Hawaii remembers the past, looks to the future


POSTED: Saturday, August 22, 2009

Hawaii celebrated its 50th birthday as a state not with a grand parade, bonfires or block parties, but with a muted, thoughtful conference focusing on the problems facing its future and its citizens.

More than 2,100 people registered for a daylong conference at the Hawai'i Convention Center commemorating the 50th anniversary of statehood to hear speakers talk about the future of tourism, education, Hawaii's economy, energy, the native Hawaiian community and preservation of Hawaii's natural resources.

They also got to briefly visit with a group of Hawaii Air and National Guard airmen and soldiers serving halfway around the world in Iraq, via a satellite video link.

In her opening remarks, Gov. Linda Lingle noted the state's “;most important contribution to America is serving as a model of diversity for the rest of the nation.”;

“;Most would agree that our diversity and the way we celebrate diversity is Hawaii's greatest strength. I believe it will also be our lasting legacy,”; she said.

;[Preview]  Statehood Anniversary Focuses On Positive Future

Today's convention in commemoration of Hawaii's 50th anniversary of statehood had little pageantry but plenty of optimism.

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University of Hawaii economist Andrew Mason said the challenges facing Hawaii include ensuring economic security for senior citizens, developing a sustainable health care system and creating a skilled work force.

He said one-third of the nation's seniors depend on public programs for their health needs.

“;The problem is the sustainability of public programs because benefits rise steeply with age because of health care,”; Mason added.

Pollster John Zogby said that in one of his recent polls, 77 percent of the more than 500 respondents viewed Hawaii more favorably than states such as New York, California and Oklahoma.

He said his poll results show that 56 percent of the people between the ages of 18 and 30 have a passport and “;view planet Earth as their playing field.”;

This category of residents is the ones the state should be concerned about, Zogby said.

With a group of protesters outside the four-story Kapiolani Boulevard convention center, author and filmmaker Tom Coffman spoke about the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom by a band of white businessmen and the 1959 referendum, where 94 percent of Hawaii voters supported statehood without being given any other choice such as independence.

Hawaii as a state could be further redefined, Coffman added, if legislation drafted by Sen. Daniel Akaka becomes law. The so-called Akaka Bill creates a process for native Hawaiians to create a self-governing entity that could deal directly with the federal government.

Other highlights include the unveiling of a commemorative Hawaii postal service stamp of a surfer and paddlers in an outrigger canoe, drawn by Herb Kane and issued yesterday. Seven time capsules with memorabilia from island residents were sealed at the luncheon and will be buried on the grounds of the state Capitol at a later date. The other 43 capsules were distributed to the neighbor islands, as well as schools and organizations statewide. They will be opened on the state's 75th anniversary in 2034.

The conference ended with a 1950s-style concert by the Platters, the Coasters and the Drifters and a Waikiki fireworks show.