Statehood achieved change for all

Here is how we have changed.   In March 1959, a New York Republican, Rep. John Pillion, rose on the floor of the U.S. House to say: “In granting statehood to Hawaii, we actually invite four Soviet agents to take seats in the U.S. Congress.” Of course, our elected members of Congress, then Reps. Dan Inouye and John Burns and Sens. Hiram Fong and Oren Long, were Democrats and Republicans, not communists. But two of them were something perhaps more disturbing to 1959 America — they were not white. The late A.A. “Bud” Smyser, the Star-Bulletin editor, recalled how hard delegates worked to change Hawaii from a territory to a state and how it was blocked because “the ruling Caucasian establishment minority was happy with the status quo.” “Most of the elite weren’t willing to trust their Asian workers with voting equality,” Smyser wrote in 1996. Oddly enough, those echoes of just how far America wants to trust Hawaii sounded last week during Sen. Barack Obama’s homecoming vacation in the islands. Cokie Roberts, a commentator with ABC and National Public Radio, described Hawaii as “some sort of foreign, exotic place.” The snub dovetailed nicely with the Republican National Committee’s “Barack Obama’s Hawaii Travel Guide,” which was e-mailed to reporters last week to paint the Democrat as an elitist. There is a bit of a Hawaii-Louisiana connection in this national worry over Hawaii. The late Louisiana Congressman Hale Boggs, former majority leader, was Roberts’ father at the time that another powerful Louisiana congressman, Russell Long, was in Hawaii being wooed by local Democrats hoping to show the southerners that liberal nonwhites could actually be Americans. Former Gov. John Burns and a few longtime Hawaii Democratic stalwarts spent a night drinking and talking with Long. They convinced him that while Hawaii would support civil rights and Louisiana politicians would not, Hawaii could be a responsible state. The next day Long announced that he would vote for Hawaii statehood and a big brick fell out of the anti-Hawaii wall. Today we are preparing a year’s worth of celebrating the 50th anniversary of a 50-star flag flying over this state and we will bicker and hiss about whether it was right or just, but no one should forget that true civil rights only came to Hawaii on Aug. 21, 1959, the day Hawaii was admitted to the union. Richard Borreca writes on politics for the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached by e-mail at ]]>

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