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David Shapiro

By David Shapiro

Saturday, March 20, 1999

Mizuguchi could
be next in line

CHANGE in Hawaii happens so slowly that sometimes we don't even notice it. But there is some encouraging change going on that could lead to a different and better Hawaii in the new century.

It started with the state's investigation of the Bishop Estate. When Gov. Ben Cayetano dispatched his attorney general to end the arrogance and corruption in an institution that was so entwined with Cayetano's own Democratic Party, it was the beginning of the end of power as we've known it in Hawaii.

The matter is moving through the courts at a creeping pace that is difficult to understand. But the fate of Bishop trustees is sealed. They have shown themselves unfit to serve in so many ways that it's only a matter of time until their removal comes before a judge who has the courage to do the right thing for the children of Kamehameha Schools.

The downfall of the once-untouchable Bishop trustees has emboldened people to challenge other powers that have held our state back in their own self-interest.

United Public Workers boss Gary Rodrigues once had the same omnipotent aura as the Bishop trustees. He had his union members tightly under his thumb and public officials afraid to cross him. But his arrogant abuses of power could land him in the same trouble as the Bishop trustees.

When Frank Hirazumi had the audacity to run against Rodrigues in 1997, it wasn't enough for Rodrigues to win the election by a landslide. He had to run Hirazumi out of the union and launch a campaign of terrorism against those he perceived as foes -- including hiring a private investigator to trump up charges against a longtime loyal union employee.

The UPW constitution clearly gives members the right to information about union finances. But Rodrigues refuses to answer their questions about whether he settled a sexual harassment complaint against him with union money, personally profited from the union's purchase of buildings from a company he represented and used UPW personnel to improve his house in Oregon. Three UPW leaders have filed a complaint with the international union to force Rodrigues to provide the information.

Clearly, Rodrigues' influence is waning. His members are tired of him pushing them around and voters are tired of him pushing around their elected representatives. Other labor leaders are tired of him giving them all a bad name.

We're seeing the seeds of change in the Legislature, too. New senators are growing impatient with bumbling, do- nothing leaders and this week moved for reform. Senate President Norman Mizuguchi barely escaped with his job.

Democratic voters cleaned house in last year's primary election by voting out five Democratic incumbents. Another Democrat retired. When you add the three Democratic senators voted out in 1996, a total of nine Democratic seats -- more than a third of the Senate -- have turned over.

But Mizuguchi, who held his own seat by the narrowest of margins in 1996, didn't get the message that voters in his own party want change. He's guided the Senate more than halfway through another session without any significant action to fix Hawaii's ailing economy.

When five of the new Democrats served notice this week that they were elected to bring change and intend to do so, Mizuguchi wrote it off as a failure to communicate. He'll soon be communicating from the Senate's back bench if he doesn't wise up.

David Shapiro is managing editor of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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