Editor’s note: Dennis Mitsunaga issued this letter today in response to a barrage of radio ads from PRP Hawaii and the Carpenters Union accusing him of making illegal campaign contributions to former Gov. Ben Cayetano. PRP Hawaii launched a $1 million campaign in large part to discredit Cayetano before the August 11 Primary election because the organization made up of Hawaii’s largest contractors support the city’s $5.2 billion steel rail project and Cayetano pledged to stop its construction if elected mayor. Dennis and his daughter Lois also launched a series of radio ads in their own defense.
By Dennis Mitsunaga – When I was working in the construction industry in the 1960’s, the unions were just getting organized and it was an exciting time for all of us.
I remember working as a laborer on the Sand Island Bascule (Draw) Bridge (spanning the second entrance to Honolulu Harbor) and getting paid $2.30 per hour. Union carpenters on that job were elated to be earning $3.30 per hour because not too long before that (I was told), carpenters were earning only $1.80 per hour and laborers even less.
I also recall that in those days and in the years to follow, carpenters (and other tradesmen) very seldom purchased their own homes because they were not confident that they could afford to maintain the mortgage payments.
After the Bascule Bridge project, I worked on the first of Henry Kaiser’s Hawaii Kai subdivisions, laying water and sewer lines down what is today’s Kawaihae Street.
In 1962, there was nothing out there, no homes, no shops, no people; nothing except heat, dust and hoards of field mice. If you were not careful, the mice would devour your lunch and you would be literally “out to lunch,” or more correctly “out of lunch.”
The working environment was very unpleasant but I didn’t mind since I was now earning $2.70 per hour. (Tuition at
UH Manoa during that time was only $93 per semester plus $15 for lab fees and another $250 for engineering books).
After Hawaii Kai, I worked on the Kahala Hilton Hotel Project literally full-time while also enrolled in the College of Engineering at UH Manoa. This time I was earning $4.85 per hour laying out for the carpenters and supervising the site work and heavy equipment crews.
I really got to appreciate the union’s pay scale when I finally graduated and went to work as an entry-level Structural Engineer; my starting salary was $350 per month, less than half the wage I previously earned as a Carpenter Foreman.
Today, union carpenters earn about $40/per hour plus retirement, vacation and medical benefits, and even 401Ks. They can now afford to purchase their own homes just like everyone else, largely due to the efforts of their union leaders.
In my opinion, the union leaders did much throughout the years to improve the quality of life of their carpenters and other trades by leading the way during negotiations with the general contractors.
Skip forward to 2012…
The very same union that I have respected and admired has spent a fortune on ads and negative messages full of lies and smears under the leadership of Executive Director John White. He has even attacked me personally without provocation.
It was reported that the union has spent over $1,000,000 since January 2012 and perhaps $500,000 alone in the past few months on this attack campaign and related services — with the majority of the $1M being spent out-of-state with firms in Virginia, Washington D.C., Connecticut and San Francisco to do the work (instead of keeping the money in Hawaii using local firms), according to Pacific Business News.
Civil Beat and the Honolulu Star Advertiser in David Shapiro’s column both debunked the work of John White and PRP’s methods of messaging half-truths and outright lies in their ad campaigns to try to fool the public into believing their lies and distorted perspectives. But the public knows better and these negative messages are not helping them or their members one bit. In fact it seems to be back-firing on them for good reason.
So is this a good use of the union members’ hard earned money they have paid into the system?
I understand John White’s attack is politically motivated, but it is not justification for this type of personal attack that is unprovoked, and unwarranted.
Over the years I have been friends with political figures on both sides of the fence and while we may have had our political differences, we always treated each other with respect and aloha.
So what has recently happened to the respect and aloha in Hawaii politics? Perhaps this migrant from Arkansas has not been in the islands long enough to understand the ways of aloha and our culture.
Regardless, there is no excuse for the outright lies, smears and even name calling perpetrated by John White of PRP. This is not the way to behave in Hawaii.
Looking back to my younger days, and knowing how hard the members work for their wages, I feel sorry for them knowing that PRP has spent so much money to attack others and me so foolishly. They spent that hard-earned money to attack me with blatant lies and vicious smears.
And for what purpose? I am not even a candidate! PRP could have better used the money to truly help the union and its members. They could have used the money to provide additional benefits such as scholarships and long-term health care.
I would like to ask all the union members to express their feelings to you and question why you allow John White to waste their dues and damage the reputation of their union.
Perhaps you can find a new Executive Director who has some aloha and who can restore your integrity. The members deserve someone better than John White!
John White Should Take a Polygraph Test
I have never made any illegal contributions or ever asked anyone to make illegal contributions. I even took a polygraph test to put this issue to rest years ago (the examiner said that I passed with “flying colors”). The test result is on file in the Honolulu Advertiser archives.
John White blatantly makes these false accusations against me personally while he is the very one who is guilty of soliciting and accepting contributions from the very people who were convicted and fined (for making illegal contributions in the past) when he ran for city council and lost in 2010.
FOR UNDENIABLE PROOF, see list of individuals who were convicted and fined see Rick Daysog, Firms Land Contracts Despite Donation Fines, HONOLULU ADVERTISER, Dec. 18, 2006 at; https://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2006/Dec/18/ln/FP612180352.html and compare against the list of donors on John White’s Campaign Spending Report. See https://nc.csc.hawaii.gov/CFSPublic/ReportDetailphp?RNO=CC10556
While there is no law against being a hypocrite, John White now appears to have more serious issues with the Campaign Spending Commission over undocumented expenditures in his 2010 Campaign Spending Report.
His Campaign Spending Report (Schedule B — Expenditures made between 10/19/10-11/2/10) shows that he cashed out $21,090 without any receipts or documentation. See https://nc.csc.hawaii.gov/Report/RPT2010/20101202223339CC1055SB.html
I hereby challenge John White to take a polygraph test to prove that the money was used for legitimate purposes and that he did not simply pocket the money for his personal use. I also offer to pay for the test.