Wednesday, March 24, 1999

Decision to review
OHA vote restriction

Bullet The issue: Whether elections for Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees should be limited to Hawaiian voters.
Bullet Our view: The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to consider the legal status of native Hawaiians is welcome.

IN agreeing to review a Big Island rancher's challenge of the restriction of Office of Hawaiian Affairs elections to Hawaiian voters, the U.S. Supreme Court must address the legal status of Hawaii's indigenous people. In the absence of the sovereignty sought by many Hawaiians, the state must show the need for the Hawaiians-only requirement as an exception to the 15th Amendment's ban on using race as a basis for denial of the right to vote.

OHA was created in the 1978 Constitutional Convention with the mission of using some of the revenues from ceded lands -- lands transferred from the Hawaiian monarchy to the Republic of Hawaii, then to the federal government after annexation and to the state in 1959 -- for the welfare of native Hawaiians. The constitutional amendment establishing OHA limits voting for the nine trustees to Hawaiians, about 20 percent of the state's population.

Federal Judge David Ezra upheld the voting restriction in 1997 and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed his decision. The Supreme Court's decision to hear the appeal -- it hears only 5 percent of the appeals filed -- caught some by surprise.

In past decisions, the Supreme Court has upheld elections that limit voting to American Indians, but their situation is not parallel with that of Hawaiians. The high court declared Indian tribes in 1831 to be "domestic dependent nations," and the government has continued to recognize their authority to manage their internal affairs. While Hawaiians have not achieved such recognition, Governor Cayetano maintains that "the federal government's historically rooted trust obligations to native Hawaiians" justify the voting restriction for OHA trustees.

Harold "Freddy" Rice, a fifth-generation Caucasian kamaaina, says he filed the lawsuit as a test case. Some Hawaiians welcome the high court's review in order to clarify their status. A decision is expected next year. However the court rules, the decision could have great significance for OHA and the issue of the recognition of native Hawaiians as a legal entity.


Outlook for Japan

Bullet The issue: Can Japan's economy rebound from recession?
Bullet Our view: Hawaii will have to wait for some time for an economic boost from Japan.

IF the revival of Hawaii's economy hinges on a resurgence of the much larger Japanese economy, Hawaii may have to wait quite a while. That conclusion emerges from a talk entitled, "Crisis in Japanese Economy: Can Japan Rebound?" The speaker, Takashi Kiuchi, is the chief economic researcher at the Long-Term Credit Bank, one of Japan's huge but troubled financial institutions.

Addressing the Japan-America Society of Hawaii and the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council, Kiuchi pulled no punches about the seriousness of Japan's problems. He said the economy probably contracted by 3 percent in 1998. However, he added, the decline seems to have stopped and the economy is expected to show slight growth this year. But the government's efforts to stimulate the economy through public works spending and tax cuts have resulted in a deficit that is "alarmingly high," perhaps reaching 10 percent of the gross domestic product.

In Kiuchi's view, Japan faces an enormous task in recapitalizing banks saddled with billions of dollars in bad loans, deregulating the private sector and downsizing government. The so-called lifetime employment policy, which was acceptable in the decades of strong growth, cannot be maintained in an era when management needs more flexibility to adapt to adverse conditions. However, the government is "moving belatedly in the right direction" under Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, he said.

Japan is no longer the booming economic force of the post-World War II era and may never recover that status. Rather it is now a mature economy with an aging population and a critical need to adjust its institutions to its current situation.

One of those adjustments may be political. Kiuchi speculated that the long dominance of the Liberal Democratic Party may be ending, replaced by a multiparty system with perhaps three major parties that would govern through coalitions. This, he said, could be favorable for the cause of economic reform.

What does this mean for Hawaii? It seems to us that Japanese tourists will be a mainstay of the visitor industry for years to come, but their numbers may not increase. Japanese business is still in a retrenchment mode and will be making few if any investments here. Hawaii will have to look elsewhere for economic stimulus.


Honor for Hickam

Bullet The issue: Finding ways to improve living and working conditions
Bullet Our view: Using volunteers to fix homes was an innovative idea.

KUDOS to the 16,500 men, women and dependents of Hickam Air Force base for earning the designation of the best U.S. Air Force base anywhere. There are 80 such installations, so winning the award for installation excellence is quite an honor. The award has been made since 1985 and this is the first time Hickam has won.

Col. Ann Testa, commander of the 15th Air Base Wing and Hickam's boss, believes the award was won through innovations to improve living and working conditions. Especially impressive was the renovation of 1,753 kitchens and bathrooms in base housing using volunteer labor.

The work might have cost the Air Force $10,000 a unit through conventional procedures. Hundreds of volunteers gave up a weekend to help their neighbors rebuild. Way to go, Hickam!

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