Times are suddenly good again in Hawaii. The 1990s were a terrible decade for this island state. Its gross state product declined from 1992 to 1998, the number of jobs peaked in 1991, foreign investment plummeted, bankruptcies zoomed, home sales dropped and welfare caseloads increased. Labor force participation declined as the number of young adults fell and the number of elderly rose: Hawaii seemed to be getting old and tired. The early 1990s recession in California and the decade-long recession in Japan had a devastating effect on the mainstay of Hawaii's economy-- tourism. The number of visitors peaked at 7 million in 1990, dropped to 6.1 million in 1993, and did not reach 7 million again until 2000: it was 6.9 million in 2001 and estimated at 6.4 million in 2002: September 11 really hurt. Sugar plantations and the Dole pineapple plantation in Lanai closed down. Agriculture, Hawaii's economic mainstay before tourism, employed just 12,000 Hawaiians in 2000. The military and the federal government have also been important to Hawaii's economy, but the number of military personnel and civilian federal employees fell from 97,800 in 1988 to 67,750 in 2000. But by 2004 Hawaii's economy had come back. Tourism rose back to 6.9 million in 2004, as Japan's economy recovered and the mainland U.S. economy surged. More tourists were from Eastern U.S. (east of the Rockies), and they stayed longer and spent more than Western U.S. tourists; destination weddings and extended family anniversaries became more common. Housing prices zoomed upward--the median sale price was over $500,000 on Maui and just under that on Oahu--and the construction industry boomed. Military cutbacks ended after September 11 and deployments overseas followed. Hawaii's small high-tech sector grew while Silicon Valley contracted. This economic turnaround coincided with a political turnaround, the election of Republican Linda Lingle as governor in 2002 after Democrats had held the office and controlled state government for 40 years. The question now is whether Hawaii can sustain it economic boom and at the same time preserve the defining characteristics that have made Hawaii strong and tolerant in the six decades since Pearl Harbor.
Hawaii was settled only about a thousand years ago by Polynesians who paddled across vast Pacific expanses in small outrigger canoes; when Captain Cook came here in 1776, he found his Maori interpreter from New Zealand could understand Hawaiian. On these geologically young islands, teeming with food and seldom inconvenienced by bad weather, Hawaiians built a fierce civilization, with harsh taboos and cannibalism as well as alluring music and dance. The islands were united politically in 1779 by King Kamehameha I, who ate one of his rivals and maintained the old culture. In 1819, within a year of his death, his consort Kaahumanu outlawed the Hawaiian religious taboos and welcomed the American missionary Hiram Bingham. New England missionaries and their trader cousins came--while British and Russian ships occasionally put into port--and established the predominant culture. By the 1850s, laborers from China, Japan, Portugal and the Philippines streamed in to work the sugar and pineapple plantations. American planters and businessmen bridled at the caprices of the royal family and, in January 1893, with the help of U.S. Marines, ousted Queen Liliuokalani from the Iolani Palace and called on the United States to annex Hawaii. President Grover Cleveland demurred, and Hawaii for five years was a republic; President William McKinley annexed it in July 1898.
This history is a source of regret for some; an Onipa'a ceremony remembering Liliuokalani's overthrow was staged by John Waihee, the first governor of Native Hawaiian descent, in January 1993, with the American flag conspicuously absent. Yet Hawaii is a civilization both American and Pacific, which has created a better life for its citizens than almost any other island or native commonwealth. Its ethnic mixing began a century ago when disease reduced the native Hawaiians to 45,000; they shared Liliuokalani's Hawaii with 3,000 Americans, 20,000 Chinese and 25,000 Japanese.
To that Americana, each group has made positive contributions. The Asian migrant laborers brought traditions of hard work, family loyalty and group solidarity that found expression most vividly in the performance of the 442d ''Go for Broke'' Regimental Combat Team, made up mostly of sons of Japanese immigrants, which became the most decorated unit in U.S. military history. The Yankee spirit has been evident in Hawaii's commercial success and in its attachment to the rule of Anglo-American law. The Hawaiian spirit is alive in the vitality of the aloha ambience, the welcoming of others despite their differences, and a willingness to absorb the teachings of others while maintaining a certain Polynesian attitude toward life. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, no one in Hawaii or on the mainland doubted that this was part of America. Ironically, it was Hawaii's super-American tolerance that inspired segregationist Southern Democrats to block its admission to the Union for years. Today, Hawaiians retain pride in their ethnic heritage--or heritages: About half of non-military weddings are ''out'' marriages and most babies are of mixed ethnicity. In the 2000 Census, 18% of Hawaiians identified themselves as being of two races and 7% said three or more. Some 23% described themselves as at least partly Native Hawaiian--nearly 225,000 descendants of the 45,000 Native Hawaiians of the mid 19th century. By census category, Hawaii in 2000 was 41% Asian, 23% white, 2% black, 9% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander and 7% Hispanic. But those categories seem artificial when looking at Hawaii. Local experts identify Hawaiians by ethnicity and give estimates of the size of each group: Hawaiian 22%, Caucasian 21%, Japanese 18%, Filipino 12%, Chinese 5%. The 2004 NEP exit poll classified the electorate as 42% white, 26% Asian, 10% Latino, 1% black and 22% "other."
Before 1960, Hawaii seemed to be Republican; after all, southern Democrats were blocking statehood and championing racial segregation. John Kennedy carried it in 1960 by just 115 votes. But from 1962 to 2002, its politics was dominated by a Democratic machine which had its beginning in the 1950s, when returning World War II veterans like Daniel Inouye, Spark Matsunaga and George Ariyoshi joined forces with former mainlander John Burns, who as a policeman during the war helped prevent persecution of Japanese Americans. They allied themselves with the then-powerful International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, and cemented the allegiance of Japanese American voters. The Burns-Inouye machine built on the grievances against the haole (a pejorative word for white) owners of the big companies and triumphed. Inouye was elected as a Democrat to the House in 1959 and to the Senate in 1962; Burns was elected governor in 1962, and for 40 years the office was passed down in lineal succession to George Ariyoshi, John Waihee and Benjamin Cayetano--a balanced ticket, of Japanese, Native Hawaiian and Filipino descent. As agriculture and the docks became less important, the ILWU's power waned; it has been replaced by the strongly Democratic public employee unions. Voting has long tended to run along ethnic lines. Japanese Americans, used to working in organizations in unions and government, have tended to be the heart of the Democratic Party; whites, with relatively high incomes, have tended toward Republicans; Filipinos, often in menial jobs, are heavily Democratic; Chinese, somewhat less so; Native Hawaiians, are heavily Democratic but not as likely to be active in politics.
Over the years this machine has built a large government. Despite some 1990s tax cuts, Hawaii had the third highest per capita tax burden in the nation in 2000 and by far the highest number of state and local employees per capita. This is centralized government: Hawaii has five counties (with one, Honolulu, covering 72% of the population), one school district and one statewide health care plan.
Eight public and private entities own 69% of Hawaii's land: The federal government 16%, the state 29%, and six private landowners 24%. The Bishop Estate (Mrs. Bishop was the last surviving descendant of Kamehameha I), now called the Kamehameha Schools Estate, owns 8%. A 1984 U.S. Supreme Court decision upheld a Hawaii law forcing the estate to sell land held in 99-year leaseholds when they expire, and with the resulting cash the estate has made vast investments. Its total net worth is some $10 billion, and its purpose is to fund the Kamehameha Schools for Native Hawaiians.
The sluggish economy, high taxes and insider control all worked to undermine the hold of the Democratic machine on voters. The opposition to the machine, often carried on in primaries or in the form of third party candidacies by longtime Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi, coalesced in 1998 in the person of Republican Linda Lingle. She lost to incumbent Ben Cayetano by only 50%-49% and in 2000 Republicans made gains in state legislative races. In 2002 Lingle won 52%-47% but union-backed Democrats made gains in both the primary and general elections; they gained more seats in 2004.
Hawaii has great potential. It is still the favorite tourist destination of the Japanese, who throng to the King Kamehameha Hula Competition every June. It still has great potential as a central Pacific emporium--the stability of the American flag and dollar, the heritage of tolerance and openness to diversity that is second to none, the wondrous climate and physical beauty of these islands.
Hawaii may face problems also from the Native Hawaiian sovereignty movement. Consciousness of native ancestry grew in the 1990s: Many more Hawaiians claimed Native Hawaiian ancestry in the 2000 Census than before, partly because of the new option of claiming multiple races. More people are learning the Hawaiian language. The centennials of the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani (1993) and of U.S. annexation of Hawaii (1998) inspired demonstrations and expressions of bitterness over the end of the Hawaiian kingdom; a Hawaiian who claims he is still living under the pre-1893 constitution filed a lawsuit in the World Court. A state sovereignty commission met for two years and in 1996 sponsored a referendum of Native Hawaiians; 73% of those eligible (with some native blood) voted yes on the question, ''Shall the Hawaiian people elect delegates to propose a native Hawaiian government?'' The problem is that no one is quite sure what sovereignty means--independence, a commonwealth status like Puerto Rico's, Indian tribal status? In February 2000 the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the 1978 Hawaii state constitutional amendment setting up Native-Hawaiian-only elections for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which administers a $400 million trust fund. That decision casts doubt on other provisions of the 1978 amendment, including the Hawaiian Homes Commission and the recognition of native gathering rights on private property. The bill granting Native Hawaiians Indian status was passed in the U.S. House in September 2000, but was not acted on by the Senate, and its advocates considered it effectively killed by the election of George W. Bush.