Talk Story


Public life’s unavoidable
hazard -- a public death

WHEN Leo Durocher was 81, he talked about his legacy as a baseball legend. "I don't want to achieve immortality by being inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame," he said. "I want to achieve immortality by not dying."

As Jerry Rice will tell you, it's not easy to step down when you're still at the top of your game, but after age 70 mortality becomes an unavoidable issue. As an anonymous wise man once said: "Exercise daily, eat wisely. Die anyway."

Septuagenarians these days might have the youthful vigor and intellectual acuity of 60-year-olds in generations past, but for everything there is a season. As another wise guy said, "Death sneaks up on you like a windshield sneaks up on a bug." Unfortunately, the older we get, the closer we fly to the road.

Whether you were in favor of term limits before this election season or not, you might now find them more appealing.

A dignified retirement with ample opportunities to be recognized, feted, interviewed and applauded -- perhaps one including a book deal and an honorary degree -- is an infinitely better way to cap a distinguished congressional career than the suspicions, accusations, political maneuvering and name-calling that have marked Patsy Mink's passing.

THE PROPOSITION that the best tribute to Mink is to re-elect her in November -- a communal act of denial -- is interesting, if macabre. It would certainly guarantee Patsy Mink a unique place in Hawaii political history.

However, the contention that this would be an act purely of respect and aloha -- not politics -- is wishful thinking. Public life and politics are inseparable in an election-year October.

Mink's former colleagues have devised a more fitting send-off. Yesterday, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution to rename Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 as the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.

That's a great idea. It links the name of Hawaii's equal-opportunity pioneer to the legislation that literally changed the world for millions of women and girls yesterday, today and in the future.

THE NAGGING question raised by Mink's untimely death is: "Who's in charge here?" We've heard from the governor, the chief elections officer, the Hawaii Supreme Court, the former governor, the Republican opponent and the daughter of the deceased.

Defying the meaning of the word "deadline," Attorney General Earl Anzai asked that the calendar be set aside and that the Democrats be allowed to swap another name for Mink's on the Nov. 5 ballot.

The administration, which has had trouble meeting deadlines in the past (such as the veto deadline for the Ko Olina tax credit bill), decided it was a good idea to ask for some slack in this case, too. After all, Anzai argued, Mink's death occurred just two days too late for the party to substitute a replacement candidate of its choosing.

Yes, this would have saved the $2 million cost of a Nov. 30 special election for a replacement to serve out Mink's current term. It also, as Mink's daughter Gwendolyn observed, would have served to "choke off real choices to the voters."

Given the dominance of the Democratic Party, it also likely would have created a hand-picked incumbent, albeit one with less than two months in office. Enjoying the advantages of franking privileges, media exposure and name recognition, incumbents are tough to unseat.

Fortunately, the state Supreme Court yesterday refused to order chief elections officer Dwayne Yoshina to remove Mink's name from the ballot.

Political maneuvering and back-room deal cutting have been a way of life in Hawaii, where "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" and trading campaign contributions for government contracts have been business as usual.

This time, let's follow the rules, spend the money and keep the process transparent. What better tribute?

John Flanagan is the Star-Bulletin's contributing editor.
He can be reached at:

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