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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, October 28, 2002

Maybe this time we'll win

By Cliff Slater
Regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at www.lava.net/cslater

The question before voters a week from tomorrow is, fundamentally, whether or not to rid ourselves of Hawai'i's Establishment.

When historian A.J.P. Taylor coined the term "Establishment" in the 1950s, it replaced the "Thing" coined by the English journalist William Cobbett over a century earlier. One can believe that the Thing approved the change; Establishment sounds far more respectable.

Certainly for Hawai'i, the Thing is more redolent of the pervasive malignancy of influence and palm-greasing by which we presently conduct our public affairs.

This entangling of mutual interests of power and money among politicians, business and union leaders has metastasized with particular virulence over the last 25 years.

And there should be no doubt in any thinking person's mind about Hawai'i's Thing being pervasive.

Consider for a moment that every single lieutenant governor for 40 years has succeeded the retiring governor. In other states, it is rare for this to happen once, let alone continually.

Think on the ramifications of a highly political union leader, Gary Rodrigues, being appointed to the Judicial Selection Commission despite a constitutional prohibition against its members being politically active.

Consider that a majority of commission members, who nominate Supreme Court justices, are picked by the speaker of the House, president of the Senate and the chief justice. Unsurprisingly, the Supreme Court justices have picked a speaker of the House, a president of the Senate and a chief justice as Bishop Estate trustees. Only the Internal Revenue Service threatening to revoke the tax-exempt status of the estate has forced the major changes we have seen recently.

Where else but Hawai'i could a union demand that prison guards continue to work not only while felony charges were pending against them, but also after they were convicted — then to be allowed to serve their prison terms on weekends?

We have become so inured to such practices that we are numb in the face of them.

Nor do we take any utterance by a public official on its face. We look elsewhere for the truth of the matter, scan the newspapers or call a friend in the know.

Nothing so epitomizes this distrust as the events surrounding the recent demise of Patsy Mink. Nobody believed what officials had to say about the timing of her death. Speculation ran riot. Many suspected the Thing was at work, spinning, sliding and working around Ben Cayetano's reluctance to choose the anointed one ("Where's his name?").

But, maybe, the Thing is running its course.


However, there are signs of gray at the end of the tunnel:

• The Bishop Estate, what The New York Times has described as "the embodiment of Hawai'i's brand of inbred, closed-door politics, as secretive and suspect as it was impregnable," is beginning to operate, under a new name, somewhat like a normal trust.

• Elected officials are being indicted.

• Once-untouchable union officials are being prosecuted.

• Campaign financing practices, which have been the norm in my memory, are being cleaned up as though they were recent one-time events.

And maybe, this time, our election will produce something different.

Maybe. Only the Thing knows.