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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, September 9, 2002

John Carroll: Faith shaped a winding journey

Today, the first of two profiles of the Republican candidates for governor.

Previous profiles:
 •  Ed Case: Smart, blunt, impatient for change
 •  Mazie Hirono: From poverty to quiet power
 •  Andy Anderson: Tough, practical and 'sassy'

By Walter Wright
Advertiser staff writer

John Carroll's daughter, Diane Sanae Carroll, was born three months early, and when she was a little more than a month old, six doctors told him to let her die.

"Because she was having so many problems, they wanted to pull the plug on her," Carroll recalled.

"And we'd been in there in the hospital, reading Dr. Seuss to her and trying to keep her alive. And these doctors, out of eight doctors six told us she'd be in Waimano Home or be a total cripple. But the whole idea of just killing my own kid made no sense to me."

Carroll and his wife chose to put their faith in the dissenting doctors, and daughter Diane grew and thrived.

Today, she is a student at Texas Bible Institute, and her smiling face shines from the pictures of his six children and 11 grandchildren on a desk at the headquarters of the John Carroll campaign for governor.

"All I need in the primary is about 60,000 votes," says Republican gubernatorial candidate John Carroll, who estimates that about 120,000 voters will cast ballots in the Republican primary contest and believes that social conservatives in the party will hand him the nomination.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Carroll said the experience with his daughter turned him into an opponent of abortion, and he describes himself as the only "pro life" candidate for governor in either major party. The experience also led to a Christmas Day conversion and a return to his Catholic faith in 1982.

Being born again was the most important moment in a life filled with triumphs and trials, he says. Carroll, 72, has been a soldier, successful businessman, commercial airline pilot, attorney and legislator.

He's also declared bankruptcy, owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to creditors and the Internal Revenue Service, been married and divorced four times and was trounced in a threadbare campaign against U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka in 2000.

After gamely answering a dozen questions about his marital odyssey, Carroll cracked a smile and said, "I'm not seeking beatification here." He is, he says, running for governor, not sainthood.

"But when we put family values into our campaign, it's a fair question," he said.

Family values and a social and fiscally conservative Republican agenda are the cornerstones of Carroll's campaign. In addition to opposing abortion, he argues for the rights of gun owners, opposes fluoridation of water and is against legally recognizing domestic partnerships for homosexuals.

He envisions the state as a free-trade zone, a Hong Kong of the Pacific, and he wants to eliminate the state's "regressive" general excise tax.

But he sees a role for enlightened regulation as well. He describes himself as a tireless environmentalist and says he worked in the Legislature to protect endangered species. He favors drug rehabilitation, rather than simply locking up chemically dependent criminals. His experience as a Hawaiian Airlines pilot from 1958 to 1989 convinces Carroll that Hawai'i's inter-island air traffic should be regulated by a special commission that will guarantee both a reasonable profit to the airlines and fair prices to passengers.

The Carroll plan

Education: Would eliminate "most" of the Board of Education, "using the existing School Community Based Management structure to control school complexes at the local level." Cut student/teacher ratio below 20 to 1. Proposes to eliminate the Department of Accounting and General Services' involvement in school projects. Raise teacher salaries. No tolerance for school violence.

Economy: Create "mega free-trade zones" on all islands to stimulate economic and job growth. Ask Congress to exempt Hawai'i from Jones Act and Passenger Shipping Act restrictions on use of foreign vessels between American ports, to cut costs of goods and services in Hawai'i. State to become advocate for business growth to expand tax base to pay for government services.

Taxes: Eliminate general excise tax gradually and replace it with "fair" sales tax, to stop stacking one state tax on top of another. Remove all taxes on medical services.

One big idea: "Hawai'i is the best place in the world. It has the best of everything, except government and education. As your next governor, I will fix that. However, a government without morals will have no economic success, because a government without morals, a society without morals, is bankrupt. This is not just bad morality, it's bad politics."

As for Hawaiian issues, Carroll favors a plebiscite in which he is confident a majority will reject sovereignty in favor of obtaining reparations from the federal government to the descendants of all citizens of the Kingdom of Hawai'i, Hawaiian and otherwise.

He said he believes he has a shot against the Republican Party front-runner, Linda Lingle, in part because he believes many older men don't believe a woman can effectively run the state.

"I have had an experience this time that I have never witnessed before where elderly Asian men are coming up to me and saying, 'You've got my vote,' " Carroll said.

"Everybody wants change, and Lingle's popularity is based on the notion that she will bring change," but when people realize that they can get change and Carroll's legislative and life experience, he will win, he said. "I am a much better candidate than anybody running," Carroll said.

But he has had trouble raising money and getting much attention for his campaign, despite a steady schedule of appearances.

"Even some of my own very good friends say, 'John, you can't win. Forget about it, forget about it,' " said Carroll.

But some of Carroll's backers say social conservatives in the Republican Party are so alienated by Lingle's stands on abortion and gay rights issues that they, together with others impressed by Carroll's qualifications, will hand Carroll the nomination.

"All I need in the primary is about 60,000 votes," Carroll said, estimating that about 120,000 voters will cast ballots in the Republican primary contest.

He is endorsed by the Republican National Coalition for Life, which says it supports candidates who are "pro-life and who do not justify abortion for babies conceived through rape or incest or who have a handicap or genetic defect."

Although his media work is being coordinated by the Washington, D.C.-based Veritas advertising agency, which is associated with campaigns supported by socially conservative Christian groups, Carroll said he hasn't received financial support from any Christian groups, and that one of his few out-of-state contributions came from a Mainland cousin who decided to send him some money

John Stanley Carroll was born in St. Mary, Kan., the eldest of four children. When he was a year old, his father relocated to teach in a Catholic college in San Rafael, Calif., where Carroll attended and graduated from Catholic schools.

His father, Hugh Stanley Carroll, was a chemistry professor and a scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb. In 1946, the senior Carroll began an international career as a U. S. government scientific adviser, first to Japan, then Korea, and then the Philippines.

Carroll accompanied his father to Japan while still a teenager, then came to Hawai'i in 1949 to play football at the University of Hawai'i under coach Tommy Kaulukukui. Men like Larry Mehau were among his tougher teammates.

"Hawai'i is the best place in the world. It has the best of everything, except government and education. As your next governor, I will fix that. ...," said John Carroll.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

He left the university for the U.S. Army, where he served in a tank unit during the Korean War before being transferred to a general's staff. After the Army, Carroll returned to UH.

There was even a stint, during his college years, as a radio announcer at KGU on the top of The Advertiser building with Tom Moffatt and Eddie Sherman.

"He's a very honest, straight-ahead kind of guy," Moffatt said.

Both Moffatt and Sherman were impressed by Carroll's ambition, drive and ability, even as a 20-something college student.

"I was always impressed by how much he was handling at the same time," Moffatt said. "He was married, getting a pilot's license, in the National Guard, a university student and a part-time radio announcer."

After his service in Korea, Carroll spent nearly 30 years in the Air Force Reserve, where he was trained as a fighter pilot. He retired at the rank of colonel in 1986.

While juggling his family life, military service and work as a commercial pilot, Carroll received his law degree in 1965 and became a partner in his own small law firm. He later started a company that "leased" commercial pilots to a variety of airlines operating in the Pacific.

Carroll went into politics in 1966, making an unsuccessful run at Congress. In 1972, he was elected to represent Waikiki and later Manoa in the state House and Senate. He served briefly as the chairman of the state Republican Party in the early 1980s.

Some colleagues from the Capitol remember Carroll as a quiet, dependable and thoughtful lawmaker who amazed them with his ability to juggle three careers, a family and numerous outside interests.

"I thought John did very well as a legislator," said Kinau Boyd Kamalii, who was minority floor leader and then minority leader in the House during some of Carroll's years.

John Carroll

• Background: Age 72. Graduated from St. Anselm's High School, San Rafael, Calif., 1947. Came to Hawai'i in 1949. Graduated from University of Hawai'i- Manoa, 1956 with degree in education. Earned teaching certificate, 1958 while in graduate school. Graduated from St. Mary's University College of Law, San Antonio, Texas, 1965. U.S. Army 1951-1953, Korea. U.S. Air Force Reserve, 1956-85, retired with rank of colonel. Graduate of the Air Command and Staff College, 1962, and the Air War College, 1975. Certified as a staff judge advocate, 1972. Joint staff judge advocate for Army and Air National Guard units, 1975.

• Work career: Hawaiian Airlines pilot 1958-89. Attorney 1965 to present. Partner, Carroll, Smith & Buchli. Founded Hawaii Aviation Contract Services, an international pilot leasing business employing more than 140 pilots, 1990. Retired as chairman of the board, 2000. Vegetable farmer, Honoka'a. Candidate for Congress, 1966; candidate for Honolulu City Council, 1968; state House representing Manoa 1970-78; state Senate representing Manoa-Makiki 1978-80; state Republican Party Chairman 1981-82; candidate, state Senate, 1998; candidate, U. S. Senate, 2000.

• Family: Divorced; six children, 11 grandchildren.

• Hobbies: Surfing, skiing, cycling, soccer, hula, flying, hunting.

"He was very conscientious, very eloquent, and he worked well as a team member in the caucus and on the floor," she said.

It was hard to get any Republican's legislation passed in a Legislature dominated by Democrats, Kamalii said, but Carroll was one lawmaker whose legislative ideas were often killed by the Democrats one year and then picked up as their own the next.

Carroll said he is most proud of his work in the Legislature for the environment, and claims credit for introducing legislation that accomplished a variety of goals, from protecting green sea turtles to stopping stream and ocean disposal of waste from sugar mills.

If his daughter Diane led to one form of salvation, Carroll said his views of Hawaiian issues are shaped in large part by three of his other children, all of them three-eighths Hawaiian.

Carroll two years ago filed suit against the Office of Hawaiian Affairs on grounds it was spending money derived from Hawaiian kingdom lands in a racially discriminatory way. The suit was dismissed, but not before some Hawaiians held protest demonstrations against it.

Carroll said some Hawaiians now are beginning to realize that he has a vision in which they, as well as haole descendants of all residents of the Hawaiian kingdom, will receive reparations from the U.S. Congress that will wipe out poverty and homelessness in Hawai'i.

Although raised a Catholic, Carroll said he had little use for the church as a young man, and was always troubled about the question of the divinity of Christ.

On that Christmas morning 20 years ago, he said, he dreamed that he was standing at a roadside telling another person that Christ was indeed divine.

"But you don't believe that," the other person said in the dream.

"Yes, I do," Carroll answered, "and if I didn't, you wouldn't be here."

The figure in his dream said "That's right," and then vanished, and Carroll awoke, convinced that he had had an encounter with an angel, or messenger and underwent an instantaneous conversion to Christ. "It made a total change in my life," he said.

His biggest failure, he said, has been as a husband, with four marriages ending in divorce. "I was very impatient; if things didn't go the way I wanted them to go, I was gone," he said.

The last divorce in the early 1990s touched off a seven-year court struggle over support and assets. That case, which went to the Hawai'i Supreme Court, was complicated by a personal bankruptcy which Carroll said was forced on him when foreign partners tried to squeeze him out of the pilot-leasing company he had founded.

Why should voters put state finances in the hands of a man who couldn't handle his own?

"It's a fair question," Carroll said, but he argues that he was a victim of "extraordinary circumstances" and that he managed to keep the company, and his law practice, out of bankruptcy.

Carroll himself was declared bankrupt, and had hundreds of thousands dollars of debt excused, except for tax liens he compromised in a $100,000 settlement with the Internal Revenue Service only two years ago.

After serving in the U.S. Army, John Carroll spent nearly 30 years in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, where he was trained as a fighter pilot.

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The four divorces hardly square with Carroll's "traditional family values" candidacy, he acknowledged.

"I had been totally pro-choice and a very devout pagan" before his daughter Diane was born, he said. "At that point, and after that, I started studying the Bible and became a born-again Christian."

Since his divorce from his fourth wife, he said, "I actually have lived pretty much a celibate life."

Today, he said there is "someone I am interested in," but Carroll lives alone. He stopped flying as a commercial airline pilot after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 60 and lives on portions of his military, legislative, company and airline pensions.

His record as a squash champion in Hawai'i still stands, although those fast-paced matches have been replaced by weekly games of old-timers' soccer after church.

After two angioplasties in the 1990s to relieve blocked arteries, a recent check-up showed no blockage, he said. Except for soreness from breaking two ribs, crushing his lungs and breaking a chest bone in a bicycling accident a few months back, he said he feels fine, has never smoked, and rarely takes a drink.

John Carroll's Web site:
Carroll, who raised questions about Akaka's health in his Senate campaign two years ago, said voters can count on him to stay healthy: "I will not let myself get out of shape."

Referring to Akaka and U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, Carroll said: "They're both several years older than I am, and neither of them could hold a candle to me on a soccer field."

Tomorrow: Linda Lingle

Reach Walter Wright at wwright@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8054.