Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Monday, July 26, 1999

Peters revs up
moxie machine

PLUCK. Cheek. Chutzpah. Nerve. Spunk. Audacity. Temerity. Mettle. Grit. Bravado. Guts. Spirit.

It's hard to find the right word to describe what ousted Bishop Estate trustee Henry Peters is displaying in his latest public attacks on the governor and just about anyone else he can blame for his troubles.

And what troubles they are. A pending indictment. Lawsuits out the wazoo. Millions of dollars in attorney fees. Loss of his position as trustee on the richest educational trust in the country.

Instead of hiding behind his lawyers, Peters, who issued nary a public utterance while actually serving as trustee, has become a fixture on television, joshing with reporters (the ones he likes, anyway), firing off sinister accusations and floating grand conspiracy theories.

The one accusation that floored me, though, was when Peters accused the "Cayetano Machine" for engineering his downfall.

That's chutzpah, I believe. That's more than chutzpah. It's whatever is above chutzpah on the audacity meter.

A political "machine" is responsible for all of the troubles at Bishop Estate? Please. Well, wait. He's right. A political machine IS responsible for all the troubles at Bishop Estate. And, ironically, for Peter's troubles.

But it isn't the "Cayetano Machine." It's the "Democratic Machine" that has controlled Hawaii politics for the past 40 years.

WITH no other political party to challenge its power, the Democrats have wielded virtual control over the government, courts, business and everything else that moves in Hawaii. This machine stacked the Legislature, courts and government in general with its progeny.

More importantly for Peters, the machine stacked the Bishop Estate board of trustees with its progeny. A state House speaker here. A Senate president there. A judicial selection commissioner over there. And chief justice of the state Supreme Court thrown in for good measure. Now THAT's a machine, brah. That's a 4,000-horsepower, butt-kicking, chew- up-your-enemy, money-making, power-mongering machine. That's the machine that allowed Bishop Estate trustees to do whatever they wanted behind closed doors. In those days, Peters was not to be seen standing on the sidewalk in front of Kawaiahao Plaza joshing with reporters. In those days, reporters had to go through the Bishop Estate public relations department, which had a warehouse full of "no comments" that it shoveled out with relish when any uncomfortable questions were asked.

What about oversight of the trust? Didn't the trustees file reports with the probate court? Yes, but the reports said little. In fact, for a few years the trustees refused to divulge even the most basic information, like their salaries, for instance. The machine made the trustees impervious to outside inquiry. And so only now are we learning the IRS believes the estate might owe up to tens of millions in taxes.

Peters may be right about his downfall being engineered by Gov. Ben Cayetano. But compared to the massive "Star Wars"-sized Democratic machine that put Peters and his buddies into positions of great power and wealth, the governor's organization is more like a "Cayetano gadget"; a gizmo, a little electric motor that runs off of a couple of double-A batteries. You could call it "the little Cayetano engine that could." And, for whatever reason, did.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802

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