David Shapiro
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By David Shapiro

Saturday, August 21, 1999

Gifted people are
turned off by politics

A fellow I've worked with on a community project dropped by a couple of weeks ago to talk about his deep frustration with politics and the economy in Hawaii.

He seemed to be groping to find his place in healing Hawaii. He's a high-powered guy, but never has been involved in public affairs -- partly because of conflicting professional obligations, partly because he's never been asked and partly because politics has devolved to standing on the street waving a sign, which he doesn't see as his calling.

It struck me that the absence of people like him from the political arena is exactly the problem. The wrong people are running things. We need leaders who are good at inspiring citizens to lofty goals, running big organizations and delivering services. Instead, we're led mostly by people who are good at waving signs, showing face at Little League games and taking care of their friends.

My visitor is a true native son of Hawaii and a natural leader. He rose to the top of an extremely competitive profession and is succeeding in a second career. Still in his prime, he's open to new challenges.

He's clearly itching to get involved in public affairs, but finds the system distastefully sleazy. He has little patience for game-playing and back-scratching and isn't sure he could make a difference in that environment. Despite pervasive public discontent with the status quo, he isn't sure Hawaii is really ready to change.

Circuit Judge Kevin Chang tapped into exactly the talent pool my visitor represents to find five interim trustees to run the Bishop Estate while the courts finish the process of removing the previous trustees for their mismanagement.

Adm. Robert Kihune, David Coon, Francis Keala, Ronald Libkuman and Constance Lau stepped in to quickly, quietly and effectively get the massive estate back on the right track. It's almost laughable how the old trustees -- most of them beneficiaries of political patronage -- tried to pass off their puny skills as irreplaceable and worthy of $1 million annual salaries.

There are talented people in the community who could bring equal ability to fixing our other problems if somebody would ask them and make the environment more attractive.

But the political parties strive to inbreed more people like themselves rather than improve their gene pools. Both parties say almost with pride that they've done nothing to recruit former attorney general Margery Bronster despite the vast reservoir of public goodwill she brings to the table. Some Republicans resisted Linda Lingle's run for the party chairmanship because the droves of new people she was bringing into the moribund party weren't "real" Republicans.

My visitor isn't affiliated with either political party. He tends to lean Republican because he finds Lingle a charismatic leader and believes Hawaii needs a stronger two-party system. But he knows the action is in the Democratic Party now and might be enticed into a true reform movement there.

Increasingly, concerned citizens are banding around issues of common interest that cross party lines. A good example is the Windward group that has formed to defeat two senators who voted against confirming Bronster to a second term. One of the targeted senators, Marshall Ige, is a Democrat and the other, Whitney Anderson, is Republican.

Our future may well depend on how many of these people are enticed into activism and how much staying power they show.

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

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