Chapter 4 of Anthony Sommer’s new book KPD Blue digs below the surface of the image of a delightful multi cultural and ethnic stew to reveal chunks of the racism, sexism and bigotry that bubble up and express themselves in a special Kaua`i brand of corruption.
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by Anthony Sommer
Chapter 4 : Kauai Style
In 1998, Mary Thronas, chairwoman of the Kauai County Council, veteran politician and member of a well-known cattle ranching family, had just filed her papers to run for mayor of Kauai against incumbent Mayor Maryanne Kusaka
After handing her nominating petitions to the county clerk, Thronas ambled over to the local newspaper for the obligatory interview.
She sat down in an office with the managing editor and a reporter who asked her how much she expected to spend on her campaign.
“Last time, each candidate spent about $50,000,” she said. “I’m going to try to Jew that down to about $30,000.” The reporter just kept nodding his head and scribbled it down. He was well aware that Jew is a noun, not a verb or adjective.
Thronas, who was part-Hawaiian, had strong support from the Native Hawaiian community, which likes to label itself “The Host Culture.”
In fact, Native Hawaiians (Kanaka is the term they prefer) have become, thanks to America’s peculiar brand of expansionism (the word colonialism never was used, although in Hawaii’s case it certainly applied) a century ago, a conquered people and a small minority in its own land.
The swing vote on Kauai really belongs to the Filipino community, the poorest but most numerous ethnic group. In recent elections, it is the Filipino vote that has inevitably proven to be the deciding factor and the Filipinos are courted openly by Kauai’s politicians.
Kusaka was popular among Filipinos. Thronas conceded that would be a tough hill to climb.
“Well, the mayor has been handing out part-time jobs to the Filipino community for a long time. That way, she can hire lots of them for a few hours a week without having to bother with civil service and the unions.”
No fool, the incumbent mayor.
But then Thronas added: “You go over to the county building and it’s so packed
with Filipinos, it looks like a Manila taxicab.” Goodbye Filipino vote. Goodbye mayor’s office. Hello, big story.
The Associated Press picked it up and Thronas’s racist comments were reprinted all over Hawaii.
The National Public Radio station in Honolulu (which has transmitters on every island except Kauai, ironically) used it as a topic for a statewide call-in show.
The transplanted mainland limousine liberals and thirdgeneration hippies on Maui, of course, phoned to vent their politically correct furor at Thronas. The B’nai B’rith Anti- Defamation League (ADL) sent Thronas a sharp rebuke the
same day the story appeared. Who would have guessed a board member of the ADL, a retired doctor, lived on Kauai?
But those were all haoles, outsiders, mainlanders and they are a minority in Hawaii, comprising about 40 percent of Kauai’s population.
The majority is local and an astounding number defended what Thronas said.
“That’s just the way we talk,” was said over and over. “It doesn’t mean we discriminate against people.”
Thronas’s response fell a bit short of an apology: “How did I know the reporter was Jewish?”
The use of racist terms by local KPD officers is not unusual. Almost every KPD officer was born and raised on Kauai where racist slurs are part of every day vocabulary among locals..
During Randy Machado’s trial, Monica Alves testified that after she had been released the next morning, she made several calls asking when Richie would be released and how much bail he would be required to pay.
Machado answered one of the calls.
“’Why would you want to help that nigger (Richie is African-American) out?’” Alves testified that Machado asked her.
A month later, after she had been indicted, Alves was arrested again and booked into jail by Machado.
At Machado’s trial, she testified: “He told me I had two choices: I could go to jail for five years and not see my kids or I could help him ‘get the nigger.’”
There is no county or KPD written policy about the use of racial epithets. No Kauai government employee ever has been disciplined for using them.
And it’s made worse by the absence of the normal checks and balances found in government in the most of United States.
The civil rights revolution on the mainland was led by the courts. Brown vs. the Board of Education, the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ended racial segregation in the schools, was the foundation on which the outlawing of racism was built.
Ten years later came the Civil Rights Act.
If anyone on Kauai noticed, it still is hard to tell. There has been no similar trend toward diversity in either the Kauai court or Kauai County government. To a great extent, the rogue nature of the executive (mayor) and legislature (County Council) on Kauai were validated and endorsed by the judicial branch.
Up until very recently, the law on the Garden Island, as Kauai is known, was determined by a single judge, who was a local politician first and a jurist second.
The judge’s comments from the bench often were seasoned with racist statements. A defense attorney’s characterization of his Portuguese client as an honest citizen during sentencing typically brought a comment from the bench: “You’re wrong, counsel, I know that Portagee!”
The term “Law West of Honolulu” often is used by Oahu lawyers to describe Kauai’s court, a reference to the sign that hung over the door of Judge Roy Bean’s saloon/courthouse in Vinagaroon, Texas: “Law West of the Pecos.”
It’s not a term intended to be flattering to Kauai.
Kauai had its own Judge Bean. His name was Fifth Circuit Judge George Masuoka. He was Japanese-American (AJA or American of Japanese Ancestry is the term they prefer), an ethic group that considers itself elite and, in fact, the ruling class in Hawaii.
Masuoka, who retired in December 2006, was the scourge of criminals and the devoted friend of the Kauai County government (and an even closer personal friend of the chief justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court, which is how he kept his job).
He almost never gave probation. According to statistics published annually by the state, Masuoka handed out criminal sentences that, by a huge margin, were harsher than any judge in the state.
Whether intentional or not, Masuoka’s “law and order” stance in criminal cases was giving a green light to the KPD to violate the Constitutional rights of citizens however and whenever they chose.
In civil cases, Masuoka almost always sided with Kauai County when citizens brought suit against it. That was another signal to KPD that just about anything its officers did would be considered legal.
As a result of Masuoka’s foot dragging (and, to be fair, his heavy case load; he has been replaced by two judges) lawsuits against Kauai County tended to stall for many years.
The county’s strategy was to hope the plaintiffs would give up in frustration or from lack of money to pay lawyers, or they would simply die of old age waiting for a trial date. The county has plenty of money to pay lawyers and lots of patience.
The playing field isn’t at all level in the courthouse on Kauai.
That’s why, whenever they could, plaintiffs’ attorneys steered their cases against Kauai County toward federal court in Honolulu.
If the cases were filed in U.S. District Court, Kauai County almost always offered a huge settlement rather than going to trial. Kauai County knew it would lose in federal court and they certainly didn’t want public trials with witnesses testifying about the facts of the cases.
When a court like Kauai’s Fifth Circuit has a monopoly on justice the only judge abdicates his role as a sentinel guarding the “Rule of Law,” the politicians, the bureaucrats and, most important, the police happily follow.
Because the presiding judge for so many years refused to condemn or punish local officials who bent or broke the law, the government of Kauai County operated outside the law and was damn proud of it.
Kauai is a cultural (and judicial) (and political) backwater but it’s one of the most famous and popular tourist destinations in the world.
There are only 58,000 permanent residents on Kauai but more than one million tourists – many of them owners of time shares and second homes on the island and who pay taxes on Kauai – visit every year.
Ask visitors their thoughts about racism on Kauai and the tourists say it doesn’t exist.
In the words of one part-time Kauai resident from Missouri:
“The bag boys at the golf course are great guys. And I give them big tips.”