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Editorial | On Politics

Richardson and Burns were a trailblazing team

  • STAR-ADVERTISER
    It was a sweet and historic victory when John A. Burns, left, and William Richardson were elected governor and lieutenant governor of Hawaii, taking the state’s top leadership posts away from the Republicans.
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Before Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the movie, the great team was Jack Burns and Bill Richardson. The pair guided Hawaii’s Democrats into power 56 years ago.

Burns went on to be governor and Richardson the state Supreme Court’s most illustrious chief justice.

It was Burns, first as a Honolulu police captain and then civil defense coordinator, who along with the ILWU helped form the political alliance of AJA and Filipino workers who would knit together the big Democratic wins.

Obviously, the overwhelming numbers had been staring the GOP in the face, but the Republicans chose to look the other way.

"We knew it was coming sooner or later. … All of a sudden, everyone wanted to run and seemed to win," said Richardson in his 1990 oral history.

Richardson died Monday at 90, leaving a legacy as a political leader, lieutenant governor, Hawaii chief justice and Bishop Estate trustee. Much has been said about his landmark rulings to protect the state’s Hawaiian values, but Richardson was also there at the creation of the modern Democratic Party in Hawaii.

The first time Richardson met Burns was in 1948 on Bethel Street. Richardson recalled greeting Burns, who encouraged the nickname "Stoneface," but Burns continued across the street.

"He walked right by me and I said to myself, ‘Well, brother, that’s the last time I’m going to say hello to you,’" Richardson said.

Burns turned around, saying, "Mr. Richardson, can I talk to you?"

The conversation was the beginning of their friendship.

In 1962, Burns was governor, Richardson lieutenant governor and they formed such a partnership that Richardson could say, "I knew exactly what he thought." When Burns left town, Richardson would work out of the governor’s office and even borrow the governor’s glasses.

"I’d finish what he had, sign whatever papers he had, finish whatever jobs. I knew the things that were to be done that he didn’t have a chance to complete," Richardson said.

Burns went on to split up the partnership by nominating Richardson to the court, but on that first long election night in 1962 it was pure victory.

Richardson said his son, Billy, told him before going to sleep: "Dad, you tell me if you win, and if you don’t, that’s OK."

When Richardson woke his young son to say, "Billy, we won," his son asked, "What was the score, Dad?"

The Democrats are still keeping score, and in Hawaii, they are still winning.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every week. Reach him at rborreca@staradvertiser.com.

 

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