Hawai‘i’s Senior Statesman Opines on the State of the State

Richard Borreca
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

George R. Ariyoshi, who will turn 92 next month, has served as one of the state’s Democratic leaders for so long that he is one of the signposts for politics and government in Hawai‘i.

Unless the state Constitution is amended to change the current two-term limit for Hawai‘i’s governor, Ariyoshi is likely to be the longest-serving governor in state history, having served three terms, from 1974 to 1986. In October 1973, prior to his election, then-Lt. Gov. Ariyoshi was appointed acting governor when Gov. John A. Burns resigned due to his worsening and terminal cancer condition.

A Nisei, Ariyoshi was part of the returning wave of Hawai‘i AJA veterans who served in World War II — Ariyoshi served in the Military Intelligence Service — and then ran for political office, becoming one of the Democrats who took control of the territorial Legislature in 1954.

Although he did not seek federal elective office after leaving the governorship in 1986, Ariyoshi has remained active, serving on the East-West Center’s board of governors and the Queen’s (Medical Center) International Corporation, among other positions. Ariyoshi also authored two books: “Hawai‘i: The Past Fifty Years, The Next Fifty Years” and “With Obligation to All.”

The former governor still holds a number of strong opinions about what is going right and what is going wrong in Hawai‘i. For example, in the 2014 gubernatorial primary, Ariyoshi broke with local political tradition and did not endorse the incumbent Democrat, Gov. Neil Abercrombie. Instead, Ariyoshi went with the challenger, then-state Sen. David Ige. In 1985, while governor, Ariyoshi appointed Ige to fill a vacancy in the state House, launching the Pearl City Democrat’s political career.

Since then, Ariyoshi has become critical of Ige’s performance and is now supporting U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Honolulu journalist Richard Borreca recently interviewed Ariyoshi at his downtown office. The questions are summarized to preserve the flow of the more than one-hour-long conversation.

Richard Borreca (RB): Over the years, have you become more liberal or conservative in your thinking?

“I find it hard to say that. I think we have to spend money for the things that are important, but in a way that is responsible.

“I think conservative in terms of that I worked on the state budget and I am the only governor who left a surplus at the end. So in that sense you can say I am conservative, but in a way I didn’t cut services to people.”

RB: You said you didn’t cut budgets, but you did ask fewer state workers to do more work.

“I didn’t have to fire people; I didn’t have to lay off people.

“How are you going to do it if you can’t get people to come together to do it? A leader has to lead.

“They have [to] say what has to be done and what is possible and what other people are doing, so then they can come together. But we no longer have that kind of thinking, and that is what really frustrates me.

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Richard Borreca is a veteran Honolulu journalist. He has worked for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, KHVH News Radio, KHON-TV, Honolulu Magazine and The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, for whom he now writes a Sunday column.


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