Thursday, October 7, 1999

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OHA voting dispute
at Supreme Court

Bullet The issue: The Supreme Court is to decide whether restricting voters in Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee elections to persons of Hawaiian ancestry is unconstitutional.

Bullet Our view: The state should consider corrective action in the event of an adverse decision.

SIMILARITIES and differences between Hawaiians and the various Native American tribes on the mainland are at the heart of the challenge of the restriction of Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee elections to Hawaiian voters.

U.S. Supreme Court justices indicated during oral arguments that they will focus on that issue in reaching their decision in the case of Rice vs. Cayetano, probably next summer. That decision, whatever it may be, need not be severely disruptive.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg remarked that the analogy of the situations of Hawaiians and mainland tribes "seems to be quite strong." Since only Navajos are entitled to vote for Navajo leaders and only Alaska natives for leaders of Alaska Native corporations, it stands to reason that only Hawaiians should be allowed to vote for the nine OHA trustees to oversee claims and reparations for Hawaiians.

However, the analogy is not absolute. Native American tribes generally attained congressional recognition as separate nations, were provided opportunities to bring claims against the federal government and were granted settlements enacted by Congress.

The 1959 Admission Act provided that proceeds of land transferred from the federal government to the new state of Hawaii should be used in part to improve the conditions of the Hawaiian people but did not recognize Hawaiians as a political entity.

In the absence of such recognition, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's warning that rules governing special populations must not violate the Constitution is key.

By limiting the voting right to those whose ancestry preceded the arrival of Capt. James Cook in 1778, the rules effectively bar nonindigenous voters, raising the constitutional question at issue in Harold "Freddy" Rice's lawsuit.

If the ancestry requirement had been pegged on the 1898 annexation or even the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani five years earlier, racial discrimination would not be at issue. Rice and other non-Hawaiian kamaainas with ancestors dating back to the monarchy would be eligible to vote, but the vast majority of OHA voters would be of Hawaiian ancestry. Other remedies might also be explored.

The Supreme Court's pending decision in the Rice case is important but its significance should not be exaggerated.

A decision favorable to OHA's current voting requirements would be met with relief. An adverse decision might create a need to revise the OHA provision in the state Constitution. But few non-Hawaiians probably would be interested in voting in OHA elections even if they could. OHA's survival does not depend on winning this case.

Film arsonist’s long
prison sentence

Bullet The issue: Joseph "Joe Boy" Tavares was sentenced to 15-1/2 years in prison for destroying film production trucks and other crimes.

Bullet Our view: Tavares' conviction and long prison sentence should help the Hawaii film industry overcome fears of gangster influence.

THE dark underside of the Hawaii film industry was exposed in 1991 when film production trucks were destroyed in fires that were deliberately set. The trucks were owned by two film equipment rental companies that were competitors of a firm owned by George Cambra.

The state's film coordinator, Georgette Deemer, testified that the crime made Hollywood producers fearful of working in Hawaii and set back the industry several years.

Now Joseph "Joe Boy" Tavares Jr. has been sentenced to 15-1/2 years in federal prison for that crime. The sentence is also based on convictions for threatening to kill a Walt Disney film manager in 1996 and robbing tourists who had wandered onto a film production set at Kualoa Ranch in 1997.

Judge Helen Gillmor ordered Tavares placed on three years' supervised release after completing his prison term and directed him to help pay $268,000 in restitution to the owners of the destroyed equipment.

Cambra was indicted along with Tavares in the truck fires. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy and became a key witness against Tavares. Cambra, who will be sentenced in December, testified that Tavares offered to burn the trucks of his competitors in exchange for a percentage of Cambra's future income.

Still unsolved is the 1994 waterfront murder of David Walden, an executive of a mainland movie equipment company that was shipping equipment to Hawaii. Until that case is solved, questions about criminal influence in the film industry cannot be fully dispelled.

U.S. Attorney Steve Alm said the conviction of Tavares for an eight-year-old crime "sends a message to anyone in the film industry that if they commit a crime in relation to the industry, people will look for as long as it takes to prosecute those involved."

Presumably that message applies to the Walden case, although Alm has refused to discuss whether progress is being made in the investigation.

The lengthy prison sentence given Tavares is helpful for an industry trying to build confidence that the days of gangster influence are over.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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