Rodrigues' shadow still looms over Democrats
TO THIS DAY, Gary Rodrigues is what is wrong with Hawaii's Democratic Party.
For decades, from election as director of the United Public Workers in 1981 to his conviction for embezzling money from his union in 2002, Rodrigues was the boss of bosses in Hawaii politics.
Political culture goes through "before and after" periods. My children can't believe it when I tell them how growing up in the South, the public water fountains were marked "White" and "Colored." A recent intern at the office could not understand why it was a big deal when former U.S. Rep. Pat Saiki steered ratification of the federal Equal Rights Amendment through the Hawaii Legislature in 1972.
"What do you mean women didn't have equal rights?" the intern asked.
So, you don't know how bad it was until it is gone.
While in power, Rodrigues was the facilitator who made Hawaii's biggest working political scandal, the Bishop Estate, run on time.
Rodrigues was the go-to guy for powerful Democrats.
Gov. John Waihee put him on the board of the Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii. Gov. George Ariyoshi had him on a compensation committee to figure out how much to pay public officials. Rodrigues helped search for University of Hawaii presidents, and Gov. Ben Cayetano picked him as a member of his economic recovery task force.
But the prize for Rodrigues came in 1997 with his appointment to the Judicial Selection Commission, which picked judicial nominees. At the time, the state Supreme Court picked the Bishop Estate trustees, who controlled the state's largest land trust and Kamehameha Schools. Big-time Democrats got big bucks for sitting on the Bishop Estate board, and Rodrigues never missed an opportunity to remind the Legislature who was Mr. Clout.
When Cayetano tried for years to push through a much-needed civil service reform package, it was blocked by Rodrigues. Democratic Senate leaders would wait their turn to go into closed-door meetings with Rodrigues to negotiate civil service bills with him, not with other legislators.
Today, Rodrigues remains a free man while his conviction is appealed. Last week the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the conviction, but there was talk of further appeals.
What about the Democrats? Who has ever condemned Rodrigues, and more important, what Democrat can say, "We will never have that sort of abuse of power again, because I wrote and had passed this new ethics bill"?
And that is why Gary Rodrigues is still with us.