Rich culture vital to Hawaii's state


POSTED: Friday, August 21, 2009

Hawaii observes its 50th anniversary of statehood today, not with fireworks or parades but with recognition of the anguish that accompanied the steps that brought the islands to this point. Full standing under the U.S. Constitution has brought prosperity to Hawaii and worldwide recognition of the aloha spirit. The next 50 years should widen those assets as amends continue to be made.

Alaska, which won statehood seven months earlier, celebrated its anniversary with concerts, fireworks and a prize-winning float in California's Rose Parade, capping a year-long observance. That level of gaiety in Hawaii would have triggered confrontation with many Hawaiians resentful of how the kingdom was overthrown at the instigation of Americans in 1893.

Annexed five years later as a U.S. territory, Hawaii sought statehood as early as 1919 under a bill introduced by Prince Kuhio Kalanianaole, Hawaii's delegate to Congress. The attack on Pearl Harbor and the bravery of Hawaii men during World War II gave impetus to the effort.

The political forces had only begun to change. Republican presidential appointees and the Big Five sugar companies run by white men had ruled the territory, but Japanese-American soldiers and sailors used the GI bill to earn college degrees and win positions of influence in the early years of statehood.

The Democratic Party has been dominant throughout the half-century of statehood. The political power of organized longshoremen and hotel workers has been transferred since then to public employee unions. Those political realities show no signs of changing in the foreseeable years ahead.

The next 50 years will bring new challenges and opportunities. On the immediate horizon is enactment of Sen. Daniel Akaka's bill to recognize the sovereignty of native Hawaiians similar to that of American Indian tribes and native Alaskan entities.

Hawaii's military importance will not change, as the islands will remain strategically necessary for the nation's defense. That presence should continue to have a positive effect on Hawaii's economic stability.

The state has relied on tourism as its economic engine throughout statehood thus far, but that must change. The rise in oil prices threatens to result in prohibitive cost of distant travel for many families. Political leaders agree on the necessity of island-originated renewable energy and the growth of high-technology media businesses making use of broadband to overcome Hawaii's remoteness.

The islands' population has more than doubled during statehood, from 632,772 to nearly 1.3 million. It will continue to grow and measures will be needed to maintain the qualify of life. The rail transit planned for completion from Kapolei and Ala Moana in 10 years will be a vital ingredient and is likely to be expanded to Waikiki and Manoa.

Somewhere along the way, Hawaii may be neither the newest star on the flag nor the only island-state. Puerto Rico is waiting on the dock.