Election 2002

Mink’s condition worsens; prognosis poor

She will not be able to return
to Congress for 108th session if re-elected

Mink secrecy compared with Spark Matsunaga’s

By Craig Gima

U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink’s condition worsened today and prospects for her recovery are poor, the state Democratic Party said this afternoon in a news release.

Mink, 74, has been hospitalized in the intensive care unit of Straub Hospital since the beginning of the month. She has pneumonia after contracting chickenpox.

“Rep. Mink will not make promises to voters that she may not be able to keep. She will remain on the ballot, but her family wants voters to know that she will not assume office in the 108th Congress if she is not able to represent the 2nd District (rural Oahu-neighbor islands) with her customary vigor,” the release said.

A Democrat, Mink is serving her 12th -- and sixth consecutive -- term in the House. She served from 1965 to 1977 and returned in 1990. Mink also served as a Honolulu councilwoman and an assistant secretary of state in the Carter administration.

She is running for re-election against Republican state Sen. Bob McDermott after defeating Steve Tataii in the primary.

The statement was the first indication from the party, any Democratic official or the family that Mink was not expected to recover from her illness or that she might not be able to serve in Congress. It came one day after the deadline for replacing her on the November election ballot. Now, her name will remain no matter what her condition.

Hawaii law allows a deceased candidate's name to remain on the ballot, with provisions for a special election to fill the seat. While the governor has the power to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy, vacant House seats are filled only by election, under state law.

The Associated Press contributed to this report


Mink secrecy compared
with Spark Matsunaga’s

What the public deserves to know
is a changing standard

By Crystal Kua

It was 1988, and U.S. Sen. Spark Matsunaga was preparing to run for his third term in the Senate.

But before he filed for re-election, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

He told his family and close political confidants, but whether he would convey that information to the public was another thing.

It was a big question for him, one he mulled over quite a bit.

In the end he decided to keep quiet -- at least until the cancer and other health ailments began to take their toll on his ability to carry out his duties in Congress.

Matsunaga died April 15, 1990, just 12 days after he cast his last vote in the Senate.

Parallels are being drawn between Matsunaga's decision not to let the public in on his health secret at first and the current situation with U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink, who is fighting viral pneumonia from the intensive care unit at Straub Clinic & Hospital.

Few details have also been released about her condition, but her spokeswoman has said Mink's re-election campaign will continue.

"Part of it is the line between what is personal and private and what's public, and clearly you draw the line there at different places for an elected official as opposed to an ordinary citizen," said Paul Hooper, a University of Hawaii professor of American studies.

"Secondly, I think that line is changing with time and with more complete news coverage. Something that would be considered private 20 years ago and certainly 100 years ago wouldn't be considered private today."

In his biography of Matsunaga, "Sparky: Warrior, Peacemaker, Poet, Patriot," Star-Bulletin contributing editor Richard Halloran recounts Matsunaga's decision-making process on what to tell the public at what point.

When the diagnosis was confirmed, Matsunaga told his wife, children and political confidants but did not make it public, the book said.

In summer of 1989 his health began to deteriorate, and his absences from voting were noticed.

He was forced to admit publicly in January 1990 that he had cancer. While members of the Senate supported Matsunaga, the public in Hawaii reacted adversely with a poll showing that a majority of people felt he should resign, according to the book.

It is the unpredictability of the public that politicians fear most.

"No question that political people are more sensitive than they would have been in times past," Hooper said.

Republican state Rep. Bob McDermott, who is one of Mink's opponents in the general election, was the first to publicly make the comparison between Mink and Matsunaga.

"The public spin was, everything was OK with him, no need to worry," McDermott said. "We can't have this again. That's why I think the comparisons are frightening."

State Sen. Matt Matsunaga, Spark's son, disagreed with McDermott's comparison of Mink's and his father's situation.

"I think it was a different situation because in my father's case, when he ran for re-election in 1988, he did know that he had prostate cancer, but he was still able to do the job," Matsunaga said.

"And so he wasn't confined to a hospital room or a bed, and so the question is, should he reveal something about his health that is a very personal matter and does not prevent him from doing his job, and he decided not to."

While not apples and oranges, Hooper said he believes there are key differences between Mink's and Spark Matsunaga's case.

"A diagnosis of prostate cancer and, indeed, treatment for prostate cancer is a very different circumstance, at least in most instances with someone who's laid up, incommunicado, in intensive care," Hooper said.

"That's where I would see the difference. I think it would be misleading to make a one-for-one comparison of the circumstances here."

Matt Matsunaga, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, said he believes that politicians should reveal enough information that allows the public to decide whether that candidate is fit to endure the rigors of a congressional office.

He said the decision he and his family went through in determining how much information to release is "a very personal issue depending upon who the person is. Obviously, every person has a certain right of privacy about their medical condition, and I think you have to balance that with the public's right to know if that person is still capable of physically fulfilling the demands of a congressional job."

Hooper recalled the case of President Grover Cleveland, who was able to keep his jaw cancer surgery secret by having the surgery done on an offshore yacht in 1893.

"That clearly would not happen today," Hooper said.

"So a host of ... changing factors are at work today -- different perceptions of privacy, more thorough news coverage and, quite possibly, ethical issues get into the mix here. What is ethical to keep secret and what is not ethical to keep secret for a public official -- changing definitions there, also."

E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --