comscore Hemmings' absence makes Hee's heart grow fonder
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Hemmings’ absence makes Hee’s heart grow fonder

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"The first time I saw Fred Hemmings, I disliked him immediately," Sen. Clayton Hee said in April, beginning a remarkable paean to Sen. Hemmings, who retired this year.

In his speech before the Legislature adjourned, Hee recalled as a young Kamehameha student going to the Kamehameha-Punahou football games.

"He was the first of a great generation of Punahou linebackers that I was privileged to watch, and I disliked him from that day," Hee said.

By the end of his speech, Democrat Hee was covering the Republican Hemmings in praise, finishing by saying he had asked the Republican senator not to give up his seat.

"I cannot think of a single person who will take that place," Hee said.

Five years ago, it was Hee (D, Kahuku-Kaneohe) charging after a Hemmings (R, Lanikai-Waimanalo) attack. The Senate was skirmishing over who would lead it and Hemmings, looking at Hee, the former Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, said he didn’t want the Senate to become like OHA.

"Let there be no doubt, regardless of my brother from Punahou, he kanaka koko ole (a person without Hawaiian blood), my brother from Outrigger, he kanaka haole (a person not from Hawaii). Let us be clear that the last thing the kanaka need is an outsider telling the insider what’s wrong with it," Hee said.

After the session, Hemmings fumed: "How dare Clayton Hee insult the people of Hawaii with his self-righteous racism?"

Hee responded, "It is a typical response of a non-Hawaiian who tells a Hawaiian what is wrong with him."

Those fellows sure knew how to wrestle.

Hee noted in his speech that Senate President Colleen Hanabusa had once pulled him aside, "asking me if there was a hormonal imbalance between Fred and me, as the reaction was clearly driven by testosterone."

Hee said, "There was probably some truth to that," adding in an interview last week that Hemmings "has an athletic mind — he wants to win."

"In today’s Legislature a voice like his is refreshing. He is not someone who was elected on the belief that you go along to get along," Hee said.

Hemmings became a world champion surfer and then a surf promoter and businessman. He then turned to politics, winning first a state House seat in 1986. He ran for governor as a Republican in 1990, then came back in 1994 to run for lieutenant governor. Hemmings returned to the Legislature in 2000 as a senator, always steadily pushing budget cuts and educational reform.

He was passionate without being a pain. Hee called Hemmings "the ideological salmon swimming upstream against all odds."

Hemmings, still the strong athlete but suffering from arthritic joints, lectures on both surfing and Hawaiian history.

Hemmings might want to put on his business card the final tribute paid to him by Hee, who noted that when the Legislature was honoring a group of native Hawaiian surfers, Hemming would not join them because he was not Hawaiian.

"Fred, you are as Hawaiian as all of us, and for that, I say mahalo, from one Hawaiian to another."


Richard Borreca writes on politics every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Reach him at

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