In the land of racial harmony and ethnic slurs
Across America, Hawaii is little on the minds of opinion-makers or even voters. So when Hawaii's Barack Obama, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, stands before thousands to say, "My own story wouldn't be possible were it not for the American dream," it reverberates here and across the nation.
Every time Obama calls America "a magical place" it harks back to his upbringing in Hawaii, and we in Hawaii can smile. We know he is from the state that has elected a Japanese, a Hawaiian, a Filipino and a Jewish woman as governor.
"To experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear," Obama wrote in a 1999 essay.
So imagine the shame of reading last week of Honolulu City Councilman Rod Tam's public warning to developers that "we don't want any wetbacks, basically" working on city rail projects.
After Tam's slur was reported, Tam at first issued one of those weasel-worded apologies -- "I apologize if I offended anybody" -- and went on to marvel that he had never considered the term a racial slur.
Tam's career in Hawaii politics has long been all booster and no payload.
In 1999, as a state senator, Tam demanded that then-Mayor Jeremy Harris be expelled from the Democratic Party for supporting another Democrat against Tam.
"Of course, I believe Rod Tam is the worst legislator over there," Harris said. "As you well know, he's a laughingstock."
In 2000, Tam was jeered across the country after he proposed paying for state workers to take daily afternoon naps and be treated to an energy-restoring snack.
He was also repeatedly blasted by former Gov. Ben Cayetano, who ridiculed him for "a poorly thought-out plan" for an international center in Kakaako.
Tam's Senate district was reapportioned the next year and rather than battling the hardworking Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland, Tam ran for the Council in 2002.
While on the Council, Tam proposed using Koko Crater, a site of Hawaiian cultural significance and a botanical center, as a city landfill.
He later got into a dust-up with Council maverick Charles Djou, who wrote that Tam set a record for ethics infractions.
"Tam remains the only currently elected official in the state of Hawaii who has been sanctioned by both the state and city ethics agencies," Djou said.
It is likely that Tam's endorsement is not one Obama wishes for today.