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Thursday, July 24, 2014         

UNDER THE SUN


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A little unemployment could serve a politician well

By Cynthia Oi

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Rejection is hard to take, even more so when the brush-off is public and comes from thousands of people who say no despite ardently repeated appeals and enormous outlays of time and money.

Thick skins aside, losing an election exacts a huge price from politicians, particularly those who grabbed for the biggest rings.

After all the noise and frenzy of a campaign, they are basically left unemployed. There are no koa-desk offices to go to, no important meetings, no more maile lei to untie, no attendants, no pivotal decisions to make and defend. And no paychecks.

For some like for City Council members Rod Tam and Gary Okino, income may not be a major concern. Both put enough years in government service to collect pensions and have health insurance coverage. Others, like Charles Djou, are younger and have professions to carry them through.

But for guys like Mufi Hannemann and Duke Aiona, with molecules of politics coiled through their DNA, maintaining a public profile between elections is as essential as earning a living wage.

Turns out the latter wasn't much of a problem. They were spared the loss of dignity and psychological distress regular people endure when laid off from their jobs.

They didn't have to fill out forms for unemployment benefits, make at least three job contacts every week, register with the state, post resumes and fulfill the myriad requirements necessary to get a check that doesn't stretch very far.

Through their years in office, Hannemann and Aiona accumulated something more valuable than diplomas, skills and experience for a curriculum vitae.

They had contacts. They know people who know people.

Hannemann will go to work early next year as president of the Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association, a paid lobbyist for the industry group that endorsed him during his campaigns. The fit is good for the former mayor. Having promoted tourism extensively during his City Hall stint, the learning curve can't be very steep.

Where Hannemann will fill a job left vacant by a retirement, Aiona was fortunate to get one tailored especially for him.

He will return to his alma mater, Saint Louis School, as executive vice president for development and recruitment. His chief task will be to raise funds, an activity that should serve him well since chances are he will again run for political office. He'll have had practice gathering cash.

Politicians routinely slide between public and private ventures but, should they regain public posts, they risk creating conflicts when the interests of businesses or organizations they once represented collide with the interests of voters. Questions about allegiance will come up no matter what.

The symphony bassoonist and civil engineer, the carpenter and energy researcher — the thousands of out-of-work people counted perfunctorily as percentages in the monthly unemployment rate reports — don't have the same opportunities or the networks that have benefited Hannemann and Aiona.

But in that short period of time after losing elections, both men got a taste of the worry and vulnerability of being between jobs. Those feelings could be as valuable as their new jobs.

Cynthia Oi can be reached at coi@staradvertiser.com






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