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Hawai‘i Political History Documentation Project

Three young Japanese Americans stand in front of a Pan American World Airways sign.

Left to right: Interviewee Tadao Beppu, Daniel Inouye, and interviewee Mike Tokunaga on a trip to the Democratic Western Region Conference, San Francisco, 1957. (Photo courtesy Betty Tokunaga.)

The Hawai‘i Political History Documentation Project features interviews with forty-three former office holders, aides, appointees, party organizers, union officials, lobbyists, and political observers who share their perspectives on territorial and state politics in the islands. In these volumes are transcripts of videotaped life history interviews with many well-known and some lesser-known individuals who initiated, participated in, and/or closely observed many political developments of the last half-century.

The interviews cover a diversity of topics: the interviewees’ family background, childhood, community, education, work, early political activities and observations, political career, political philosophy, political leadership, and reflections on political and social change in Hawai‘i.

“All my life, the work that I did in the school and as a police officer — I was a strict police officer, but I was fair, and I spent a lot of time at my work. I spent a lot of time with the young children as a police officer, ’cause my heart was there. And all of those things, you know, with the PTA [Parent-Teacher Association], and the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, and church work and all. When they looked at Hannibal, I don’t think they looked at me as a Republican or what. I think they knew me as a person.” —Hannibal Tavares

“Well, at that time [1940s–50s], Hawai‘i was predominantly Republican. And you had that plantation mentality, and you had the Big Five [the five companies that controlled the sugar industry in Hawai‘i] mentality. . . . And the funny thing is that when you get away, you look at things in a little different light. You know, the perspective is different. Hawai‘i is just a small little place in the Pacific. And you think of things that you can do to, perhaps, better the general welfare of the people. And I think there was this burning desire to change things. And you can do it in an evolutionary way, not through revolution, you know. There were those elements when I came back, you know, the unions became very aggressive, and they wanted change overnight or things of that sort. I think we were more along [the] thinking that things could be done through the political arena.” —John Ushijima

“In the first election where the Republicans were able to elect a governor and elect a [U.S.] Senator [in 1959], you look at the composition of that race. There was I, a Chinese; there was [James] Kealoha, Hawaiian; there was [William] Quinn, Caucasian; there was [Charles H.] Silva, Portuguese; and there was [Wilfred] Tsukiyama, Japanese. Now where can you get a combination like that?” —Hiram Fong

Iincluded are discussions of political parties, unions, legislative bodies, governors, and mayors. Individual politicians — their motivations, philosophies, goals, stand on issues, actions, mode of operation, relations with others — and their role in island history are also discussed.

“Charlie [Kauhane] was the speaker [of the 1955 Territorial House of Representatives]. Yeah, I recall how the last night of the session he actually took the clock off the wall, took it to his car, and locked it in the trunk of his car, you know. And how he used to pilfer bills. You know, in those days, you had to have the original bill or otherwise you couldn’t act on it. He used to take these bills home. That’s how he ran the house.” —Donald Ching

“That’s where I think Mayor Blaisdell, Neal, that time [in 1954] realized that his strength was with the independent voter, much more so than Republicans alone. . . . The wave of change was coming to the party.” —Wilfred Buddy Soares

“Jack Burns was civil defense director under Johnny Wilson’s administration, and this was in the basement of city hall. And one of the first things Jack Burns asked me was whether I was a plantation boy. And I says, ‘Yeah, I’m a plantation boy.’ And he says, ‘You feel you getting equal treatment in this community?’ I told him, ‘No,’ you know. And he says, ‘If you want to get treated like a first-class citizen,’ he says, ‘play politics.’ ” —Mike Tokunaga

The Hawai‘i Political History Documentation Project, initiated by KHET Hawai‘i Public Broadcasting Authority, was funded by the Hawai‘i State Legislature in 1986 as part of the larger Film and Video Archive Project, an effort to preserve existing moving image collections in the state and produce new video documentation of significant sites and historic lives.

Link to audioWilliam Richardson, who won the 1962 Democratic primary election for lieutenant governor, recalls his son’s reaction to the victory (.au sound file, 400K).

 

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