Getting To The Bottom Of Aiona Support

I rarely wade into local politics in my columns, but this cycle I’m inclined to dip my currently un-pedicured toe into the pool of political “punditry.”

Let’s take the governor’s race: Hannemann, Aiona, Ige. If you turned their names into an acronym it would be HAI, the Japanese word for “yes” … and sometimes “no.” In Japan, in accordance with polite behavior, one is expected to nod and say “Hai” when a person is telling them something; kind of like saying over and over, “Uh huh, really, OK.” In other words, it’s good in Japan to agree without really meaning you agree, in the way, say, a signature would mean you agree on a legal document. Further, an outright “No” would be considered inconsiderate. That’s why non-Japanese — and even Japanese themselves — become confused about where someone really stands.

(I had this experience asking for directions in the Osaka airport recently. “Do you know the airport exit to get to this hotel?” I asked a store clerk. “Hai … hai … hai,” which, as it turned out, meant I have no idea but I don’t want you to be embarrassed that you asked.)

Anyway, the candidates’ initials came together to make my point: Office seekers always say “hai” on everything voters want to hear: on lowering taxes, on improving education, on creating a better business climate, on limiting massive expansion of high rises, on reducing traffic and so on.

Therefore, we voters, confounded by the “hai hai hai’s” of our would-be governors, have to determine whom to vote for by other means, and that brings me to why I’ve decided to support Duke Aiona: underwear.

I promise to get to the bottom of this … no pun intended.

It was the year 2006 and my first year working with Heart for Africa helping HIV/AIDs orphans in Swaziland. I helped put together a luncheon with friends and acquaintances in honor of Heart for Africa co-founder Janine Maxwell, who was here in Hawaii for a conference. She had flown halfway around the world, so it was important to show her that even way out here in the Pacific there are people who have a heart for African children with nothing to eat and no one.

Our committee members agreed that even though it was short notice, it would be great if a public figure could attend, so we decided to go big and invited then-Gov. Linda Lingle and Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona, hoping one or both could attend. Mind you, to invite a person in these high offices, there is a protocol. The request goes via a website to a scheduler who carefully manages the calendar. The request may or may not fit into the always-tight schedule of the heads of our state. It was a long shot. Then, with apologies, we were told that the governor would be off island and that the lieutenant governor had a meeting but would try to come. We didn’t hold our breaths.

People already were seated and the luncheon program was about to begin when, without fanfare or escorts, in walks Duke Aiona carrying a big package under his arm.


He had thought to buy and bring brand-new children’s underwear of different sizes to donate to the Swazi orphans. When he got up to speak off the cuff, he said nothing about himself, but had only words of praise and encouragement for the work Heart for Africa was doing for orphans. His familiarity and understanding clearly showed his research on Heart for Africa. If Maxwell, the Canadian who lives in Swaziland on a farm that cares for orphaned babies, could somehow vote in Hawaii, it would definitely be for the man whose name she couldn’t pronounce who brought the underwear.

Sometimes it’s not issues but character that wins the vote.