burris: So if you wanted to get something done, you’d expect to go to the same people?

Cayetano: This is in politics now. Yes, it’s important that you make that connection so you can sell your idea.

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