By David Shapiro

Saturday, August 16, 1997

Getting chewed out
by people I admire

I was having a bad phone day. Gov. Ben Cayetano was on the line chewing me out for criticizing the makeup of his economic task force and the secrecy of its proceedings.

As I listened to the governor, I got a message that Elisa Yadao, spokeswoman for the Bishop Estate trustees, wanted to give me another earful of grief about an article we published last weekend that sharply criticized her bosses.

I was comfortable with my position. I feel strongly about open government and have always had strong words for those who lock out the public from the public's business.

The Bishop Estate article, written by five pillars of the community, raised some of the most troubling questions ever about the selection of Bishop Estate trustees and their performance. It was important news.

Nevertheless, I took little pleasure in arguing with Cayetano and Yadao because I hold both in high regard. I like Cayetano's political and personal honesty. If we're going to get the state back on track, honesty is as good a place as any to start -- along with more openness.

The governor proved his honest intent the next day when, in a gutsy break from the cozy relationship between the political establishment and the Bishop Estate, he ordered the attorney general to investigate the trustees.

I've known Yadao since she was a kid hanging around Big Island political events with her mother, former Councilwoman Josephine Yadao. I think Elisa is one of the brightest people of her generation in public life here.

Cayetano scolded me that newspaper people should step away from the role of critic once in awhile and offer positive suggestions on how to make things better. He had a point. Nobody likes to hear us whine and complain all the time without ever saying anything positive.

But in my defense, I noted that my column did make the positive suggestion that his economic summit would be more successful if he opened it to the public. He snorted at my attempt to put a positive spin on a column that he thought ripped at his spleen.

More than anything the governor said, I was impressed by the way he said it. The last time Cayetano called me to complain about a story, he yelled for 10 minutes and then hung up without waiting for an answer.

This time, he didn't raise his voice once. He firmly, but calmly, made his points and listened carefully to my replies. He sounded downright gubernatorial, a role he obviously has become comfortable with.

After he hung up, I returned Yadao's call. It wasn't the voice of the shy teen I once knew.

"Because of you, I had a very busy weekend," she barked. "What are you going to do about letting us respond?"

THE trustees were unhappy that we had refused to delay the article until we could run it side-by-side with their response.

I told Yadao that if she wanted to issue a statement accusing us of treating the trustees unfairly, we would run it. "We don't do that," she said. "That's no class." As a former television journalist she understood that this was a big story and that our business is to get big stories to our readers as quickly as possible.

The irony was seeing Yadao on the TV news lecturing Cayetano about things he should be mindful of as he conducts his investigation. She had nearly joined the Cayetano administration a few months ago to help get the governor's message across, but the trustees prevailed upon her to stay put.

It's too bad it didn't work out. The governor could have used her help. The trustees may be beyond anybody's help.

David Shapiro is managing editor of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at
Volcanic Ash runs every Saturday in the Star-Bulletin.

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