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Governor Notes Bittersweet Tone In Political Openness

ASKED to reflect on his 8 years as governor of the nation's 50th state, Gov. John Waihee quotes a trend described by futurist John Naisbitt in his new book Global Paradox:

``Smaller and smaller groups are having greater and greater voice in the political process,'' says Mr. Waihee, who was the state's first native Hawaiian and is not eligible to run again. With a governor's race underway, he offers Naisbitt-style advice to his successor come January: ``Anyone who wants to govern here is going to have to deal with that phenomenon.''

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Asked for evidence of a recent activism among Hawaiians, Waihee notes that 14 candidates entered a winner-take-all mayoral election in Honolulu. And perhaps 300 splinter groups of ``kanaka maoli,'' or native Hawaiians, are increasingly active in a growing sovereignty movement.

``A lot of it has to do with communications - the ability of groups to communicate quickly and use the media,'' he says. ``They get very good and sophisticated at producing commercials for their points of view.''

Waihee's critics say all this has brought a greater sense of gridlock between Japanese Americans, ``haolies'' (Caucasians), an array of Asian immigrants, and native Hawaiians. In various forms, all are pushing for reform - in politics, government contracting and procurement, environmental laws.

Criticism has been heaped on the Waihee administration in recent years for alleged corruption, a 40-percent growth in cost of government, and a major slip in education rankings - to 48th among US states. The governor, however, takes credit in at least one sense for opening the door to more communication and new winds of change.

``Most of this [criticism] was made possible because during my administration we opened up government to the people,'' he says, citing the passage of an open records law passed in his first year. ``Today people and reporters can get information that was classified then ... it has been a bittersweet experience because on the one hand you uphold the principles of open government, and on the other you become a target.''

aihee's critics are many, but his list of accomplishments is long: the first state to adopt universal health care; pushing through community-based school management and a new-facilities building fund; construction of 21,000 housing units, 12,000 in the more affordable range; restoration of forest preserves; better public-private cooperation for attacking the islands' ecological crisis. He also has been given high marks by some for diversifying the economy.

There is little dispute to his claim that more has been done during his tenure in the area of Hawaiian rights and redress ``than anytime in the island's tenure as a state or even a territory.'' State funding for native groups has been increased, and an Office of Hawaiian Affairs - ``unheard of seven years ago,'' says Waihee -

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now oversees housing, economic opportunities, social and health services for Hawaiians.

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