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State of Repair - Extended Version

6 Leaders Discuss Power & How to Fix Hawaii

(page 3 of 8)

Burris: Sometimes people will say that it’s not real clear where the power is in Hawaii, and I wonder if they’re somehow speaking metaphorically about the fact that after 40 years, we had political powers diffused. In other words, we had a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature. What they’re really saying is, “We don’t know where to go now.” Do you think that’s true?

Lagareta: A lot of stuff that’s coming up. I was thinking back 30 or 35 years ago when my first job was at Alu Like. I was loaned out from the YWCA to go help there for a year. We had a very strong feminist movement then, so if you wanted stuff done, you had to go talk to the women – people like Donnis Thompson (first female athletics director at UH) and Jean King (lieutenant governor). But when I look at the question of what is power and how do you get things done right now, the first thing that comes to mind is grassroots – what the very active and some very professional activists in the community, representing different positions on different things. I think you have to take that into account. You may not always agree, but I think it brings a good level of transparency and more involvement from more people. I think people who disregard those communities or voices in the community also run into trouble. When you look at it, whether they’re environmental groups – some of which are very proactive on very good things; some of them reactive; some of them just trying to stop any type of thing they’re against – you have a wide variety. Sometimes they come together in different configurations and learning who comes together in different configurations, learning how big they can get to start or stop something is really important. Look at Kanu, which I think is a great organization. I think they’re doing a lot of really good things and look at how widely they’ve gotten their message out. You look at the power of the Maui Tomorrows or the Stop Honolua or those types of groups and there’s a lot of firepower there. Whether it’s policy groups like Outdoor Circle, I think they have been a voice. If you look at that, I think that’s one big way of how you get things done still. I think you cannot ignore the government at all, but the power is definitely diffused as community voices gain momentum. I worked with unions and I think, obviously, they’re very strong and powerful in Hawaii. I’m interested to see, with this financial crash and sort of the failings of corporate America, my instinct is that the unions will get stronger as a result of that, in some ways. I think people are going to look to unions to protect them more. It worries me in Hawaii because we’re a small-business state and a lot of people running small businesses didn’t take $800 million salaries or get big bonuses. I look at the Native Hawaiian community and I remember working with George Kanahele a number of years ago when they were trying to start the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association. George’s mantra then was, “We have to have a seat at the table,” and if I look at what’s happened, sort of the activism that you found in the ’70s and ’80s here, those people are now sitting at the table making decisions from the inside. I think that’s a huge change for Hawaii – for the better. I personally see some of the activism now as more fringe with the real Hawaiian activism being on the inside making decisions.

Burris: Are the grassroots groups stepping into a vacuum or did they just mature?

Lagareta: The business community has been missing in action for a long time. I think what Vicky (Cayetano) said is important. I don’t think it’s that they don’t have the relationships. I’ve personally been involved in the Chamber of Commerce and other groups for years. They always go up hat in hand saying, “Please can you do this for us?” and accept whatever they get and nobody raises a fuss because they don’t want to step on toes. That’s how I see it.

Matsumoto: I think Kitty’s point about the business community is correct because our business community has changed significantly from 30 years ago. You don’t have the same number of major companies that are still locally based and locally owned. And as a consequence, I think that impacts the effectiveness of the business community in dealing with government, influencing the Legislature and accessing the governor. You might have the banks, but the banks aren’t going to take on every issue. You have other major players that don’t have the same kind of community perspective or community interest that a CEO whose home is Hawaii, and whose kids grew up and go to school here, and intends to live here for the rest of his or her life is going to have, in terms of what is going on in government and the community at large. I think that has changed significantly and there’s an imbalance now as a result of that. Definitely, I think the business community is not as effective, in terms of interacting with government as in the past.

Burris: Is there a fix for that paradigm? I remember years ago, it probably was Walter Dods who was complaining that when they’re trying to raise money for something, they can’t get money out of the hotels because they’re all run by Kenji Asano and they don’t really care about Hawaii.

Cayetano: Not only tourism. If you go down to the University of Hawaii and you look at the names on the buildings, it’s usually some distinguished faculty member. You go down to the Loyola Marymount and you look at the building with its Italian and Irish names. These are people who gave money. We don’t have that and I think that’s one reason why the banks in this state – especially the two big banks – really have a lot of influence, in the political arena, anyway.

Burris: Because there was a Johnny Bellinger (former CEO of First Hawaiian Bank) who was from here?

Perreira: Whether or not you’re from here, it’s going to be difficult to change, there are fewer Kittys and Colberts who have dedicated their lives to living here, so you have absentee ownership. They don’t have the commitment to the community. They may, like Walmart, give money, but they’re not wed to the community. They’re making no attempts to grow roots, if you will. As a result, the business community will struggle until it gains that balance.

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