Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Wednesday, August 20, 1997

Political beast
consumed Bishop Estate

LET'S be honest here. The public spotlight shining on Bishop Estate, Kamehameha Schools and, eventually, the way government is conducted in Hawaii, has been a long time coming.

Like any small country being controlled by an entrenched political regime, the citizens are abundantly aware of the shenanigans those in power are up to.

Consider the Philippines under Ferdinand Marcos. As a war hero and with the support of most Filipinos, he took power. But a long-running conjugal dictatorship by Ferdie and Imelda developed and became corrupt.

Did the people know something was moldy in Manila? Of course. Marcos was making about $1.57 an hour as president but lived like an oil sheik. But all the presumed avenues of change and accountability, like the courts, had been corrupted. There was no real political opposition because, at best, opposing the party in power was not a good career move and, at worst, could prove fatal. (See: Benigno Aquino/Airport tar-macs/etc.)

It took a general uprising spurred by a few brave folks to change things.

How can I possibly compare what's happening in Hawaii to such a brutal regime? Well, we haven't gunned down any Republicans or Green Partiers on an airport runway, but the opposition is often bullied, belittled and kept out of the political process. (See: Legislative committee chairmanships/Blue Ribbon panels/Everything else.)

More importantly, the people know what is going on. The Democrats came to power much the way Marcos did. After World War II, they caught a wave of honorable intentions and political change and did good. Then well. Then better. The politics of nostalgia replaced honor and a massive political machine was constructed.

Bishop Estate became an important cog in that machine. Bernice Bishop placed the running of the estate with those she thought were honorable people. She never envisioned the estate becoming one of the state's richest and most powerful entities. But like the Borg in "Star Trek," the state political machine absorbed and assimilated Bishop Estate as its own.

The elite Bishop Estate boardrooms became the private domain of the state's most powerful figures who brought their own manner of doing business to the once esteemed institution. Like the Marcos regime, the estate became a bullet-proof juggernaut, armor-plated with unassailable political clout, fueled by staggering sums of money, gussied up by an indefatigable public relations robotic arm and -- because all avenues of review had been compromised -- was virtually unaccountable.

What about the yearly reviews by the courts, attorney general and the Legislature?

Well, what about the Marcos courts? The Marcos legislature? The Marcos attorney general? It's the same here. The state Supreme Court IS Bishop Estate. It even appointed one of its own as a trustee. (See: William Richardson.) The State Legislature IS Bishop Estate. Its members served as trustees and employees. (See: Henry Peters, Dickie Wong and Milton Holt.)

The Marcos regime did not collapse because of an attorney general's investigation, action by the Philippines court system or through an election. It collapsed because the people, led by a few bold souls, challenged the system.

Now a small band of respected judicial, academic and religious leaders have directed a powerful beam of light at Bishop Estate and, in effect, state politics in general. Will the people move toward the light and join the movement? Or will they shield their eyes and allow the political machine to grind on? Stay tuned.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802

or send E-mail to charley@nomayo.com or

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