Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, July 2, 1997

A call to arms to the
business community

SOMETIME this spring, Gary Rodrigues, the soft-spoken leader of the United Public Workers, became the poster boy for Hawaii's Democratic Party.

Although Rodrigues just wanted to win lawsuits, protect his union members' jobs and by extension preserve his own political clout, his Supreme Court victories over privatization and canceling the Constitutional Convention made him the most successful insider in local politics.

When the Legislature appointed him to the committee that picks our judges, he just about retired the title of king of clout.

So it is no surprise that when Republicans or business leaders look for a devil to cast out, their gaze stops at Rodrigues.

Last week, however, Dr. Richard Kelley, chairman of Outrigger Hotels, paid the union leader the highest compliment in a scorching speech to the Hawaii Hotel Association.

If you are to win in politics, study the people who win, he said. Look at what union leaders like Rodrigues do and then learn to do it better.

"The unions put their hearts and souls behind the candidates who will best support their interests and ignore the rest," he said. Business, however, bets on the incumbent, "whether we like the incumbent or not."

In his speech, Kelley issued a call to arms for the business community, saying revolution is needed to cure a dysfunctional government that has grown to a size where it serves itself, not the general public.

"How many businesses and industry associations mobilize workers to openly encourage and support political candidates who support business, not only during election time but all year long, during session, at fund-raisers and in between?" he asked.

"Learn which legislators vote against business, government efficiency and our quality of life. Learn which legislators are afraid to risk the wrath of the public worker unions. Know who are the real leaders and who are the puppets of the status quo," Kelley urged.

The results, Kelley said, were amazing. He has been flooded with letters and telephone calls from business leaders cheering him for the rallying call.

Somehow, however, it seems different when a union lines the street with campaign sign-holders. We don't know what would happen if small-business groups told their workers to go hold signs for pro-business candidates.

The Hawaii Government Employees Association commands respect at the Legislature because union leaders can deliver 200 sign-holders, who will basically do what they are told, because they have decided that it is in their best interest.

IT will take some compelling argument for mom-and-pop stores and major retailers to bring their workers together to support pro-business candidates. It would be tough for those different groups to even decide whom to support.

Unions, Kelley says, are skilled at rewarding friends and punishing enemies. That's a more difficult mission for business.

Kelley himself hasn't been shy about working within the Legislature for his own projects.

One of his own lobbyists, Max Sword, was also appointed to the Judicial Selection Commission and his hotel chain had previously offered public officials discounted travel arrangements. The speaker of the House, Joe Souki, is considered a reliable ally of Kelley's.

Still, Kelley's call to battle signals the start of a political season that will be measured to a large degree as business versus labor.

Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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