Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, December 15, 1999

Finding new
leadership for Hawaii

PART of the equation when you add up the consequences of Hawaii's brain drain is that some of our own leaders-to-be will be moving and shaking on the mainland and some of our new leaders will come from outside Hawaii.

While researching a millennium report on leadership in Hawaii, I was struck by how many people, from the governor on down, were stumped to name any of Hawaii's top political leaders after the obvious trio of Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, Mayor Jeremy Harris and Republican Party Chairwoman Linda Lingle.

The issue is particularly dramatic in the state Legislature. The Senate, for instance, has managed to split itself into so many factions that the Balkans will be united long before the 25 senators can agree on a leader for more than a weekend.

Lowell Kalapa, director of the Hawaii Tax Foundation and a legislative observer for the past two decades, says he sees a dramatic move to the mainland by Hawaii's leaders.

"Many of the true leaders are being siphoned off," he said. "The ones with the vision and the drive aren't coming back."

Those in local politics are saying one of the reasons for the brain drain is that the Legislature's single-member districts force representatives and senators to be more provincial.

They explain that if a district could elect several representatives or senators as it did in the past, then voters could select someone to take care of pork barrel legislation and someone to provide some leadership or inspiration.

For example, in the '70s the stolid Manoa district supported both the late Rep. Charlie Ushijima, who brought parks and construction projects to the district and the flamboyant liberal Neil Abercrombie, who once wore a purple cape to the Legislature.

The multimember district plan ran afoul of federal one-person, one-vote requirements but many, including Gov. Ben Cayetano, hope that a proper plan can be devised to restore the old scheme for local elections after the year 2000 reapportionment.

Leadership in Hawaii won't be restored just by getting legislators to expand their horizons.

As Kalapa puts it, leaders in Hawaii will come from those who have decided to make Hawaii their home and are willing to fight to improve it.

"Whether they come from Wisconsin or Manila, it may be that our future leaders will come from outside the state," he predicts.

ALL three of the first mentioned, Hirono, Harris and Lingle, were born outside of Hawaii, for instance.

And already Hawaii is toasting the successes of University of Hawaii football coach June Jones -- to the extent that a winning season brought out green "June Jones for Governor" T-shirts.

Jones played for UH but was born in Portland, Ore. He is now considered as local as a Spam musubi.

Another example is Dr. Edwin Cadman, dean of the University of Hawaii's medical school, who is already being talked up as the "June Jones of the medical school."

Cayetano is high on him because of his ability to positively lead the school and not rely on the state to support it.

The governor appears particularly interested in getting new blood and new ideas into state government.

That ability to accept outside leaders on their merit may be the challenge that makes Hawaii a winner in the new century.

Legislature Directory
Hawaii Revised Statutes
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Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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