State of Repair - Extended Version
6 Leaders Discuss Power & How to Fix Hawaii
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Burris: Peter, I told our staff this story. Years ago, some guy came into town. He was researching Honolulu for a business that was going to come to Hawaii. He wouldn’t tell me what business it was. I think it was Costco, but I don’t really know. He was interviewing people and asking them, “Who do you think runs things here?” and “How do things work?” And I said, “I’ll cooperate if you tell me your observations once you’re finished.” And he later said, “I’m amazed how important the banks are in Hawaii. Think about the old Western movies where you’ve got the sheriff and the banker who ran everything in town.” He said, “In most places across the Mainland, the banks don’t really have much of an importance in the community; they just do banking, whereas in Hawaii, they’re very important, particularly the two big ones.” Do you think that’s still true?
Ho: I think listening to Gov. Cayetano talk about the importance of relationships, I think that’s a truism that’s withstood the test of time when you talk about how things get done in the state. So I don’t think it’s coincidental that the banks play a major role in the community if you believe that relationships are important because the banks are really – when you get down to it – receptacles of relationships. We try to be as unbiased as possible. We have 250,000 customers. It’s probably not good business for us to be too positioned one way or another, so it’s better to kind of just keep your thoughts to yourself. Then you get into the business community, and it’s even more so. Then you get into organized labor. We have a big relationship with Randy’s outfit and a lot of others. We’re almost trained to be kind of sitting back on the sidelines and in a lot of ways, I think we do act as relationship conduits, if you will.
Burris: If someone is looking to get something done or to change something, would the banks be a good place to start?
Matsumoto: I think it boils down to leadership – community leadership. The example that you used about Jack Hall and Lowell Dillingham, in their day, they were acknowledged leaders in the labor sector and the business community. Because of that, I think Gov. Burns knew the capacity that they had to reach into the sectors that they had influence over. So change happened because they were leaders. I think what’s happened in Hawaii is that the banks tend to hire very capable leaders, so as a result of that, they play significant roles in the community. If you look at Walter Dods, he’s a business leader that straddles the community, as well as the business sector and government – and does it effectively. But I think Walter saw it as his role as head of the largest financial institution – if not the largest company in Hawaii – to play that kind of a role. So I think it really boils down to leadership and whether or not we still have leaders of that caliber in the community that can pull together diverse groups and push forward different initiatives.
Burris: Is it your feeling that we don’t have as much as we used to?
Matsumoto: Yes, I think that’s definitely the case. We don’t have the same kind of concentration of influence that we had in the past. The labor sector, I think at one time, you had David Trask (former head of the HGEA), Jack Hall, these were guys who had tremendous influence among a broad range of labor leaders. I don’t know that even Randy, no difference to you, claim to have the same mantle that David had.
Burris: Randy, is that a deliberate approach on the part of the unions to be a little less front and forward? If you think about it, a David Trask or an Eddie Tangen (former ILWU leader) – if you did this exercise 25 years ago, you could easily identify who the power players were. Are the unions trying to become more of a general part of the community and less of a focus?
Perreira: I think part of it is that was a different time. Back then, we were in a much different stage of development as a state. You go back that far and that was really the dawn of the public sector and collective bargaining – 30 years ago. The times were different so it dictated a different kind of leadership that was needed. Today, things are different and I would agree that whether it’s in the banking industry or in the community, it’s really the personal characteristics of individuals that allow them to rise and influence the community – not just the position, although the position helps.
Burris: Haunani, as we were setting up for this roundtable, we talked about pre-OHA – pre-1978. If you say today, “Something’s going to happen” or “Something’s going to get done,” the interests of Hawaiians have to be taken into account. That was not the case prior to ’78. Today, I don’t think anyone would suggest or try something big and important without thinking how the Hawaiians feel about it. Do you think that’s true? Do you feel this responsibility?
Apoliona: I think 1978 and the constitutional convention and the changes that established OHA, rose out of that sentiment (Hawaiians’ lack of power). Previously, in the 1900s, there was the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, which was the federal legislation focusing on homesteaders and rehabilitation. After that, public-policy-wise, there wasn’t much. The idea and the concept of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs rose because of the gap between 1959 and 1978. Since OHA began in 1978, it’s had its evolution. We’re now 30 years old. We’re trying to work within the community – both across the state and with Hawaiians that are out of the state of Hawaii. I think there is a definite positive evolution because we try to do our best in the fiduciary duties the trustees are responsible for. We also are imparted with responsibilities by laws that say you have to protect and be part of the consultation as it relates to any development. So I think we are a voice; a strong voice; a constitutional voice for the Hawaiians. We are not simply a nonprofit. We are constitutionally created and elected. So that sets OHA in a place that is different from any other native group throughout the country. Now, is it always agreeable to the Hawaiian community or the non-Hawaiian community what OHA does? No, but as fiduciaries, we try to examine the issues, try to make the best decisions possible based on the talent at the table of the board, as well as all of the work we can do with our staffers and linkages and communications with the community.
Burris: If we went back 30 years and had this discussion about where the power centers are in Hawaii, do you think anyone would have said the Hawaiian community?
Apoliona: I don’t know. My path to this policy making and political arena is really young and only began in the mid ’90s for me, although I have worked with Alu Like for 18 years. The work of Alu Like began in the ’70s. It came out of large efforts of Hawaiian community leaders. So yes, I think Hawaiian community leaders wanted to create a future for Hawaiians, and as a result, started to move then.
Burris: Let me put it another way: Today, if something major is going to happen in Hawaii – a major policy decision, a major social decision – would you expect to be consulted?
Apoliona: Absolutely! Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. Cayetano: What kind of major decision?
Burris: Well, it could be anything, and this is probably a bad example – but the Superferry. Were you guys consulted?
Apoliona: No, but I believe one of the trustees reviewed the question. No one asked us what they should do. I’ll just say, as it relates to the military – the Department of Defense – there’s a building of better communication that’s consistent and regular, and that’s nice. That’s not to say that you can’t do anything in this town. And part of it comes from the fact that the federal rules, regulations and statutes require some of these consultations. It is happening. We are grateful for that. We appreciate it and it allows us to do our duties.
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