Current Thoughts (Mostly Hawaii)
Even before his formal announcement that he was leaving Congress and running for Hawaiʻi Governor, Kai Kahele has already been examined by many about his positions on several key items.
He’s also been attacked about his job performance in Congress and that in some political circles, he is just not liked. But that is another issue, for another time.
Two areas of interest: tourism and whether he is a true progressive, have been written by fellow bloggers over the past couple of weeks. For this piece, we’ll look at what they say he “may very well be” and then a Politics Hawaii analysis (noted as “PHwSF take) of whether the point of view is valid, or not.
We will start with tourism.
On the blog site “Beat of Hawaii”, which posts information, generally, about tourism and sometimes dabbles into the political realm, a post from them examined whether Mr. Kahele would be the first governor with “tourism experience”.
Entitled “Will This Hawaiian Airlines Pilot Be A Good Governor For Hawaii Visitors?”, Beat of Hawaiʻi contends,
“Would this Hawaiian Airlines pilot make a good Hawaii governor? Honestly, we don’t know. But it certainly begs the question of what it might mean for Hawaii concerning the visitor industry. Hawaii is at a critical point in reevaluating tourism and how it’ll work going forward.”
The piece continues with a rundown of recent news on Mr. Kahele – his controversies and his background. But the implication is that because he works for one of the pedestals of Hawaiʻi tourism – Hawaiian Airlines – that somehow he might have some insight on tourism that the other candidates – Lieutenant Governor Josh Green and Mrs. Vicky Cayetano – don’t have.
PHwSF take When I was growing up, my father, as you can read here was heavily into aviation and had very specific things to say about pilots who thought they knew more about an airplane than he did.
He’d say “yeah, pilots, since they can fly a plane, they think they know all about a plane”, in other words, he thought that just because one watches Alton Brown on the Food Network, making a dish, that somehow the viewer can become a top-notch chef. In both circumstances, the expertise of knowing a much larger subject – tourism or cooking – is not imparted to you just because you know one thing about it.
As far as this political pundit is concerned, Mr. Kahele has not shown much, if at all, any expertise on tourism to the scale of others in the field. Two names, Rick Egged and Mufi Hannemann, who are as well known in the political realm as Mr. Kahele is, have more expertise in tourism from a real-world perspective.
Now, this does not mean that he can’t get schooled up on the issue, gosh knows politicians have to learn about a new issue all the time to be able to lead. Whether he is doing that to the level of asking whether he would be Hawaiʻi’s first “tourism governor”, the jury is still out.
In the area of whether Mr. Kahele is a “true progressive”, take a read of Gary Hooser’s blog post entitled “Dancing with the devil – money, and politics in Hawaiʻi”. Hooser says he hopes Mr. Kahele runs for governor, and that we should be so lucky to have Mr. Kahele choose to serve at this level. Furthermore, Hooser says,
“I can say without reservation that Kahele is someone we can count on, someone who shares our collective values, and someone who will go to the wall to protect the ʻāina and support working men and women across all Hawaiʻi.”
For a little background, Mr. Hooser is presently the executive director for the Pono Hawaiʻi Initiative (PHI), and volunteer board president of the Hawaiʻi Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A.).
Hooser says, further, that Mr. Kahele won’t dance with big money and big development interests in Hawaiʻi, in comparison to his competitors – Green and Cayetano. He further contends that it’s those interests that have been feeding the media detrimental stories about Kahele, trying to knock him out before he announced on Saturday, May 7th that indeed, he intends to run. The crosswalk to all of this in the political realm is that progressives eschew the influence of big money in their desire to be elected. Of course, the counter to this is that candidates from “the establishment” are more subject to the whims of these big-money, special interests.
PHwSF take I have seen this script before – eyes get on the upstart candidate that seems to check off boxes with certain political philosophies. Those eyes conclude that this is going to be “their horse” in the race and will promote the candidate as the viable alternative we should all support, for the protection of the ʻāina, keiki, etc.
But the script also shows candidates that have won office, based on these messages, then flipping around and becoming establishment stalwarts. I have also seen the script show that those interests, when the rebel candidate (which I am tagging Kahele as) gets the nomination, pivots quickly to the opposition and tries to make a deal with them, as they know their interests will not be helped by said rebel.
But think about this – if Kahele wins (not a foregone conclusion), and he tells the “monied interests” to take a hike, are they going to pivot to the Republican candidate? Say that nominee is none other than B.J. Penn (yes, highly unlikely but not out of the realm of possibility).
My read is that they will fight harder to keep Kahele out rather than figure out a plan B with whomever the Republican nominee is. That will translate into a race that will be a lot sharper with comments, contentious in its messaging, and unyielding in mudslinging by both sides to get a leg up. In discussions with other pols, this blogger has said the governors’ race might change from a “coronation of Josh Green” to an alleyway fight between two Southies in downtown Boston.
And then the follow-up question to that is how will that fight affect down-ticket races. Time will tell.
This humble blogger was a bit taken aback when he read a statement from fellow Hawai‘i political pundit Colin Moore about how unstable this election year has been with the moving around of candidates to different offices.
Moore, who is the director of the University of Hawai‘i’s Public Policy Center, said “I can’t remember a race this late in the game with one major (gubernatorial) candidate exiting and potentially another major candidate entering,” according to this piece in the Star-Advertiser on May 5th.
Well, it’s happened before Mr. Moore.
To catch up with the reader on what is happening, on May 4th, 2022, Kirk Caldwell, former Mayor of the City and County of Honolulu, announced that his campaign for the governorship was coming to an end. The significance of this move, in the eyes of some like Moore, is that this is coming so late in the process, with the primary election in Hawai‘i to be called in 100 days.
Not to go into the reasons why it’s become turbulent at this time – that will be reserved for another piece in another time – the fact is that 20 years ago, this month to be exact, similar activities happened to leave Hawaii voters with whiplash on how fast things moved.
IN EARLY 2002, the Chinatown bookies had then-Mayor of Honolulu, Jeremy Harris, with a comfortable lead going into the primary, and then general, election for Hawai‘i’s governor in the 2002 polls. It had been known for a while that Harris was gunning for the office, to be the one that broke the “curse” if you will that no Honolulu Mayor would ever win to be Governor of the State of Hawai‘i.
But through a series of events, including a lawsuit that stopped his campaign for a couple of months, there was a growing sense that the likelihood of Harris sailing into the fifth floor of the State Capitol was becoming less and less likely. At the time, as political historians who read this knows, an upswelling of support for the Republican candidate for Governor, Linda Lingle, was one of several headwinds Democratic candidates were facing going into this election.
Those headwinds included corruption charges against Harris, a slew of indictments and jail sentences for Honolulu City Council members and state legislators, and lingering fallout from the “Broken Trust” saga that took down the trustees of Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate – who were highly connected to the political apparatus in Hawai‘i – and just an overall sense of malaise as the state entered the new millennium.
This dissatisfaction with the Hawai‘i electorate was best described in a New York Times article, written by B. Drummond Ayres Jr. about the turbulent nature of the 2002 poll,
“They face accusations that they have mismanaged the state’s economy, ignored the needs of its schools, padded the bureaucracy, and turned a blind eye to corruption. In recent years, as more and more independents have moved into the state and island customs have begun to break down, fractures have begun to show in the Democratic base, a once-solid bloc of Japanese-Americans, government employees, and unionized workers.”
Sound familiar? Again, another piece will talk about this angle of the 2022 election.
Because Harris, up until May, was telling his supporters he was in it to win it, other more-traditional successors for the Governorship had changed their plans. Most notably was (now Senator) Mazie Hirono, who was Lieutenant Governor of the state. She viewed her chances of winning the governorship as weak, and so bounced to the Mayor’s race when it looked like Harris was going to go all-in for the Governor’s race, is that he looked like the stronger horse that could take on Lingle, the Republican candidate.
But with the aforementioned corruption issues that plagued his administration, the lawsuits that dogged him for even running while Mayor, and a feeling that maybe he was not what Hawai‘i wanted, Harris made a big move to withdraw from the race at the end of May 2002. In his statement he made it known that there were issues of support and that winning was less a foregone conclusion.
That move came on May 30, 2002. In comparison, it feels like Caldwell was quicker with his decision, having done it on the 4th, but still trying to hold out electoral hope that never came.
The whiplash that occurred right after was in the form of Mazie Hirono dropping her Mayoral pursuit and going back, again into the governor’s race. This happened mere hours after Harris dropped out. Nobody in the political realm could quite make out what was happening, since before all this it was (almost) a foregone conclusion by this time that the Lieutenant Governor would sail into the primary (opposed but by very weak candidates) and then take out the Republican.
It was a new world of electoral politics that the Hawai‘i of 2002 had witnessed, of which in 2022, we are seeing a very similar script play out. As with Harris, Caldwell has been dogged by the nature of his decisions, his declarations of things (like rail) being better than they are, and an overall feeling of, as former blogger Bob Jones described him in a piece during the pandemic, “Caldwell’s Oahu orders had became confusing, contradictory and confounding.”
And as with what happened in 2002, we are already experiencing a whiplash of candidates changing offices (Tokuda: Lt. Governor to Congress; Tommy Waters: City Council member to Congress; Kai Kahele: Congress to may be a run for Governor).
So, stay tuned, and try to keep your eye on the ball without becoming dizzy.
And as a final to this piece – I forgive Moore for not knowing about this history, it’s not talked about a lot, even back when it happened.
ON FRIDAY THE 8TH OF APRIL, posts started showing up on social media announcing that Pono Shim, the CEO of the Oahu Economic Development Board (OEDB) passed away after a time of illness. The event passed quietly, without much fanfare in the press or the television media. Probably a way that Pono wanted it.
His passing was felt across the length and breadth of the political arena that knew him, interfaced and listened to him, and learned from him.
For this writer, the news of him being ill (he’d post updates on his Facebook page)was alarming how fast things happened. A person like Pono took the developments in his unique philosophical way, with words that sewed together a philosophy of life that he adhered to. So one was comforted to know that while he was sick, it didn’t feel like it was the direst of things.
His philosophy, touch, and interface with so many will be missed.
Let me explain.
GOING BACK 12 YEARS, in late January 2010, I found myself as part of a delegation from where I worked, the State of Hawaii Workforce Development Council, going to a meeting at the OEDB offices in downtown Honolulu. My boss, at the time, was working on a workforce development grant our office was applying for
It was a substantial amount – $6 million over three (eventually four) years to help train people in “green jobs”. The application required partners and OEDB had signaled interest in the potential.
So off we go.
In this small conference room bordered partially by bookcases, four of us sat down, two from our office – my boss and I, and two from OEDB. Having been recently named CEO, Pono Shim was one of the two.
As part of our delegation, and not knowing what we would need to remember from this meeting, I decided to record it, just in case some agreement that I would have to write up, was made. Turns out I would hold onto that recording not because of any agreement, but the profound things that Pono said in that meeting.
At first, my boss made a presentation on the grant and what he envisioned it would do – train people in green industries that were identified as high demand. There was some back and forth with the other OEDB person there (I forget his name) on some of the nitty-gritty dry details that these grants have.
And then Pono started talking.
At first, I didn’t think much of what he was presenting. As this was the first time I ever met him, I just figured he had a thing to say as the leader of the OEDB, and that would be that.
But as he continued to talk, a much richer dialogue from him emerged. Like a movie that starts slow but you get sucked into the plot right around the middle, I found myself a bit transfixed after hearing what he had to say for about 15 minutes, give or take.
He talked about a higher level of awareness that this grant would provide to Hawaii. He talked about the promise and how this grant would be good for Hawaii if executed right. He was realistic in how he presented things, even telling the story about how he got hired as CEO of OEDB.
By the 16th minute, one could wonder “how does a guy like this get a job like this?”, I have to admit the thought did cross my mind a couple of times.
And then, around the 45-minute mark of the recording, he laid out what I consider to be the clearest definition of how politics are in Hawaii. This is what Pono Shim said.
When Mike Fitzgerald* came to Hawaii, this is what he said, ‘this is where we are, and this is where we want to be’. Now where he wanted to be is a little different than mine, but that is what he said. And everyone who has run for political office in Hawaii has said ‘this is where we are and this is where we want to be’. We’ve had fifty years of people saying ‘this is where we are and this is where we want to be’. Big question, we ever go where we want to go?
Because we expect the bigness of the person saying it to be the thing that brings us all together, to go. Or we expect the bigness of the project to be the thing to bring us all together, to go. Does it ever do? Never. Because nobody is that big no project is that big. Nothing is that big to do that.
There is another question that has to be asked. And that question is ‘Who we are?’. So who are we? Are we the kind of people who only care about those of us who share the same perspective on marriage? And I threw that right on the table yesterday, and everybody got ‘whoa!’ Or are we the kind of people who only care about those of us in the same race, same educational level. blue or red, donkey or elephant, same religious perspective, same perspectives on labor, same perspectives on policy, agreements! Is that who we are?
Everybody said ‘no’. We are the ones who care about each other.
Then why do we let all these things get in the way of moving ahead?”*Mike Fitzgerald, at the time, was the President and Chief Executive Officer of Enterprise Honolulu.
SAYING THAT I WAS BLOWN AWAY by that very statement, in which he laid out why things are in Hawaii, is an understatement. I realized that Pono was way more than what his resume said he was capable of. This guy was a deep thinker and had a very tuned ear as to how things were in Hawaii above and beyond so many others in various leadership positions.
Later when I heard this part again, I said “I need to get him in front of more people”. At the time, I was just coming in as the 67th President of the Hawaii Junior Chamber (Hawaii Jaycees). Pono’s message was what I thought the members needed to hear.
So a few weeks later, I called on Pono and asked him if he’d be the keynote speaker at our first statewide convention of the year, with the dinner being at Dave and Buster’s indoor event space.
He asked me what to speak about, and I simply told him “Tell them how to story tell”. At the time the Jaycees were challenged in explaining themselves to the community. I thought what was needed was a master storyteller to talk to them about how they can tell the Jaycee story.
He came, spoke, and supplied his mana`o on storytelling, he encouraged and, as told to me by someone who attended that speech, years later, “dropped some knowledge bombs”.
TO HAVE THAT LEVEL OF TOUCH WITH people when you just met them is the equivalent of printing money, making your gold, and writing your check. You meet a few that have that touch, but you meet only one that sticks with you as long as Pono did with me.
That is why when I heard of his passing on the 8th, I sat back and just let the news settle in my mind. This impression was left with so many when I saw the messages from friends on his Facebook wall. Their stories were of a man that reached out, touched the heart and mind, and left an impression on both.
Ironically, as this post was being written, I read John Donne’s poem “No man is an island” he says upon the passing of a person, “[A]ny man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”
There are those diminished today with Pono’s passing. But his imprint still stands, and will for the test of time, I predict.
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