Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, February 25, 1999

Political survivors
of legal troubles

IF it were legal, could William Jefferson Clinton be nominated next year for a third term as president, and win?

Based on his continued present popularity with the voters even after being exposed as a tomcat and a liar, I wouldn't rule it out. But he would have to convince us our good economy is due solely to him and nobody else could do as well.

He'd probably fail those two tests. We know quite well in Hawaii, however, that politicians can do some pretty bad things and still be re-elected.

Kauai County re-elected Anthony Baptiste as county chairman two times (1956 and 1958) after he served 10 months in Oahu Prison for failing to file a federal income tax return for 1952 on $28,924 of income, $9,500 of which was his salary as chairman.

A Hawaii federal judge imposed the penalty despite his contention that, with statehood denied, all residents of Hawaii were oppressed by taxation without representation.

The county chairman got leis and a serenade when he arrived at Lihue airport after his release in April 1956. He soon was back at his desk. Later on his return day, he was feted by a public reception at Hanamaulu Park.

About 100 people were at the airport and 250 at the park. He shed some tears. Both events were arranged by the ILWU, which wanted him re-elected. His November victory was by 5,111 to 4,686. He won again in 1958, but lost in the 1960 Democratic primary to Raymond X. Aki, who went on to be a big winner in the November general election.

The Big Island in 1946 returned William H. "Doc" Hill, a leading businessman, to the territorial Senate for a four-year term. Many had expected his defeat because of the news early that year of 1942 testimony he had given to the Roberts Commission investigating the Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor attack. Believing he would not be quoted publicly, he had told commissioners asking about the loyalty of the local population: "Once a Jap, always a Jap."

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, which never allowed that word into print during the war, nevertheless used the quote in its report on the hearings. Hill said it was part of a plot to defeat him by the Star-Bulletin's owner, Joseph R. Farrington, who also was Hawaii's delegate to Congress. Hill tried to buy an ad in the Star-Bulletin to rebut the charge but the paper insisted on giving him a full page free.

Despite a large percentage of Japanese voters in his district, Hill easily led the senatorial district ticket in both the 1946 primary and general elections. Among the plausible reasons: (1) his winning personality honed as a street vendor early in life, (2) a recognition that he could deliver a lot of legislative plums to the Big Island even as he also looked after his own business interests, and (3) a claim (that may or may not have been pushed by him) that a defeat would show he was right.

The Big Island also had a territorial legislator, Joseph Andrews, who became House finance chairman even with an embezzlement conviction in his past. He said people could trust him because he knew what it was like to be in prison and didn't want to go back. And the state Board of Education had an elected member, Chuck Norwood, who had been imprisoned for a barroom killing.

BOSTON had a celebrity mayor, James Curley,who was convicted of mail fraud and made to serve six months of his fourth term in federal prison. President Harry Truman released him early and pardoned him, but he lost bids to be renominated in 1950 and 1954.

This was the end of a long elective career that started in 1900. It prompted a popular 1956 novel, "The Last Hurrah" by Edwin O'Connor. Curley matched it by writing a best-selling autobiography.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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