Richard Borreca

On Politics


Sunday, July 28, 2002

Corruption shadows
campaigns for governor

The stain of public corruption is washing over Hawaii, and the candidates for governor are fitting their campaigns around a new, higher moral tone.

There is a question, however, if anyone will be able to raise the bar high enough to really change Hawaii's political landscape.

One Democratic Party consultant, when asked if campaign corruption would "have legs" this year, answered: "Hell, the thing is a centipede. Not only does it have legs, it is growing more every day."

Last week's arrest of Mike Amii, city Community Services director, on suspicion of second-degree theft and racketeering was a clear message to politicians from city prosecutors that times are changing.

For more than a generation, Amii has been the grassroots organizer for Democrats in power, from former Gov. George Ariyoshi to Mayor Jeremy Harris. He's the one who got all the sign-holders organized, made sure the volunteers got bentos, arranged the parking for rallies and generally sweated the details.

There isn't anyone of any power in local Democratic politics who didn't know Amii, so the message to be sent is that if Amii can be busted, all the city and state workers being paid by taxpayers to ensure the re-election of their bosses should carefully rethink their job descriptions.

Of all the gubernatorial candidates, Republican Linda Lingle has issued the sternest warning about campaign reform so far, telling voters that she wants mandatory jail terms for those convicted on public corruption charges. Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono's campaign has added a note about electing people of high moral character, but is vague on specifics. Rep. Ed Case has a detailed track record of introducing and supporting campaign reform and D.G. "Andy" Anderson allowed that the Democrats have "a lot of bad guys," but he didn't have any specific way to flush out the stable.

But there is a question of just how serious anybody really is about campaign reform. Democrats as a whole this year rejected the strict campaign proposal offered by Sen. Colleen Hanabusa and instead watered it down to such an extent that Governor Cayetano vetoed the bill.

Speaker Calvin Say once tried to enforce a mandatory screening of legislative computer hard drives to check for on-the-job campaigning, but he said the idea was soundly defeated. Neither the Legislature nor the governor has been a champion of giving the state Campaign Spending Commission or the Ethics Commission adequate resources to monitor public officials.

Already national publications are noting that old-fashioned political corruption may be a catalyst for change in Hawaii. The candidate who spells out how to achieve that change is likely to reap the benefits.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at

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