Tuesday, July 22, 2014         


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Politicians need to get over the plantation-era bigotry

By David Shapiro


Ed Case is out of the 2010 election after withdrawing from the 1st Congressional District race, but he's still making his presence felt by calling out candidates who play the race and "local" cards in Hawaii elections.

In a recent commentary in the Star-Advertiser, Case said there's a fine line between candidates telling their personal stories and "purposefully playing to prejudices and divisions, tearing rather than strengthening our social fabric. Then it becomes about the candidate's character and capability to unite and lead a diverse society."

He specifically cited Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mufi Hannemann's pitch to the Carpenters Union that "when I look in the audience, I look like you, you look like me ... and even for our Caucasian brothers in the audience, I'm local to the max."

And mayoral candidate Kirk Caldwell's radio ad in which he proclaimed, "I may not look it, but I'm a local boy -- born in Waipahu, grew up in Hilo."

Case noted that both are running against haole opponents who weren't born here.

"We have tolerated subtle racism and not-so-subtle localism in Hawaii politics for a long time now," he said. "It fosters the politics of division and exclusion (think the bumper sticker 'Locals Only' on the door of government)."

Case speaks from experience; he's taken hits in his own campaigns about his "localness" even though he was born and raised in Hawaii and his family goes back four generations.

It's Hawaii's dirty little double standard. Imagine the hue and cry if a haole candidate made a statement such as Hannemann's to a primarily white audience -- or if President Barack Obama said it to a black audience.

But thinly veiled haole-bashing remains an accepted part of Hawaii's political culture, and blowing the whistle on it is just seen as further evidence of your lack of "localness."

It's openly displayed by some of our most senior leaders. In his autobiography, former Gov. Ben Cayetano waxed eloquent about "good haoles," leaving me to wonder how long my writing career -- or my marriage -- would have lasted if I wrote about "good Filipinos."

Sen. Daniel Inouye, who backed Hillary Clinton for president, questioned Hawaii-born Obama's localness because he went to Punahou (as a financial aid student).

I don't think Cayetano and Inouye are racist; both have diverse circles of friends and political allies. Such statements are just reflections of growing up in Hawaii's plantation culture.

But the plantation era in local politics ended 55 years ago, and it's about time our elder statesmen got over the class bigotry and inspired others to follow.

Until then, Case has advice for dealing with candidates who cross the line: "Watch for it, vote against it."

David Shapiro can be reached at volcanicash@gmail.com or blog.volcanicash.net.

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