Henry Peters ponders political comeback
By Bob Dye
Kailua writer and historian
The big black headline said he was out. Not so, says former Bishop Estate trustee Henry Haalio Peters. Henry says he's back.
Advertiser library photo Feb. 16, 1999
Listening to the attorney general enumerate allegations against him as a Bishop Estate trustee in 1999, Henry Peters tried to hang on to the job. Some day he'll tell his side of the story, maybe in a book.
Advertiser library photo Feb. 16, 1999
But someday, for sure, he'd like to be a U.S. senator.
"Name recognition should be no problem," he joked. "But approval rating might be."
Will the controversy over his trusteeship of the wealthy estate be a political problem?
"I'm proud of my accomplishments. I enjoyed, really liked growing the investment. If Larry Johnson had done as well, he'd still be president of Bank of Hawaii. I love high finance. Each and every morning I couldn't wait to get to work."
He smiles as he remembers those thrilling days of buying low and selling high, riding out troughs and surfing waves, standing the heat to the feet and hanging tough.
He still talks to his former financial peers at Goldman Sachs. The former president of that money dynamo, John Corozine, is now a senator from New Jersey.
They had talked about the heavy-handed ways of the IRS that morning, and the misconduct of Hawai'i courts .
"But the past is past, and I'm getting on with my life." He pauses, smiles sadly but wisely. "Why do people in Hawai'i knock success? If I'd done what I did for Bishop Estate in a Mainland city, they'd give me a tickertape parade." He shakes his head in all too familiar bewilderment. "But that's Hawai'i." He laughs at the irony of loving a place that a year ago wanted to see him lynched.
Our soup cooled and ice melted in glasses of tea, at the Yum Yum Tree in Ward Center. We talked long about the old days when we worked together for the Honolulu Model Cities program. Henry was the community advocate for the Wai'anae Coast. The successful community-based program helped to launch a political career that culminated as speaker of the House.
And it launched other political careers Margaret Apo to the Board of Education, Frenchy De-
Soto to OHA, and, most notably, John Waihe'e to the governorship.
All of the above folks established mini-political dynasties: Margaret's son Peter Apo served in the Legislature and is now a Harris appointee; Frenchy's son, John DeSoto, is a city councilman; and John Waihe'e III is an OHA trustee.
"I never would have accomplished anything if it weren't for Mama," Henry says.
His mother is Hoaliku Drake, the octogenarian matriarch of the Wai'anae Coast. Henry's aunt, Aggie Cope, who helped raise him, is the celebrated Hawaiian culture and arts specialist. Her son Kamaki Kanehele has followed in her footsteps, and is politically active.
Suffice it to say, Henry has a large and extended family. And, despite, or because of, his hard-headed independence, he's attracted a large number of political admirers. He has enjoyed fiercely loyal support over the years.
But Henry wonders, will the "forces" that ousted him from the estate work to keep him from returning to public life?
"I give them credit," he says. "They orchestrated a frighteningly effective campaign in the media; in the school, and with alumni; in the governor's office, and that of his attorney general; and in the probate courts."
He is especially upset by the conduct of some judges. He thinks they were toadies at best, corrupt at worst. He calls Gov. Ben Cayetano and Attorney General Earl Anzai cowards.
"But for their offices they couldn't have pulled off what they did."
Peters says he understands the politics behind the crusade to oust former trustees.
A question on an HGEA poll showed voters approved of Gov. Cayetano's probe of Bishop Estate. "Going after us was the only popular thing he'd done as governor. Low ratings in everything else! So, in order to beat Linda Lingle, he had Attorney General Margery Bronster fuel the fire to keep the political pot boiling. He won. We lost."
To Henry Peters, politics is strictly binary: You vote yes or no, for me or against me.
You're in or you're out. You're right or you're wrong. He is not into nuances, shades of meaning by winks and nods, or newly acquired ethnic sensitivities. He is neither a hand-wringer nor a hand-holder. His handshake is his bond. He says what he means as forcefully as he can. The stand-alone persona you see is what you get.
"I'm from the old school," he confesses proudly.
What are his come-back chances?
If state Sen. Coleen Hanabusa decides to vacate her state Senate seat to run against Patsy Mink for Congress, and if John DeSoto doesn't want it (J.D. also has his eye on the lieutenant governor's office), then Henry would be a shoo-in. The Wai'anae Coast is his solid political base.
The council seat now held by DeSoto will be open by law. J.D. can't run for re-election. Voters who liked DeSoto will favor Peters, too. So, that office is a strong possibility.
The mayor's race is a special election; no primary, winner take all. So far, there are three announced candidates: Councilman Duke Bainum, former Mayor Frank Fasi, and former Councilman Mufi Hannemann. In a crowd of four, getting 31percent of the vote might be enough for Henry to win, or for any of the others to succeed.
Will Henry have the support of other Hawaiians?
Despite the protest march against Henry and other trustees, by Kamehameha Schools' students, parents and alumni, Henry insists that in their hearts they know he did a good job of growing their assets, by managing them conservatively and wisely. And that opening the school to other Hawaiian kids, by building in new locations, especially to serve Neighbor Islanders, was the "right thing to do."
He admits there was a terrible communications failure between the trustees and the beneficiaries and the faculty.
And the general public, I interjected.
Peters is firmly committed to telling his side of the story, if need be by writing a book.
But he groans at the thought of that ornery chore. His purpose is not to vindicate his actions, he says, but to reform what he sees as an abusive system.
Whatever the personal cost, Henry says the ride was worth it. His time as the trustee in charge of the financial portfolio was "unbelievably rewarding." Sure, he would have preferred to remain a trustee. No, he doesn't like being under indictment. But he wouldn't have missed the chance to be a long ball hitter in the big financial league for all the tea in China.
What will Gov. Cayetano's legacy be?
Like it or not, Ben, Henry is roaring back.