Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 5, 2002

Andy Anderson: Tough, practical and 'sassy'

Today, the last of three profiles of the Democratic candidates for governor. Next week, the Republicans.

Previous profiles:
 •  Ed Case: Smart, blunt, impatient for change
 •  Mazie Hirono: From poverty to quiet power
 •  Andy Anderson official site

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Capitol Bureau Chief

It is 3:02 p.m. and in three minutes Andy Anderson is due on the air for his call-in radio show to promote his campaign for governor. He is nowhere in sight.

Ray Lovell, Anderson's campaign spokesman and co-host for the show, sits in a black leather chair in the radio station lobby, scanning the elevators.

The moment the bell pings and Anderson steps off, Lovell pops up with a key in hand to open the door into the studios. "I wasn't worried," Lovell grins at Anderson.

"Plenty of time, I've got two minutes," Anderson says.

To promote his Democratic campaign for governor, D.G. "Andy" Anderson fields calls on a radio show. Campaign spokesman Ray Lovell, left foreground, is co-host for the call-in show. Anderson, 72, who supposedly retired from politics in 1994, is making his third run for governor.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

As Lovell launches into his on-air spiel to introduce the candidate, Anderson twiddles with a pen and stares at a blank sheet of yellow paper in front of him. One of his first light-hearted comments into the mike pretty much sums it up: "I really forget what day it is and what island I'm on," he said.

Anderson, 72, who supposedly retired from politics in 1994, is suddenly back for his third run for governor, racing from meetings and appearances and radio shows from one island to the next, trying to convince voters that he has the cure for what ails Hawai'i.

A self-made business success who dropped out of high school, Anderson estimates his net worth is somewhere between $8 million and $12 million. He doesn't need the paycheck and, after 20 years in the Legislature, most people would have had their fill of state politics.

After decades as one of the state's most prominent and promising Republicans, he has been reborn as a Democrat. He is doing it, Anderson told an audience recently, because "this state, for all practical purposes, is bankrupt."

"At my age, you don't come back into this circus unless you really feel committed," he said. "I've got some grandkids and kids that I want to have a better life."

Anderson, who is part-Hawaiian, often carries the aura of an impatient businessman with work to do, and his habit of speaking quickly in clipped sentences adds to the effect. His abrupt, blunt persona grates on some people, but he says they're just not accustomed to straight talk from their politicians.

The Anderson plan

Education: Proposes a "Pineapple Lottery" to raise at least $40 million to be added to the budget for public schools; wants a state Board of Education that is appointed by the governor, rather than elected, to increase accountability; proposes alternative public schools for students who fall under the Felix consent decree covering children with mental and physical disabilities; wants annual performance reviews and five-year reviews of competence for teachers, administrators and counselors.

Economy: Stresses diversification and believes the state tourism industry is nearly "maxed out;" would seek federal permission to make 7,000 immigration "green cards" available to skilled, foreign high-tech workers, allowing them to live in Hawai'i and help attract high-tech businesses; would establish a "Hawai'i Job Bank" on the state's Web site to attract skilled workers who have left the state; would expand tourist industry training to export the state's expertise to Asia; would offer incentives to businesses to lure them here; expand the use of the Foreign Trade Zones.

Taxes: Opposes any tax increase; favors eliminating the excise tax on food, but does not believe the state can afford to now; favors eliminating the state excise tax on purchases made by counties.

One big idea: "To answer the challenge of 21st century, 'locals' must look both ways. The statement that I really concur with and adopt wholeheartedly is: 'Much as I worry that we will lose the best of old Hawai'i, I am equally or more concerned that we won't move fast enough toward a new Hawai'i.' (John Griffin). This one statement really says so much. How then do we protect and nurture the best of old Hawai'i and still build toward a new and prosperous Hawai'i? We must accept this challenge, all of us."

"I think I have adopted a new style, and it's matter-of-fact, it's a little bit of arrogance, a little bit of sassiness," said Anderson, who announced last year he was switching parties. "This is what I think because I've lived it for so long, this is what I think because I've heard it for so long, this is what I think because I've been there for so long and I've heard thousands and thousands of hours of testimony, and this is the way it is.

"I'm not going to be cute, I'm not going to restructure it, I'm not going to rephrase it to be popular."

Anderson repeatedly won election in smaller races, serving two terms in the House and four terms in the Senate to represent Windward O'ahu for a total of 20 years, but the bigger races and the next tier in politics always eluded him.

Running as a Republican, he lost races for Honolulu mayor in 1968 and 1972 against Frank Fasi, and lost races for governor in 1982 against George Ariyoshi, and in 1986 against John Waihee.

Some of his detractors, including Fasi, say Anderson is still hungrily seeking his big political score.

Pat Saiki, who spent years with Anderson in the state Senate and in various political races, offers a far more favorable assessment. She said the Republicans lost someone special when Anderson quit the GOP, but the Democrats may not appreciate what they have gained.

"He had ideas," Saiki said. "That's the one thing about Andy Anderson that nobody else has really come up with, ideas and ways to solve problems. If the Democrats don't see that, they're missing something."

Dominis Garrida Anderson, generally known as "Andy," was born in Kalihi, the son of a truck driver for Standard Oil and a mother who was a cashier at a meat market and later a credit union.

His father, John Dominis Anderson, had the nickname "Knuckles," and in his day was the "bull" of Kalihi, Andy Anderson said. He mellowed considerably after he married, but imposed "constant discipline" on his children, Anderson said.

"When my dad said be home at 5 o'clock, he didn't mean five after 5, he didn't mean three minutes after 5 — it was 5 o'clock and, by God, if you weren't in at 5 o'clock, you got one of his big hands," he said, holding out his own large knuckled hand.

Andy and his brother, Whitney, who also served in the state Senate, spent many years with their grandparents because their parents couldn't support them in the early years, Anderson said.

Anderson remembers his grandfather Garrida sitting him down each night to drill him for hours on penmanship. Anderson was naturally left-handed, but his grandfather trained him to use his right hand, and to do it right. Anderson's father likewise would constantly correct his children's speech to be sure they used proper English.

Anderson said he dropped out of school in his senior year because most of his friends had already graduated and he felt left behind. He put in applications with most of the major companies in town, and temporarily went to work cutting monkeypod trees.

He worked at the Pearl Harbor shipyard for a time as an apprentice electrician, but disliked working in a submarine as welders above him showered him with sparks. Then Kodak Hawaii, one of the companies where he had applied, offered him a job.

Don Ho was a guest at Andy Anderson's fund-raiser in Honolulu last month. As a businessman, Anderson is best known today for his John Dominis Restaurant. He also owns Michel's at The Colony Surf.

Associated Press

Anderson went to work as a stock boy, and stayed for eight years until he decided it was time to strike out on his own. "I got up as high as I could get as a local boy. I became the assistant sales manager, and everything above that was out of Rochester," he said, referring to Eastman Kodak's headquarters. "It was a question of spending the rest of my life with Eastman, hitting that ceiling, or quitting and going on my own."

Anderson was also bored, so he borrowed $15,000 from an uncle and opened a camera shop that became a huge success when Anderson followed the growing Mainland trend of cutting prices on film and other products but making it up on volume.

"I had 'em lined up outside the door, believe it or not," he said.

Over the years, the camera shop branched out into hi-fi and record sales, and Anderson also started a toy business called Anekona Toys and Gifts Made in Hawaii, and a farm and ranch supply store on the Big Island. For a time, he owned the concessions for Wigwam department stores and Gem stores. Despite the variety of his enterprises, Anderson said he has never had a business fail.

Today, Anderson is best known for his John Dominis Restaurant, an upscale operation he built on leased state land at Kewalo Basin and named after his father. He also owns Michel's at The Colony Surf in Waikiki, an operation he bought in the mid-1990s.

He developed at least a half-dozen commercial and residential projects in Hawai'i and on the Mainland, including an $18 million multipurpose building in Newport Beach, Calif., that was home to another John Dominis Restaurant.

Anderson describes the beginnings of his 34 years of Republican activism today as if it were almost an accident, starting with a friend who asked Anderson for help on a state House campaign. Anderson said that got him interested in politics, and he looked around for other political activity, zeroing in on a neighborhood Republican club in Kahalu'u.

D.G. 'Andy' Anderson

• Background: Age 72. Born in Honolulu. Attended Roosevelt High School.

• Career: Lumberjack and electrical apprentice; employee of Kodak Hawaii for eight years; opened Anderson's Camera in 1956; owner of various retail businesses and also a commercial developer, 1960s to present; owner, John Dominis Restaurant and Michel's at The Colony Surf; state House, 1962-66, state Senate, 1966-82; city managing director, 1985-86.

• Family: Separated from Jean Anderson. One daughter, Randolyn Grobe; one son, Brian; adopted son, Jerome, who died earlier this year. Six grandchildren.

• Hobbies: Golfing; pig and sheep hunting.

"They were all neighbors, and so I went to it, not philosophically but because they were friends, and it happened to be Republican," Anderson said. "I probably would have joined the Democrat club at that time had it been a Democrat."

He ran for City Council and lost in 1960, but won a race to represent the Windward side in the House in 1962. He won re-election two years later, and won a seat in the state Senate in 1966, where he remained until he made his first run for governor in 1982.

After running twice unsuccessfully against Fasi, Anderson joined forces with the mayor in 1984, helping to persuade Fasi to quit the Democratic Party and join the Republicans.

Anderson then served as Fasi's campaign finance chairman when Fasi staged his successful comeback bid against Eileen Anderson that year, and Fasi appointed Andy Anderson as his managing director. Anderson held that job for less than two years, quitting to run for governor in 1986.

Since then, Anderson has had an on-again, off-again relationship with Fasi, who these days talks about his former right-hand man as a political opportunist.

"Andy Anderson has one purpose in politics — 'What can I get out of it personally?' And he's good at it," Fasi said. "The fact is that Andy Anderson is for Andy Anderson, period."

Paul Hooper, one of the executive assistants who worked for Anderson when he was managing director, said Anderson has an "immensely impressive" ability to remember details, and still keep the big-picture perspective.

He would go around the table at meetings making assignments to his staff, and return days later to check up on each of them. He always remembered the tasks he had assigned without using notes, and was known for delivering speeches without looking at the prepared text.

"If you're rambling, or it appears that you don't really know what you're talking about, you don't want to get into a discussion with him," Hooper said.

Anderson's impatience and perhaps some arrogance were on display in 1983, when the city ordered him to stop work on a restaurant-retail complex in Waikiki because he never obtained building permits for the project.

Anderson, who was a Republican national committeeman at the time, acknowledged he had completed construction of his J.D. Fishmarket Restaurant and opened the operation at Kuhio and Seaside avenues without the proper permits, saying he was frustrated by city red tape. The city eventually required Anderson to tear down part of an addition.

In 1968, D.G. "Andy" Anderson ran unsuccessfully for Honolulu mayor as a Republican. He lost that election, and another mayoral try in 1972, to Frank Fasi.

Advertiser library photo

The following year, Anderson pleaded no contest to three petty misdemeanor charges in connection with the incident, and was fined $900 and ordered to perform 75 hours of community service.

The postscript was classic Anderson: Not content to fulfill his community service by bagging rubbish, he rented a bulldozer and used it to clear brush and trash at Kualoa Regional Park.

While the public may have been startled by Anderson's abrupt party switch last year, some who have known Anderson and watched him operate over the years said they were not surprised. Anderson has always been less an ideologue and more a pragmatist, ready to cut a deal and hook up with the opposition if that is what it takes to get things done, they said.

Perhaps the most famous example was in 1980, when Anderson and the Senate Republicans struck a deal with Richard "Dickie" Wong and Wong's faction of Senate Democrats to share control of the Senate.

The arrangement gave the Republicans control of some committees and more influence over the flow of legislation, but also delivered the most powerful positions in the Senate into the hands of a liberal faction of Democrats with close union ties.

Wong, a former business agent for the United Public Workers union, became Senate president, while Maui ILWU business agent Mamoru Yamasaki assumed control of the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee.

"I've never been an idealist, I've never been an extreme politician," Anderson said. "I think the reason I'm getting labor support is because when their bills made sense, I supported them. I wasn't against it just because they were Democrats or labor."

Andy Anderson's Web site:
Anderson's campaign this year is backed by prominent Democrats such as former Democratic Party Chairman Walter Heen and former University of Hawai'i President Fujio "Fudge" Matsuda. Anderson acknowledges he has some very practical, nonideological reasons for suddenly reversing himself and running as a Democrat. For one thing, a Republican governor would be quickly bogged down in quarreling with a Democratic Legislature, he said.

"I don't think I could implement the program that I want as a Republican. I need a Democrat Legislature. I mean, I really need that army to move the legislation," he said.

While Anderson was comfortable working with Democrats and later joined them, he had a bitter falling out with the more conservative wing of his own party after the 1994 election. Anderson, who was finance director and a key player in Pat Saiki's campaign for governor, quit the Republican Party after Saiki finished third.

Anderson believed that conservative Republicans abandoned Saiki in favor of Frank Fasi because Fasi was an abortion opponent. Fasi ran as a candidate from his own Best Party, and the division allowed Ben Cayetano to win election as governor. Anderson resigned from the party, saying many Republicans were "too narrow" in their focus.

"Andy was always a much more middle-of-the-road Republican than he was a hard-right ideologue," Hooper said.

While Anderson's positions have evolved over the years, there are some consistent threads: Anderson, who was named businessman of the year in 1980 by the Hawaiian Businessman's Association, is on record supporting a number of developments that were controversial because of their huge scope, including plans to build six new hotels at Turtle and Kawela bays in the late 1970s, and construction of H-3 Freeway.

While Anderson opposed measures that required political candidates to file financial disclosures — he was the only senator to vote against that idea — he supported a proposed ban on political fund-raisers by lawmakers during the legislative session. That ban did not pass, and lawmakers continue to hold fund-raisers during session, a practice that some critics believe puts pressure on lobbyists and others to contribute.

Anderson has long favored ending the 4 percent excise tax on food, and said he is one of the original authors of the proposal, which is still being peddled by state Republicans. Anderson said he still favors the idea "when we can afford it," but says at this point the state cannot spare the $140 million that the tax cut would cost.

As city managing director, Anderson took on projects such as establishing a childcare center for city employees at the Municipal Building and leading the negotiations that led to lower costs for the H-Power plant at the Campbell Industrial Park.

This year, Anderson said he is taking the rare step of running an issue-oriented campaign, the sort of campaign he advised against when he coached candidates in the past. But Anderson believes his proposals for a lottery to pay to improve public schools and a state-run "fuel authority" to reduce the cost of gasoline are resonating with voters.

On his radio show, an elderly caller praised Anderson for his insistence that the state cut prescription drug costs for senior citizens.

"That's a lulu — you go run on that thing," said the woman caller, who identified herself as Uilani. "When you talk about the medicine, you got the guts."

Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Anderson's position on taxes. His position should read as follows: Opposes any tax increase; favors eliminating the excise tax on food, but does not believe the state can afford to now; favors eliminating the state excise tax on purchases made by counties.