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Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, March 29, 2000

Jack Burns
believed in inclusion

THERE he stood, a tall, white fellow with a quizzical expression, dressed in shiny pants, an aloha shirt and run-down shoes.

He was an ex-cop who always gave the impression that he had a little extra bit more of the real story than anyone else in the room.

Still, who would have thought Jack Burns would become father to the longest-lived political movement in the nation?

A week from now, we will remember the 25th anniversary of the death of Burns, Hawaii's second elected governor. He was largely credited with bringing about the political organization that in 1954 swept the Democrats into power.

Amazingly, the sons and daughters of those original Democratic victors still run Hawaii 46 years later.

The reason is that the Democrats have continued to re-invent themselves and how they do that is a lesson for young activists today.

Dan Boylan, University of Hawaii history professor, has been writing a biography of Burns since he started a series of interviews with the governor in the early '70s.

The reason Democrats could learn to re-invent their party with such success is that they are following a part of the Burns philosophy of inclusion, says Boylan.

"He was a leader who would fight for equality," Boylan said. "To the day he died, what Jack Burns stood for was equality and that meant inclusion and it meant excellence."

If Hawaii were to be treated equally, first Hawaii would have to be a state. Its people would have to be accepted as equals with other Americans, no matter their color, origin or religion.

Inclusion meant hard work, making sure Hawaii's laws and rules would include all and would look like Hawaii. To be equal, in Burns' mind, according to Boylan, also meant that Hawaii could not have just a college, it had to have an excellent state university.

It had to have a model state Capitol, a state-of-the-art football stadium and the most modern and progressive laws.

In the years since then, Hawaii has slipped. There is more talk at the Legislature now of Hawaii catching up, rather than leading the nation.

The point that activists today should understand is that the struggle to include everyone by its very nature brings about supporters.

The movement to cleave Hawaii into separate identities and different groups, wanting different things from a tiny group of islands, damages Hawaii and is not likely to last.

"Now we are spun off in all different directions," Boylan notes.

"Everyone is worried about their own piece of turf. The message from that (Burns) generation is a very good one, and it is not the same as having a Hawaiian leader calling a Japanese leader a "one-armed bandit."

Through the Democratic Party, Burns gave an entire generation of Japanese-Americans a sense of meaning and destiny. Today's challenge is to do the same thing for Hawaii of the new century.

"There is a message in Jack Burns that Hawaiians will also have to deal with," Boylan says.

Today, for many the battle is not inclusion, but righting the wrongs done to Hawaii 100 years ago, but if it is not done by bringing people into the group, by expanding the base to include Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians, it will not last.

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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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