Hawaii Business salutes the people, places, businessses and events that profoundly changed Hawaii over the past half century.
Sen. Daniel Inouye
Few can match Hawaii’s senior senator, now serving his 46th year in the nation’s Capitol, for name recognition in the Islands. His campaign banners and bumper stickers simply say, “Dan.” As the third most senior member of the U.S. Senate and the first Japanese-American elected to Congress, in 1959, few on Capitol Hill can match Daniel Ken Inouye’s impressive legislative influence and distinguished career.
A member of Hawaii’s famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Inouye was the recipient of the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for military valor. As a freshman senator at the stormy 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago amid Vietnam protestors, he was the keynote speaker, the Barack Obama of his time. In 1974, Inouye emerged in the national limelight as a solid and steadfast member of the historic Senate Watergate Committee. In 1987, he was chosen to chair the Senate’s Iran-Contra Affair hearings.
Pragmatic and passionate, Inouye is proud of the major role he has played in shaping U.S. defense policies and strengthening Hawaii’s role in that effort. This year, the state will receive nearly $865 million from the Department of Defense’s $417 billion budget, thanks in no small measure to Inouye’s seniority as the ranking member of the powerful Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
At the same time, Inouye also belonged to the less prominent Indian Affairs Committee, banking on its strategic importance to help give Hawaiians the same rights as an indigenous people that are now held by Native Americans and Eskimos. The decorated American military hero even pleaded with President Carter in 1976 to pardon Hawaiian activists Walter Ritte and Richard Sawyer for federal trespass on Kahoolawe. Inouye called the then-Navy-occupied island a “symbol of the resurgence of the Hawaiian people, a movement formulating for many Hawaiians a renewed respect for their culture and history.”
This year, thanks to Inouye and Hawaii’s congressional delegation, Hawaii is earmarked for $602 million from the Omnibus Appropriations Bill to provide federal funding for local initiatives, ranging from crime prevention, school support and road improvement to job training and healthcare. Considered a shoo-in for reelection in 2010 to his ninth term in the U.S. Senate, Inouye will be 86 years old when that term ends. Postwar Hawaii owes much to our Dan, the son of Japanese immigrants, who once dreamed of becoming a doctor, but took, instead, the road less traveled. -GM
The military has long played an instrumental role in shaping the direction of the 50th state. It helped Kamehameha the Great conquer the Hawaiian Islands and unite them under his rule. It helped force the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani, leading to Hawaii’s annexation into the United States.
In the mid-1930s, it helped Hawaii recover from the Great Depression, as American forces began to build in the Islands in reaction to Japan’s occupation in Manchuria. By September 1940, the number of U.S. military personnel in Hawaii reached 48,000.
Today, the military maintains a giant presence in the Islands. According to the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii (CCH), the U.S. Department of Defense is second only to tourism as a source of revenues to the state. Hawaii is also the second-ranking state in annual per capita federal defense expenditures, at $3,566 per person. Every major defense contractor has local staffing in Hawaii, where defense procurement totals $1.9 billion on an annual basis. Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard is the largest industrial employer in the state.
“During the recession of the 1990s, the military industry in Hawaii continued to plug on,” says Charlie Ota, vice president, Military Affairs, at CCH. “It was a reliable and stable source of revenue for the state and business community. Then, from 2000 till now, military spending has increased from $3.3 billion in 2000 to $4.5 billion in 2003. Military housing construction over the next five years is going to be $2.2 billion.”
In fact, by the end of 2002, federal expenditures surpassed visitor expenditures as the No. 1 contributor to the local economy. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, federal expenditures in 2002 totaled $10.47 billion; state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism statistics, meanwhile, show that visitor expenditures in the same year amounted to $9.55 billion. In 2003, the gap between federal and visitor spending increased, with federal expenditures reaching $11.27 billion and visitor spending totaling $9.64 billion.
Furthermore, Ota points out, while Hawaii’s visitor industry has its ups and downs, the military’s contributions to the state economy have been stable and growing. “Spending not only means good revenues for business, but also the creation of hundreds of jobs,” says Ota, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel.
Recently, the Navy announced that a new military intelligence-gathering center in Kunia will bring in $300 million in construction and add 700 jobs. Construction of the 350,000-square-foot, three-story Kunia Regional Security Operations Center is slated to begin in 2007. The facility will be responsible for monitoring international hot spots such North Korea and provide classified information to the U.S. Pacific Command and Special Operations Command, Pacific. -LT
Colin Cameron was a rare combination of businessman, environmentalist, visionary and patient pragmatist. A fourth-generation descendant of the Baldwin side of Alexander & Baldwin, Cameron was well known on Maui and in the rest of the state as worldly but friendly, good-natured and unassuming.
A graduate of Punahou, Stanford and Harvard’s MBA program, he spent most of his life in Spreckelsville and Paia. He was a business and community leader, who helped build such landmarks as the Maui County Arts and Cultural Center, Kapalua Resort, Kaahumanu Center, and dedicated the 8,000-acre Puu Kukui Preserve to The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, helping to create the largest area of protected forest in the state.
A tenacious businessman, Cameron emerged as an industry leader in 1969, after he regained control of Maui Pine, previously an Alexander & Baldwin Inc. subsidiary. Cameron had worked as a Maui Pine manager from 1964 to 1967, when plans to develop a resort in Kapalua on land owned by the Cameron family were shelved by A&B in favor of its own larger development in Wailea. He resigned, then won a seat on A&B’s board after a bitter proxy fight. Two years later, the Cameron family bought out A&B’s share of Maui Pine and renamed it Maui Land & Pine, to reflect its interest in diversifying the use of its 30,000 acres of land. Needing cash after the deal, the family took the company public. That opened the door for corporate raider Harry Weinberg, who invested in 37 percent. Cameron proved histenacity again when he shot down Weinberg’s attempts to muscle his way onto MLP’s board of directors by slashing the number of board members from five to two. Yet when it came to culture and the environment, he was known for his sensitivity, as seen in his 1989 decision to move the location of the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, when Hawaiian burial remains were found in the original location.
He was also a visionary, pushing for the Maui Research & Technology Park in Kihei for eight years, to wean the island from its dependence on tourism and agriculture. In June 1992, Cameron had a heart attack while swimming and drowned in the waters off his home in Spreckelsville. From his contributions to the tech park, nature preserve, cultural events and countless others, the legacy of the man who then-mayor Linda Lingle called “the heart of Maui” lives on. -MTK
Wo Fat was a Chinese spymaster, not a downtown Honolulu restaurant. Chin Ho was a loyal police detective, not a powerful businessman. And Hawaii was the center of Cold War espionage and the home to pimps, prostitutes, petty criminals and beach bums. Welcome to the world of Hawaii Five-O.
Hawaii Five-O was first broadcast on CBS on Sept. 20, 1968, with arguably the greatest theme music and scenery in television history. When it ended 12 seasons and 284 episodes later, it became the longest continuously running police drama in television history. It was recently eclipsed by Law and Order, which just began its 13th season.
Five-O featured Steve McGarret (Jack Lord), a former naval intelligence officer, who led an elite, four-person state police unit that reported directly to the governor. (Ironically, Hawaii is the only state in the union that doesn’t have a statewide police force.) McGarret and his multicultural crew chased crooks around the concrete jungles of Honolulu, which resembled the mean streets of New York City or Los Angeles, only were prettier.
During its hey day, Five-O was lauded for its intelligent writing and inclusion of local supporting players. By the end of its run, the ramrod straight McGarret and the show’s no-nonsense plots had become anachronisms. However, subsequent Hawaii-based television shows have featured buffoonish characters and characterizations and written-from-a-hotel-suite plots. As cheesy and melodramatic as it was at times, Five-O’s portrait of Hawaii as a complex place with complicated problems is probably one of the most truthful ever seen on television. -DKC
According to local legend, John Bellinger called all the offensive plays for his Roosevelt High School football team. The fact that Bellinger, who was also a track star and the commanding officer of the school’s ROTC program, played wide receiver and not quarterback mattered little to his teammates in the huddle. The kid had a powerful personality and presence.
Bellinger would take his considerable leadership skills into the Islands’ business world, joining Bishop National Bank as a teller in 1942 at the age of 18. Except for a five-year stint in the Army in the late ’40s, he would spend his entire career at the financial institution, which is now known as First Hawaiian Bank. The executives in the boardroom saw the same qualities that Bellinger’s coaches did, and he quickly rose up the corporate ladder. In 1969, he was named president and chief executive officer of First Hawaiian. At 45, he was the youngest president in bank history.
The affable yet blunt Bellinger, who was beloved and feared by his employees, brought a highly personal kind of leadership to the bank, one that was characterized by quick, decisive action. It was a style perfectly suited to First Hawaiian at the time, as the bank and the state underwent huge changes during his 20 years at the helm.
“John brought order into everything he did,” says Wesley Park, former president and chief executive officer of Hawaii Dental Service and a close friend of Bellinger. “He had absolute beliefs in what was right and wrong. He made the tough decisions, and he held himself accountable for his actions at a time when not a lot of people were doing that.”
Bellinger, who believed in taking care of his employees and the community at large, would also be a role model for many up-and-coming executives. He built a $2 million recreation center in Makaha for employees and their guests and created a compensation and benefits program that was the envy of not only the industry but of the rest of the state’s work force.
He also encouraged his employees to participate in civic affairs, paying membership dues and expenses as well as providing time off. But as he did with their day jobs, Bellinger expected his employees to not only participate in community activities, but to excel and lead. -DKC
Mauna Kea Resort
On his way to Alaska in 1960, Laurance Rockefeller, grandson of oil baron John D. Rockefeller, took up Governor William Quinn’s invitation to come visit the new 50th state. On the last day of his visit, Rockefeller took one last swim at the Big Island’s Kaunaoa Beach, a private white sand crescent-shaped bay used by Parker Ranch workers. He was awed by the views of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.
Lucky for Hawaii that this Rockefeller saw his immense wealth as a means to bring his personal vision of conservation and commerce to develop internationally acclaimed, environmentally oriented resorts. The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel that he built in 1965 on that lovely stretch of beach celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Today’s 500-acre Mauna Kea Beach Resort, now owned and operated by Prince Resorts Hawaii Inc., ushered in the resort development era for the Big Island’s South Kohala-North Kona coast, now world renowned for its elegant luxury hotels.
The Mauna Kea did more than set the standard for Hawaii’s high-end resorts. A pioneer in venture capital, Rockefeller deliberately built his resort hotels in remote places where jobs were badly needed. Forty years ago, the Mauna Kea’s site was rugged lava rock and, at that time, was more than 25 miles from the nearest tourist center at Kailua-Kona.
A staunch environmentalist, Rockefeller insisted on open-air rooms to catch the trade winds and expansive lanais to view the breathtaking scenery. Even the resort’s golf course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., is a challenging masterpiece that follows the twists and rolls of the lava rock contours. Rockefeller, who died in 2004 at the age of 94, wanted the Mauna Kea to be the embodiment of Old Hawaii and adorned it with his private collection of 1,600 Pacific and Asian artworks and artifacts, including Hawaiian quilts, tapa cloths and hand-carved tiki.
For visitors and local residents, one of the most memorable things about the Mauna Kea is its famous Sunday brunch with a chilled seafood bar and decadent desserts. What pleased Laurance Rockefeller most was standing at the end of the beach at the Mauna Kea at just the right spot, surrounded by nature, where he was unable to see his hotel. -GM
Before cable, satellite TV and the Internet, radio brought Hawaii Calls into the homes of landlocked Mainlanders who could only dream of sitting near the shores of Waikiki at the Moana Hotel’s Banyan Court.
The 30-minute program began with the waves, and emcee Webley Edwards announcing “a call from Hawaii,” along with a gathering of Islanders and visitors under the banyan tree, who in turn greeted radio listeners with a hearty “Aloha!” Listeners were treated to the sounds of Hawaiian chants, ukulele, slack-key guitar and hapa-haole songs, including classics such as The Hawaiian Wedding Song, Little Brown Gal, Lovely Hula Hands and Sweet Leilani, a song that debuted on the show, then won an Academy Award after Bing Crosby sang it in the movie Waikiki Wedding.
Considered the most popular program in radio history, Hawaii Calls debuted in 1935 and has been largely credited with spreading the gospel of Hawaiian music worldwide. At its peak in 1952, Hawaii Calls was broadcast over 750 stations, from the U.S. mainland to Canada, Latin America, Europe, Korea, Japan, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Although the show officially ended its radio run in the 1960s, Hawaii Calls has found new life in cyberspace, through weekly rebroadcasts of its most popular shows, on www.hularecords.com. -MTK
According to USA Today, “[Matsy] Takabuki is credited with making the Bishop Estate a player on Wall Street.” The former World War II veteran, city councilman, business executive and Bishop Estate trustee had a quiet way of dealing with even the most controversial situations and has had a hand in many of Hawaii’s important institutions and deals in the past half-century.
Shanghai businessman Dean Ho, son of business icon Chinn Ho, remembers Takabuki’s work for the Ho family’s Capital Investment Co. Says Ho: “He was a magnificent businessman. He had a very quick, mathematical mind. That was in sharp contrast – he didn’t appear to be a great businessman at the beginning of the conversation, because he was always so taciturn.”
No question that, as a Bishop Estate trustee, Takabuki’s engineering of a deal with Goldman Sachs put what is today Kamehameha Schools on firm financial footing for decades to come. Takabuki took point in negotiating the deal with former Goldman Sachs chairman Jon Corzine, who is now a United States senator. By some estimates, the investment returns from Kamehameha’s original $500 million exceeded $2.5 billion by 2003 or were nearly 50 percent of the estate’s $5.4 billion endowment market value that year.
In 2003, MN Capital Partners directors Bruce Nakaoka and Eric Martinson nominated Takabuki for the Kamehameha School’s Order of Ke Alii Pauahi Award. Their supporting letter says, “In the early years of Mr. Takabuki’s tenure, the trust was often referred to as “land rich, cash poor.” Today, KS/BE is the sixth largest education endowment in the country, trailing only Harvard, Yale, the University of Texas System, Princeton and Stanford.”
The endowment is a testament to Takabuki’s focus on personal loyalties, as well as community service. When he was the first Japanese-American named as a trustee in 1972, the Hawaiian community erupted in protest. Takabuki and his family got phone calls threatening their lives. His daughter, Anne, says she asked him why he was giving up all the business opportunities he had worked hard for in exchange for going to work for less money and a group that clearly didn’t want him. Anne Takabuki says, “He simply told me that there are some things you just have to do. Basically, it was his loyalty and commitment to his friends [Gov. John Burns, the Supreme Court justices and others] and his sense of obligation to make a contribution to his community, by giving the children of Hawaiian ancestry the opportunity for a first-rate education.” -KAT
William S. Richardson
While judicial activism is a hot-button topic among today’s political pundits, it’s old hat for William S. Richardson, former chief justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court. Richardson is perhaps best known as the judge who gave the public greater rights to the state’s beaches and waters, arguing that the “Western concept of exclusivity is not universally applicable in Hawaii.”
In one landmark decision, Richardson’s court ruled that water rights that had been fought over by two Kauai sugar plantations for 50 years belonged to neither of them. The public owned it, the court ruled.
In a 1982 interview with Honolulu Magazine, Richardson remarked, “I just cannot see Hawaii without free beaches. I can’t see my children and yours not being able to use the beaches of Hawaii … I think water is the same as light and air. It belongs to everybody. You take it for granted that you have some right to the air out there, and you have the same right to light. I extend it to water. I say, ‘You have the same rights to water. It’s ours.”
Richardson served on the Supreme Court from 1966 to 1982. Later, he served nine years as a Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate trustee. In 1983, the University of Hawaii named its law school after Richardson, to honor his work and commitment to establishing the school.
“I think it’s not too much to say that there would not have been a law school here in Hawaii if it weren’t for his efforts,” says Aviam Soifer, dean of the William S. Richardson School of Law. “He used his political clout, wisdom and practical sense to help build a law school that emphasizes diversity and looks toward Asia and the Pacific.”
“His impact is immeasurable, I think, not just on the law school, but also on the laws of Hawaii,” says Soifer. “He did things at the time that were not only unusual, but visionary. In particular, he asked why should we follow Anglo-American common law as other American jurisdictions do, when we have our own Native Hawaiian traditions. He’s made our laws different in terms of access to beaches, water rights, gathering rights and a number of other areas. His impact is certainly a lasting one.”
Richardson remains an active part of the law school. He maintains an office there and attends the school’s social events, panel discussions and lectures. Says Soifer, “He’s available for the students to meet a living, breathing example of history and how one can accomplish things by having a dream.” -LT
International Market Place
The famous Duke’s, where Don Ho first gained fame, was once housed there. Don the Beachcomber, one of Waikiki’s long-gone landmark restaurants, also called it home. And the incomparable Hal Lewis, the self-named “J. Akuhead Pupule,” best known to Island radio listeners as “Aku,” once broadcast his popular morning talk show from the tree house in its famous Banyan tree.
The International Market Place first opened in 1957. Envisioned as a new “Waikiki Village” by entrepreneur Donn Beach, best known as Don the Beachcomber, and featuring the arts, crafts, entertainment and foods of Hawaii’s multicultural people, it may have been one of the earliest cultural tourist attractions in the Islands.
However, over the last half-century, as the rest of Waikiki evolved, the market-place has remained kitschy, with kind of a ’60s vibe. Winding through the carts and kiosks of its vendors, hawking T-shirts, plastic hula skirts, volcano-shaped candles and other souvenirs, it may be hard to believe its 14-acre grounds were once the site of a gracious summer home for Hawaiian royalty, with gardens, loi patches and a running stream.
Ideas had been floated by its owner, the Queen Emma Foundation, to spruce up the place to attract today’s more sophisticated visitors and bring back more local residents. But a 1988 proposal to put the convention center on its grounds sparked a protest rally by Korean vendors at the Legislature that turned into a riot. Some vendors even cut themselves to write protest signs in their own blood.
Beginning late this summer, change is finally coming to the International Market Place. Its long overdue transformation will shut the place down until 2007, while a new retail and entertainment center is built that’s in keeping with Waikiki’s broader improvement plans.
Aiming to restore “a sense of Hawaiianness,” the new International Market Place will feature low-rise structures, open-air shops and restaurants, paths, gardens, a storytelling hearth, a performance amphitheater and, yes, parking. And the banyan tree stays. -GM
In 1959, Hawaii attorney and businessman Hiram Fong became the first Asian American to be elected to the U.S. Senate. The Hawaii Republican had already had a distinguished career in the Islands, serving in the territorial Legislature from 1938 to 1954 and as Speaker of the House from 1948 to 1954.
His political career was marked by strong bipartisan support, even after the Democratic wave rolled over the political scene. He was recognized as a champion of immigrants and the working class, himself the son of Chinese immigrant parents and a hard worker who held various odd jobs to put himself through the University of Hawaii and Harvard Law School. In 1965, he co-authored the Immigration Reform Act.
Fong was also a founder of local lender Finance Factors. Daniel Lau, one of the cofounders, asked Fong to join their hui in 1952. “Because he came from a very, very poor family and really struggled to get an education and having, achieved that, rose as far as he had, he was a person that was quite well known and he was very happy to join our group,” Lau recalls. Lau had known Fong from years earlier at the University of Hawaii, where Fong had been a member of the founding chapter of the Chinese fraternity Tu Chian Sheh.
Fong “retired” in 1976, by creating a 725-acre tourist destination and conservation site in Windward Oahu, called Senator Fong’s Plantation and Gardens. In later years, he ran into family and financial difficulties, which forced him and his wife to declare bankruptcy in 2003. From 2001, until his death in 2004, Fong served as the honorary co-chairman of the Palolo Chinese Home’s Capital Campaign.
Lau sums up Fong’s legacy this way: He proved that minority people can become great and successful through hard work and education. Lau values this piece of advice: “As much as you hate a person, or a person doesn’t like you, he will always be a friend. Someday, that person can do you a good turn.” -KAT
Polynesian Cultural Center
When Mormon church leaders were looking for ways to finance the education of Brigham Young University students in Laie, community members remembered their successful hukilau fund-raising to rebuild their burned chapel.
Busloads of tourists had traveled out to this rural community near Oahu’s northern tip to watch the hauling in of the fishnets and enjoy the luau and entertainment that followed. The hukilau, Laie’s homegrown fishing and feasting event popularized in the famous 1948 Jack Owens song, became the inspiration for what has been Oahu’s most popular paid visitor attraction since 1977, the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC).
Dedicated in 1963, the Polynesian Cultural Center’s 42-acre lagoon park complex today attracts over 750,000 visitors annually and has provided employment and educational enrichment to more than 12,000 BYU-Hawaii students. Visitors are treated to the lifestyles, songs, dances, costumes, architecture and recreated villages of seven Pacific Islands: Fiji, New Zealand, the Marquesas, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga and Hawaii.
In 2004, the “Keep It Hawaii” awards to preserve Hawaii’s unique culture recognized PCC’s Alii Luau, billed as Hawaii’s most authentic traditional feast. Less known is that PCC boasts Oahu’s only IMAX theater and provides cash awards as the longtime sponsor of the annual State Teacher of the Year award.
As part of an expansion and re-marketing effort, the PCC last year unveiled plans for a new hotel complex – the only one on Oahu’s windward coast. The hotel is aimed at attracting visitors to come stay in Laie, with more than 200 rooms, a restaurant, a pool, a retail facility, a visitor center and a museum. The hukilau may be gone, but PCC is looking to spend $3.5 million to expand and continue to attract visitors to this former Hawaiian fishing village. -GM
Who would have imagined that one man’s bout with chicken pox would forever change the course of private business in Hawaii?
Bob Midkiff recalls: “This was [in the late 1940s to early 1950s], when I worked at Hawaiian Trust Co. Ltd. I was on vacation in New York, and one of our clients, a New Yorker, wanted to start a profit-sharing plan. So I had to learn everything I could about profit sharing. We subscribed to a Prentice Hall loose-leaf service, and every week we got more pages. Well, after I got home, I came down with the chicken pox. I had nothing to do for an entire week except read, so I read every page on profit sharing. And I kept on reading after that. After a while, I knew more about [profit sharing] than anybody else.”
Midkiff, now 84, is regarded as the “Father of Profit Sharing in Hawaii.”
“That’s the accomplishment I’m most proud of,” says Midkiff, whose career résumé includes serving as vice president of Hawaiian Trust, vice president of Amfac Inc. and president of American Security Bank. Before “retiring” in 1993, he was president and CEO of American Financial Services of Hawaii, parent company of American Trust Co. of Hawaii and Bishop Trust Co. Ltd.
“Back then,” recalls Midkiff, “people said, ‘Profit sharing? What’s that? But in 1952, I put in profit-sharing plans for three companies – Kaimuki Ben Franklin, Kaneohe Ranch and United General Finance – and from there it really took off. I think there’s many people today retiring with over $100,000 that they never otherwise would have had.”
Midkiff, who served as an officer on the staff of Gen. Douglas MacArthur during World War II, is still fighting the good fight. He is president of the Atherton Family Foundation and is heavily involved with the Good Beginnings Alliance, a nonprofit organization that coordinates early childhood education and care services in the Islands. He also helped found the Waikiki Improvement Association, Downtown Improvement Association, Lahaina Restoration Foundation and Friends of Iolani Palace. He was also heavily involved in building the Financial Plaza of the Pacific and restoring the Hawaii Theatre.
All along the way, he’s made countless friends and few enemies.
“And,” Midkiff says, smiling, “I believe I’ve outlived most of my enemies.” -LT
He was a lawyer, a state representative and chairman of the state Democratic Party. He served as campaign manager for former Hawaii governors John A. Burns and George Ariyoshi. Walter Dods once called him the “resident genius of Hawaii politics.”
For state representative Marcus R. Oshiro, however, Bob Oshiro was, and is, simply “dad.”
“My dad always used to tell us that politics was a noble endeavor,” says the younger Oshiro, an 11-year legislator representing the 39th Representative District (Wahiawa-Poamoho). “He said we can help people and our community, and make life better for people. Every person is important and we all have the same basic needs and desires, whether you’re a ditch digger or a CEO. We all have a place in society.”
Bob Oshiro became a Democrat in 1954, the year of Hawaii’s historic “Democratic Revolution.” For the first time in the territory’s history, Democrats held a majority in both the state Senate and House, control of the Oahu City Council and the majority in both the Maui and Kauai city councils. The Democrats have controlled the Legislature ever since and lost the governorship only twice, in 1959 and 2002.
Oshiro quickly rose up the ranks among Democratic leaders. He became state Democratic chairman in 1962. Eight years later, his tireless efforts in leading then-Gov. John Burns’ successful, come-from-behind reelection campaign landed him in a hospital bed for several weeks. Of George Ariyoshi’s 1978 triumphant reelection bid against then-Mayor Frank Fasi, Walter Dods remarked in Honolulu magazine, “When credit time comes around, the key guy is Robert Oshiro. It wasn’t the media or the fund-raising. It was Bob Oshiro.”
Today, Oshiro is 81 and enjoying retirement in Wahiawa, where he grew up. He retired a couple of years ago from his position as chairman of the board of Queen’s Health Systems.
“He brought the Democratic Party together for a common cause,” says Marcus Oshiro. “When you look at the gubernatorial races he was involved in, I think you’ll find that the Democrats achieved those victories because they set aside their differences and were able to work together. I believe that will be his legacy in Hawaii politics.” -LT