'Good, loyal citizens' were not to be denied representation


POSTED: Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hawaii's congressional delegate and future governor, John A. Burns, left, celebrates Hawaii's statehood with Rep. D.S. Saund (D-Calif.); Rep. James Haley (D-Fla.); and Rep. Al Ullman (D-Ore.) at a dinner April 13, 1959, at the Sheraton-Park Hotel in In Washington, D.C.

GEORGE F. LEE / .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
U.S. Senior Judge Sam P. King recounts the historical events that led to Hawaii's statehood in his chambers last month. King is the son of Samuel Wilder King, territorial governor of Hawaii from 1953 to 1957, who earlier had served as territorial delegate to Congress.




Forget the sugar treaties, the military demands for a mid-Pacific harbor and the idea of American colonialism; here's the reason Hawaii became America's 50th state:

“;The case for statehood is so clear-cut and the people were so obviously ready for it and the country needs it, because here we were, had just gotten through fighting a war, presumably to retain our own freedom and to restore it to other peoples from whom it had been taken.

“;And what were we doing? Why hell, we were denying a half-million people in Hawaii the basic rights.

“;We were telling 500,000 Americans, all of whom were good loyal citizens, that we were going to impose taxation without representation and even worse on them, and we did.”;

That is from the University of Hawaii's oral history of George Lehleitner, the colorful New Orleans businessman who became enamored of Hawaii and linked up with late Gov. John A. Burns, who at the time was a U.S. representative from the Territory of Hawaii.

Lehleitner, who died in 1993, was the unsung hero of the statehood drive. He was able to convince both Hawaii and Alaska, which were both pushing for admittance to the union, to change their statehood strategy from writing congressional bills that would “;enable us to be a state, to bills to admit us as states.”;

That subtle change meant Hawaii and Alaska would be treated as ready to join the union.

“;Words can make a world of difference,”; Burns observed in his 1975 oral history.

Statehood was first officially petitioned for Hawaii when in 1903 the Territorial Legislature passed a resolution asking Prince Kuhio Kalanianaole, Hawaii's representative to Congress, to allow Hawaii to adopt a constitution in preparation for statehood.

Then in 1919, Kuhio introduced what would be the first of many statehood bills. Hawaii's legislature formed the Equal Rights Commission in 1935 “;to fight discrimination against Hawaii”; in its quest for statehood. The commission was later simply called the Statehood Commission.

Hawaii's senior federal judge, Samuel P. King, Jr., who at 93 is still at work at the bench, recalls how in 1932 he won a speaking contest, sponsored by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, on the desirability of statehood.

King's father was chairman of the Statehood Commission and would go on to be named governor of Hawaii. But the part-Hawaiian King family also realized that statehood was not desired by all.

“;The politically active Hawaiians were all for it, the kanaka maoli (Hawaiian for common people) who never got a college degree, but whose sense of what was happening was probably wiser, they had misgivings,”; King said.

Former state appellate Judge Walter Heen, now an Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, was a territorial and state legislator, and his family was also involved with the push for statehood. Heen says that many native Hawaiians at the time of statehood knew little about how Hawaii went from being an independent nation to becoming a territory of the United States.

“;Perhaps if the true history were known, there might have been a more fervent discussion of how in looking forward there would be improvement or no improvement,”; Heen said in an interview. He added that during the time of statehood “;most native Hawaiians went along with it.”;

At the time, both King and Heen say, the fear for native Hawaiians was that they would lose their positions within the territorial bureaucracy.

“;If you look pre-statehood and post-statehood, most of the civil service jobs were held by Hawaiians, and that is because Japanese were treated as second-class citizens, even if they were Hawaii-born.

“;After the war things changed. There was this fear, this antipathy towards an increase in economic and political standing on the part of Japanese by Hawaiians,”; Heen said.

King agreed, explaining that on the mainland the twin fears about Hawaii becoming a state were that the little-known group of islands were filled with communists and Japanese.

“;The opposition to statehood was more emotional than rational,”; said King.

Still, the Hawaii before statehood was not an open society. Efforts to change the rules at the Pacific Club to allow Asian members were defeated in 1957, and the Outrigger Canoe Club would not allow members to bring Asian guests for lunch.

Changes came after statehood, but former Gov. Ben Cayetano notes that Hawaii's potential is still undeveloped.

“;Things have changed so much, but that is not to say there still aren't problems,”; says Cayetano.

He recalls sitting next to a woman who said that like him, she graduated from Farrington High School, but she went into business and is a Republican.

“;That indicates to me that the quality of life she enjoys would not have been possible without the Democratic revolution of the '50s, but people, when they get an elevated lifestyle, they think about other things,”; Cayetano said.

Noting that Hawaii had a reputation for dynamic and socially progressive legislation including legalized abortion, prepaid health care and leasehold conversion, Cayetano says today the state has slowed.

“;When the old generation started to die out ... I don't know what is happening with the kids today; I'm not sure what we are beating our chests about,”; Cayetano said.