Estate had power
at the Legislature

But today's legislators and lobbyists
doubt it has the same clout now

By Richard Borreca

With pipelines to important offices at the state Capitol, Bishop Estate has been one of the most powerful political players at the Legislature.

But now legislators and lobbyists doubt that Hawaii's wealthiest trust, also the largest private landholder, commands the political respect it did five years ago. Bishop Estate's power now depends on what generation you are at the Legislature, said Rep. Ed Case, who has pushed, unsuccessfully, to remove the Hawaii Supreme Court as the appointive body for trustees.

Bishop Estate enjoyed a special relationship with lawmakers because two of the five trustees once led the Legislature.

Henry Peters, a former "model cities" worker from Waianae, was named speaker of the House in 1981 and appointed to the estate in 1984.

Legislators who served with Peters, however, said the controversy of Peters serving as House speaker and Bishop Estate trustee at the same time eventually drove supporters away, causing him to be dumped as speaker.

Later, when Richard Wong, the state's longest-serving Senate president, decided not to run for re-election, he soon was appointed to the Bishop Estate board.

"There is a special collegial relation that exists, even after someone has left office," Case said. "There is a feeling that you have shared something, gone through something that others haven't.

"Peters and Wong were not just colleagues, they were leaders."

Case notes that the estate's clout was at its highest when Peters was both a trustee and House speaker. Few of his political allies are still in office.

Lobbyists add that Wong enjoyed broad support while he was in the Legislature, but now most of his supporters also have left office.

The estate, though, maintains ties with three members of the Legislature, which in Hawaii meets part-time, with most legislators holding other jobs.

Republican Sen. Whitney Anderson's wife, Hannahbelle, is the travel coordinator for Bishop Estate. The most recent state ethics disclosure lists her as being paid $37,000 a year by the estate.

Anderson said his wife worked for Hawaiian Airlines for several decades and during that time handled travel arrangements for Bishop Estate.

He says his wife's job didn't present a conflict when Bishop Estate lobbied the Legislature.

"I haven't even seen Bishop Estate lobbying -- they haven't come knocking my door down," he said.

A company Anderson owns, Whitney Inc., which sells janitorial supplies, has done some business with the estate.

Anderson said, however, that neither the estate nor Kamehameha Schools regularly buys from his company.

In the House, Big Island Democrat Robert Herkes is employed by a Bishop Estate subsidiary, Kamehameha Investment Corp.

"There are some bills they obviously have an interest in, that they monitor," he said.

But Herkes stressed that the estate hasn't asked for his help on legislation. "I have never gotten a call from a trustee. Nothing has ever been said about it," he said.

The third legislator with Bishop Estate ties is Rep. Terrance Tom, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a longtime ally of Peters when he was in the Legislature.

Tom is paid regularly by Bishop Estate. He said he gives the estate legal advice and represented the estate in court on delinquent lease cases.

"I was paid as an attorney; it has nothing to do with influencing legislation," he said. "They (Bishop Estate) have their own lobbyists.

"I don't turn away clients -- I have overhead and secretaries. If anything, my professional life has suffered by me being in the Legislature."

The estate records show Tom was paid $4,100 monthly last year.

Tom said he doesn't recall why he was first hired by the estate and noted that he always discloses his business with the estate when he votes on bills before the Legislature.

"I feel violated," he said, complaining about the media attention paid to his work for Bishop Estate.

House Speaker Joe Souki, who knew both Peters and Wong while in the Legislature, but who opposed Peters in a House organizational fight years ago, said it is unfair to condemn a person for "taking a job to support his family."

Souki, a Realtor, said he does no business with the estate, but does know all five trustees on a personal basis.

He went to St. Anthony's School on Maui with Oswald Stender, served in the Legislature with Peters and Wong, worked with Gerard Jervis in the Legislature, and knew Lokelani Lindsey when she was a state Department of Education official on Maui.

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