'Clearly, she was rated on
her performance, and clearly
she fell short,' says Henry Peters
Cayetano: 'A deal was cut'
By Rick Daysog
Bronster, Anzai profiled
The confirmation defeat of Margery Bronster as the state's top law enforcement officer will likely add to the mystique of the Bishop Estate as an all-powerful political empire. But the estate's chairman, Richard "Dickie" Wong, said trustees did not play a significant part in the political melodrama.
Wong, a former state Senate president, yesterday said that he did not lobby against Bronster, whose confirmation was rejected by the full Senate yesterday by a 14-11 vote. Trustee Henry Peters, once House speaker, declined comment on whether he played a role in the matter.
"I'm a has-been when it comes to there," Wong said. "I left the building five years ago. Henry left there many years ago. Once you leave there, the phone stops ringing."
Both Gov. Ben Cayetano and Bronster have attributed much of the opposition to the attorney general to her aggressive investigation of the $800,000-a-year Bishop Estate trustees.
The attorney general's investigation has led the state to sue for the temporary and permanent removal of at least four trustees on the grounds that they allegedly engaged in a widespread pattern of self-dealing and mismanagement.
Two separate grand juries have indicted Wong and Peters for theft in an alleged kickback scheme involving Wong's brother-in-law Jeffrey Stone. All three have denied the charge.
Critics of the Bishop Estate trustees believe that Bronster's rejection demonstrates that the trustees continue to hold power in the state Legislature. U.S. District Judge Samuel King, a co-author of the 1997 "Broken Trust" article which criticized trustees' management of the multibillion-dollar charitable trust, believes that the trustees played a big role in lobbying against Bronster's confirmation.
Peters' mother, Hoaliku Drake, and his wife, Carolyn, took part in rallies criticizing Bronster, King said. Peters, meanwhile, declined comment on reports that he had dinner with state lawmakers on the eve of yesterday's vote.
"This is definitely an attempt to fight back against the ongoing actions against certain Bishop Estate trustees, and it's going to have a discouraging effect," said King.
Wong, meanwhile, questioned whether the estate has clout that many people see it as having. He noted that the Legislature last year voted to limit trustees' compensation to reasonable levels.
Both Wong and Peters believe Bronster's confirmation failed due to several reasons unrelated to the Bishop Estate. They also criticized Bronster for "dividing the Hawaiian community" and said she abused her authority. Both trustees said they weren't sure whether a new attorney general would affect the Bishop Estate controversy, but said they hoped to receive more even treatment under a new attorney general.
Both said they expect to win their criminal cases.
"Clearly, she was rated on her performance, and clearly she fell short of the expectations of the majority of the senators," Peters said.
Bishop Estate archive
Hawaii Revised Statutes
By Craig T. Kojima Star-Bulletin
Senators gathered during a recess before yesterday's vote.
Rejections resultBy Mike Yuen
of strong lobbying,
From all indications, the Senate's rejection of Attorney General Margery Bronster and Budget Director Earl Anzai stemmed from several key factors:
Lobbying by the powerful Bishop Estate and the state's public workers unions.
Internal Senate intrigue that could result in deals being cut in a reorganization that results in more power for several Democratic freshmen with Norman Mizuguchi (D, Aiea) perhaps hanging on as Senate president.
And for many veteran Capitol observers, Bronster's and Anzai's failure to win confirmation for another four years points to one conclusion: broken campaign promises for change and progress by Democrats who have controlled the state's political levers of power for more than four decades.
Bronster headed a state investigation into the multibillion-dollar Bishop Estate, which has long been seen as a major force in the state with its influence reaching deep into the Legislature.
Anzai, while endorsed by three public-workers unions for a second term, came into office saying what had previously been unthinkable: the state's work force had grown too large and needed to be trimmed, even if it meant layoffs.
The ouster of Bronster only fuels the perception that Democrats are beholden to special interests and that the Bishop Estate remains powerful, said former state appellate Judge Walter Heen, one of the key figures in the isle Democratic Party's rise to power when Hawaii had long been controlled by a white, Republican oligarchy.
Heen was also one of the five authors of a scathing critique of the charitable trust that spurred Gov. Ben Cayetano to order Bronster to launch a probe two years ago.
"The estate has won a big political battle. It showed its influence," Heen said. "But the real war is in the courts. The IRS joining the battle gives critics a lot more to cheer about."
The IRS is poised to revoke the estate's tax-exempt status if all five trustees don't step down.
Heen, who's also state Democratic Party chairman, declined to comment if Bronster's ouster portends greater difficulty for Democratic candidates next year.
Others, however, believe it will. They also note what they see as an irony in the Senate's vote: five of the Senate's six Democratic freshmen, who came close to staging a coup against Senate leaders for not moving fast enough to revitalize the state's economy, voted like "new ol' boys" in rejecting Bronster.
"When these new senators were elected, I was hopeful, I was optimistic, because I thought they would bring in change," said Gov. Ben Cayetano. "What they've done is make a change for as little change as possible, as far as I'm concerned."
Cayetano added: "This is an indication of how difficult it is to make change in this state. I've said this to Democrats before, to members of my party, that the Republicans are insignificant at this particular point. We need to make the changes ourselves."
The Senate, Cayetano continued, is "just incapable of making these kinds of changes because down there there's a culture of thinking which is now dominant that it's not receptive to change."
One of the key figures lobbying against Bronster was Russell Okata, executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association. Okata is one of the closest political allies of Mizuguchi, who voted against Bronster and Anzai.
Sen. Robert Bunda (D, Waipahu), a close friend of Bishop Estate trustee and former House Speaker Henry Peters, said he received several calls from Bishop Estate officials before the vote on Bronster, but he did not get to return the calls. Bunda voted for Bronster with reservations.
With the Senate deciding the fate of Bronster and Anzai, House members were forced to wait at least two hours before they could begin conference negotiations with their Senate counterparts on numerous bills. Privately, several said they feared the session would be remembered more for the Senate's bloodletting than for substantive legislation.
"I think it's really counterproductive for the Senate and the governor to engage in these petty feuds," said Rep. Dennis Arakaki (D, Kalihi Valley). "There's a lot bigger issues for the state to face. We should be working together."
Cayetano: 'A deal was cut'
Bronster, Anzai profiled
Hawaii Revised Statutes