30+-year old stories from the Hawaii Observer still relevant to today’s issues

I recently came into possession of a stack of old Hawaii Observer newspapers. If you don’t remember the Observer, here’s the dry basics as listed in the UH library’s collection:

Frequency: Monthly
Paper: Dec 3, 1974 to Mar 9, 1978
Indexed in: Hawaii Pacific Journal Index

The observer tried to deliver long form, feature-style writing on key issues and events. Leafing through the old issues provides quite a bit of insight into modern Hawaii politics. Warren Iwasa, a sometimes commenter here, served as an editor. Maybe he can provide some additional first-person context.

In any case, two articles caught my eye in my first pass through the collection, and looked relevant enough to today’s headlines to scan the oversize pages in sections and then piece them back together digitally.

First: “The education of a teacher negotiator,” by the Obserer’s associate editor, Brian Sullam, is a long interview with Joan Husted, who was then HSTA’s lead negotiator. September 18, 1973.

Husted, who retired at the end of 2007 after 36 years with HSTA, has been in the news again this week with comments on the rejection of the state’s latest contract offer.

She told the Star-Advertiser:

Husted said the contract rejection has serious ramifications for relations among the Department of Education, the state administration and the union.

“It’s not a minor event,” she said. “It’s a major, major event. How do you problem-solve from this point forward? How is the administration assured that HSTA can sell what they agreed to? And how can HSTA agree to things without knowing where their teachers are? This is a very serious problem.”

In any case, Husted’s Observer interview gives a description of bargaining with the state is quite revealing, providing a good “feel” for the process. At one point, she was asked whether you ever raise your voice during negotiations.

Oh, yes. You raise your voice, but you have to do it selectively. There are two things that destroy a negotiator. Temper and fatigue. It is often said that the guy who will get the agreement will be the guy who outlasts the other fellow. You can’t afford to lose your temper at the table because you will say things that you don’t want the other side to know. But there are times when you selectively lose your temper, you get absolutely and positively indignant that they would even suggest something like that. It is a lot of bluff. The other thing to watch for is the point when you are so fatigued that you are willing to give away anything just to get away from the damned table. It is a hard process to describe.

Ah, but she described it so well!

Second: “How do we get from here to there, and how much is it going to cost?” by Tuck Newport, February 24, 1977.

The names are different, the costs much lower than today’s numbers, but this Hawaii Observer story about Honolulu’s rail transit debate covers the same issues that continue to surround the debate 35 years later.

The story describes the frustration of city council members after failing to get good answers to their questions about the financial plan for the rail. Cost, and the depth of public support for rail, were open questions.

Newport wrote:

There is no evidence of widespread popular support for rapid transit. City Council members and State legislators, even those sympathetic to transit, uniformly report opposition to it among their constituencies.”

Back in 1977, then-Mayor Frank Fasi was proposing to ask the legislature for county authority to impose a one-percent sales tax, with half going for transit.

“What if we don’t get a one-percent sales tax? asked Councilman Frank Loo.

“That is a decision for you to make,” replied Fasi.

Then, in another eerily relevant passage, Newport wrote:

At the back of the Council Chambers, Representative Ben Cayetano, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, told reporters that he would oppose release of the State’s share of matching funds for the environmental impact statement and preliminary engineering. Despite the Legislature’s tentative commitment to a 14-mile guideway, Cayetano has grown increasingly skeptical about the proposed system: “I’m having second thoughts. About its route. About its cost. About whether we really need it.”

And so it goes on this Sunday morning.

Oh, by the way, say “Happy Birthday, Ms. Meda!”

5 responses to “30+-year old stories from the Hawaii Observer still relevant to today’s issues

  1. When I first thought of the Hawaii Observer, the name Tuck Newport came to my mind. Whatever happened to him, does anyone know? I know he also worked for KGMB too…

  2. Ancient words and images retrieved by Ian from back issues of the Hawaii Observer bring back many memories.

    The Hawaii Observer was the brain child of Tuck Newport, a visionary who started the publication in 1973 when he was in his mid twenties. Tuck did it all. He got the funding, did the planning, and attended to the chores and details necessary to launch an alternative biweekly newspaper in Hawaii. He was an entrepreneur.

    I was thinking of going back to school when Tuck invited me to join the staff. Having just read Willie Morris’s “North Toward Home” after completing a year as a lecturer at UH, I was ready to try journalism.

    The idea behind the Hawaii Observer was simple. It would serve as our version of the Texas Observer. We would write about people and politics in Hawaii as if they mattered. Really, really mattered. We would connect the two, because politics doesn’t occur in a vacuum.

    On his way back to Hawaii from Washington, DC, where he had been working as an aide to Senator Dan Inouye, Tuck visited a number of alternative papers to gain insights into what lay ahead. Nothing prepares you one hundred percent for reality.

    The original staff consisted of young local people. Tuck, Brian Sullam, and Pete Thompson had been classmates at Punahou. Also recruited as part of the staff were Cindy Yokono, the ingenue of Tom Coffman’s first (and best) book, “To Catch a Wave”; Joan Namkoong, currently Hawaii’s most engaging food writer; and Russell Yamashita, then a UH student and now a thoughtful commenter on Ian’s site.

    Not local in the sense that he didn’t graduate from a local high school was Byron Baker. Byron was the gifted broadcaster whose two-minute reports on KHVH-Radio transformed legislative politics into comic high drama.

    When the Observer folded,Tuck moved to California, where he could more comfortably exercise his entrepreneurial bent. Brian had a long career as a business reporter for the Baltimore Sun. Pete’s been in the news recently in connection with the State’s investment in student loan auction-rate securities. Steve Shrader, who succeeded me as senior editor in 1976, died five years ago.

    Many years after the paper folded, I asked the late Fred Trotter, an early investor in the Observer, why he had given us money. He said, “Hawaii has historically lacked two things: investment capital and new ideas.”

  3. James Pritchett

    In early 73 I was the “feature” of one of the”Observer’s” stories. As well as the cover illustration ” Batman versus Hanneman”. Would love a copy of the front page and the story. Possible?
    808 271 5683

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