The Disconnect Between Hawaii and the Rest of America

article top

Hilo. Hawaii – Americans who visit Hawaii often feel they are in a foreign country, and if those tourists cared about the island’s politics that might make them even more likely to wonder if they really are in the United States.

Three recent developments raise the question of whether the people and politicians in the nation’s 50th state have much in common with the traditions and Constitution of the nation of which they are part.


— The state’s political establishment is backing a school that wants to continue openly discriminating on the basis of race in its admissions practices.

— Hawaii’s government has, until rebuked by a federal court, banned the hiring of Americans who are not Hawaii residents from state jobs.

— Because Congress refused efforts to create self-rule for native Hawaiians, there is a growing movement to set up a native Hawaiian government that would seek billions of dollars in state assets.

Hawaii’s demographics – more than two-thirds of residents are of Asian descent — lead to the cultural differences with the mainland. Its physical isolation exacerbates a sense of Hawaii exceptionalism.

This mentality is best exemplified by the manager of one Marriott hotel, who explained the chain’s properties on the islands operate under polices that govern its Asian, not U.S., facilities.

Nothing illustrates the island’s political mind-set better than a long-running school admissions case that would likely be laughed out of court elsewhere in America. The arguments made for it – and even embraced by the state’s first Republican governor in 40 years – sound eerily familiar to those of 1960s southern segregationists.

For 118 years, the Kamehameha Schools have limited enrollment to those with native-Hawaiian blood. Its highly regarded K-12 schools are funded by an almost $7 billion trust left by 19th century Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop.

Supporters claim that because no tax money is involved discrimination is permissible, although federal courts decades long ago dismissed that same argument in Dixie by segregation academies.

Enrollment is offered to all “qualified” native-Hawaiians. If spaces there left over, members of other races may be considered. But only a handful of the 5,400 students on the school’s three campuses are not of native Hawaiian descent.

School officials say a history of unfair treatment of native Hawaiians justifies the policy. The Supreme Court has allowed racial preferences to compensate for past discrimination in limited cases.

A three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Court of Appeals last August said the schools’ policy does not meet that criterion. The decision triggered a massive protest demonstration by native Hawaiians.

The full 15-judge Ninth Circuit in June heard an appeal. Regardless of the verdict, the case seems destined for the U.S. Supreme Court.

In another legal matter, a U.S. District judge last month threw out a state prohibition on non-Hawaiian residents applying for state jobs. That rule, if approved by the courts, could have reshaped the relationships between states that have existed for more than two centuries.

Nevertheless, Hawaii Attorney General Mark Bennett will appeal to sustain the law, which was enacted to discourage immigrants, but would seem based on a belief this state is a separate entity, rather than one of 50.

Then there is the drive to create a separate government for the about 20 percent of the state’s population who have native-Hawaiian blood. Some believe they deserve special treatment because their monarchy was overthrown more than a century ago in a conspiracy engineered by sugar barons and aided by the U.S. government.

Since Congress refused to give native Hawaiians that status earlier this year, a movement with substantial political clout has surfaced to have a referendum create a separate nation for native Hawaiians.

The goal is an entity that would be unique in the United States to represent native Hawaiians that could negotiate with a friendly state government for billions of dollars in assets.

In this unusual political incubator it can’t be dismissed as it would be elsewhere in the USA.

”’Peter A. Brown is assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. He can be reached at”’

”’ reports the real news, and prints all editorials submitted, even if they do not represent the viewpoint of the editors, as long as they are written clearly. Send editorials to”’

Page Printed from: at July 09, 2006