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Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Wednesday, April 12, 2000

Columnist is on call
when guv is irked

YOU know it's going to be an interesting day when the governor calls you at home.

The phone rang last week. The voice said, "Hold on please for Gov. Ben Cayetano."

What the ... ? What could the governor want to talk to me about? Did he want to discuss the time Bishop Estate trustee Henry Peters blamed the "Cayetano Machine" for his downfall and I wrote that, compared with the "Democratic Machine" that has dominated Hawaii politics for decades, the governor's organization is more like a "Cayetano Gadget?" Or was it the time I disagreed with his plans to put fluoride in our water and turn Ala Wai Golf Course into a park? Or maybe he finally saw the column I did about the celebration of the 40th anniversary of Hawaii statehood, which strangely was celebrated in San Francisco with Cayetano throwing out the first ball at a Giants-Pirates game. I wasn't picking on the governor, but I did point out that it was weird when a state can't even celebrate statehood in its own state.

Cayetano has appeared in "Honolulu Lite" 54 times since 1993 and, frankly, which particular mention might have stirred his ire enough to call had me stumped.

It turned out that the governor wanted to chat about his proposal to buy the elegant Hemmeter Building for $22 million. He was less than amused with my suggestion that we buy it and then turn it into Maili Elementary School. It's always the sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek columns that get you in trouble.

The thing is, Cayetano's suggestion that the state buy the Hemmeter Building came just weeks after we learned of the deplorable condition of Maili Elementary School. The timing of his Hemmeter Building proposal, unfortunately, stunk worse than the pig and chicken poop Maili students have to smell every day.

IN the world of column-writing the Maili-Hemmeter comparison was a big, fat softball right over the plate. If I didn't knock it out of the park, our cartoonist, Corky, was ready to jump all over it. (And I'm a real sweetheart compared to Corky.)

But the governor had a couple of valid points (don't you hate when that happens?). He pointed out that the Maili situation is being taken care of. Upgrades to the school have been made a high priority. And now might be a good time to buy the Hemmeter Building. The Japanese company that bought it for $80 million is willing to sell for $22 million. The state already is using the building for office space and paying millions in rent. Those payments could cover the debt service if the state actually owned the building.

As for the timing, he says he had no choice. The Legislature would have to provide the money to buy the building and its session is almost over.

It looks like the Legislature is not going to come up with the money to buy the Hemmeter. And I don't think legislators based their decision on one snide newspaper column. I mean, they've never listened to me before, why should they start now?

Their decision probably has more to do with their relationship with the governor, which isn't peaches and cream. The solons sacked his attorney general, for instance. And the governor's new attorney general indicted a state senator. It's not exactly group hug time around the Capitol building.

For the record, I admire Cayetano. He's a maverick and he's tough. I just hope he doesn't get around to reading the other 53 columns.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to or

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