law

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Suzanne Case

 

An idyllic childhood spent outdoors in Hilo set the stage for Suzanne Case’s lifelong commitment to the preservation of Hawai‘i’s natural resources, first as a conservation lawyer, and then as the executive director of The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i for 14 years. Her deep love of nature has helped guide her current leadership role, as chairperson at the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Oct. 28 at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Suzanne Case Audio

 

Suzanne Case Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is my favorite national park.  We used to hide in the lava tube and scare the tourists. And at age four saw the Kīlauea Iki eruption, which was two thousand feet in the air.  And you know, I had that experience of hot lava and cold air on my back, and we were all lined up on a wall at the edge of the crater.  So, I mean, that kind of thing is just a powerful experience.

 

She grew up experiencing some of the natural wonders of Hawai‘i.  And now, her job is protecting them for future generations.  Suzanne Case, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  There’s a tremendous amount of legal and other office work that goes into protecting and preserving the lands and waters of Hawai‘i. But Hilo born Suzanne Case, who heads the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, is not only handy with paper trails, she’s handy on mountain trails too.  In fact, she needs nature in her life.  Case is a familiar name in Hawai‘i.  Suzanne’s brother is former U.S. Congress member Ed Case, and her cousin is entrepreneur Steve Case, who cofounded America Online or AOL.  Suzanne Case has spent most of her career looking out for natural resources, first as legal counsel, and later as Hawai‘i executive director of the Nature Conservancy.  In 2015, Governor David Ige appointed her to lead the department charged with managing the State of Hawai‘i’s natural resources.  Her deep connection to nature took root while she was growing up in rural Hilo, on Hawai‘i Island.  Her father, James Case, took a job at the Hilo office of the Carlsmith and Ball law firm in 1951.

 

So, I was born in Hilo, and grew up in Keaukaha until I was about ten.

 

Okay; I have to stop you there, because everyone I’ve met in Keaukaha is a Native Hawaiian homesteader.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

Your family lived there.

 

So, there is the Native Hawaiian homestead, and a longer neighborhood going down to the end of the road.  We were in that neighborhood; we were down towards the end of the road.  We went to third and fourth grade at Keaukaha Elementary. So, it was a whole mixture there. But it is a very diverse community, and very outdoorsy.  The road goes right along the water.  We lived right across the street from the water.  And so, you know, every day, we were in the water.

 

It’s two steps into the water, practically.

 

 

Totally; yeah, yeah, yeah.  You cross the yard, go down the wall, cross the road, and you know, walk down, and you’re there.  And so, we were there every day, either in the water, or scrambling along the shoreline. You know, it’s all lava rock there, a lot of underground caverns and stuff.  We had ponds on our property, there were ponds in the neighbor’s property. We were right across the street from the Richardson’s, we’d call it, Fishpond, which was and is a beautiful fishpond.  You could scramble along the wall, there’s a mākāhāthere.  And it’s now a community center, which is perfect for it.

 

And why did your family pick that area? Because you have a choice of where to live in Hilo.

 

Yeah. I think my parents just wanted a place. We had a lot of kids in my family.

 

How many kids?

 

Six kids growing up.  And so, were just outdoors all the time.  And I think they just wanted us to be outdoors.  When we were little, my dad would come home from work for lunchtime and have a bite, and take us for a swim.  And then, come home after work, and we’d go for a swim.  And you know, so you learned to swim.  We swam underwater on his shoulders, you know, just right out in front of the house.  And so, that part was really neat.

 

Well, your father sounds like he was such an engaged father.  And your mom.

 

Very much.  They both were very engaged.  Yeah. So, my mom actually finished her college when we were in Hilo, when she had, you know, young kids.  And then later, her master’s when she had more young kids.  But you know, she was at home all the time, and cooking and sewing.  She made our clothes.

 

She had a set of twins among all the kids.

 

Yeah; yes.  They came a little bit later, so I grew up really with three brothers, and then later on, a brother and a sister.  So, lots of outdoor energy from that group.

 

Did your parents or your brothers make allowances because you were you a girl?

 

Not at all.  No; no. And I was pretty much of a tomboy growing up.

 

You weren’t gonna let them take the lead.

 

Right. I mean, there were a couple of things that, you know, I thought it was unfair that they got to do, that I didn’t.

 

For example?

 

I don’t know.  I mean, part of it was just I had older brothers.  But on the flip side, my dad used to take me out to lunch, starting in preschool, on the last day of school, because you know, there were so many boys, he wanted to do something special.  And so, that was a tradition that continued all through high school, and he does it with his grandchildren now.  And my brothers were very jealous of that.

 

Which of your siblings were you closest to?

 

Probably Ed.  Over our whole life, you know, he was really my oldest brother growing up, so I always looked up to him.  And you know, we’re still quite close.

 

Your elementary school was destroyed by a tsunami.

 

Yes; yeah.

 

The old Waiākea Kai.

 

Waiākea Kai Elementary School; right.  It wiped out a whole community.  And I was there from kindergarten through second grade, and then we went to Keaukaha Elementary School.

 

How much of an impression did that make on you?

 

Very bit impression.  Waiākea Kai was predominantly Japanese, mixed community, and Keaukaha was predominantly Hawaiian community.  So, it was a big part of kinda my grounding in Hawaiian language and music, and culture, and in fourth grade, played in the Merrie Monarch Festival.  So, I learned ukulele then, and you know, kala‘au sticks that my friend’s grandfather made.  And you know, so all my friends were Hawaiian, and they got to go to Kamehameha Schools, and I didn’t really understand why I couldn’t go there.  But it gave me a real love of Hawaiian language and music, and culture that I think, you know, lasted with me.

 

You’ve had a couple of aha moments.  I remember you speaking of one when you were a kid, spearfishing, which changed your behavior.

 

Yeah.

 

Tell us about that time.  That was probably in Keaukaha.

 

It was actually in Honomalino Bay in South Kona.  We used to go there for vacations.  A very remote place, very off the grid.  And we spent a week or two at a time, every single year, when I was growing up.  And a very, very special place.  I knew it underwater better than above water.

 

Where is it?

 

Honomalino; it’s south of Miloli‘i, South Kona.

 

Oh, that’s very south.

 

It’s very south.  You know, no roads to it, kind of thing.  So, my dad made our Hawaiian sling spear guns out of, you know, bamboo and surgical tubing, and electrician’s tape.  And so, you know, we always had the right size spear for our height.  And so, you know, we learned how to fish, but we had to, of course, clean and eat our fish.  And so, I finally, at age eleven or so, caught my first weke is what I caught. And then after that, after you got good enough, you had to go for the real eating fish.  And so, for me, that was uhu.  But they were much faster, and I never could spear one.  And so, one day, I just got so tired and so frustrated that I just turned, and I speared a butterfly fish, just because I wanted some success.  And the spear ripped through the fish, and the fish swam away with this gash it in. And I went: Oh, that was not pono. And so, I quit spearfishing.  I knew that I couldn’t do it if I was gonna not do it the right way.  So, I quit spearfishing.  I actually saved up my money, and I bought an underwater camera housing for an Instamatic.

 

Oh, you shot them in another way.

 

I turned into an underwater photographer at age twelve.  And so, it was just a powerful moment for me of realizing you have to do the right thing.

 

Suzanne Case faced a culture shock at age nine. Her family packed up and left the country life in Hawai‘i Island that they loved, and moved to the City of Honolulu, Oahu.

 

When I was almost ten, my dad’s firm asked him to move to Honolulu, to build up the Honolulu office.  And so, we were just between—just finished fourth grade, and so, none of us wanted to move.  First, we thought we were just gonna go for a little while, and so we thought that was fine. But when we found out that we were moving for permanent, we just said: N-O, we are not gonna go.  All of us kids, we just: We are not going.

 

And then, of course, we had to.  But it was rough; it was very rough.  I always felt like country bumpkin goes to the big city.  And you know, it was a rough transition.  I went from public school to private school; that was part of the transition.

 

So, from Keaukaha Elementary to Punahou.

 

To Punahou; yes, exactly.  They were just two worlds.  And you know, Punahou is a great school, but it took me a good maybe four years to really kind of find my place there.

 

You repeated sixth grade.

 

I did. That was probably the thing that was most influential in my getting settled at Punahou and turning out more successful.

 

It was for social reasons?

 

It was for social reasons.  And I was struggling a little bit academically.  I think I was borderline when we moved from Honolulu, and normally maybe they keep you back.  And so, they said: Well, you know, let’s go with it.  But after two years, my teachers and my parents recommended I do that. And you know, that was a hard social adjustment, but really, really good one.

 

I would think it’s hard, because you know your classmates go on without you.

 

Yeah. Yeah; yeah.  Yeah, and you know, and it’s awkward.  Right?  But it was good for me.  I had my first success in school.  We were up at Camp Timberline, and had to do a study project, and a study plot.  I happened to have a spider in my plot, and so, I ended up really studying that spider for a week and, you know, got an A-plus on my science paper.  And I’m like: Oh, that feels good.  You know. Feels good to understand what it takes to, like, really apply yourself, to be really good at something.  And that was neat.  So, you know, that kinda thing helps your transition.

 

You got so comfortable at Punahou, where you had once felt uncomfortable, that you became the first female student body president.

 

I did; I did.  And it was kind of one of those step-up things; right?  So, you know, I remember thinking about it for a while.  I had been on a student council, small advisory council, and I remember just feeling like, again, I should do this, I should step up and, you know, do this kind of service.  So, I did, and I ran, and I was elected.  And so, I was the first female student body president at Punahou.

 

Did you remain an outdoorsy person in Honolulu?

 

Yeah; totally.  So, we moved to Tantalus, and so that’s an outdoorsy place.

 

So, that’s the country in town.

 

That’s the country in town.  It’s a very, you know, special place to live in terms of, you know, it’s very close to town, but it’s in the forest.  So, again, we were just like—the neighbors were much more spread out, so a little more lonely place to have that period of your life.  But you know, we had kids about a mile up the road, and so, we would, you know, find paths through the forest.  And we had this system of neighbors picking up kids after school at the steps at the bottom of the hill.  And nobody does that anymore. but we were essentially hitchhiking, except with people that we knew.  And so, very, very independent.  You know, you could come home whenever you want.  And we had a great mudslide right near our house, so you know, we’d go out especially when it was pouring rain.  That would be the best, and just get covered in mud.  And you know, that was some dangerous stuff there, but you know, you were lucky that you don’t get in too much trouble.

 

In addition to enjoying forests on Mount Tantalus above Honolulu, Suzanne Case continued to be fascinated by the reefs and ocean, with the help of two popular television shows of the time.

 

I just dreamed about being a scuba diver, and used to watch the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau and Sea Hunt, Lloyd Bridges’ Sea Hunt in black and white. We didn’t have television until we moved to Honolulu, and then it was very, very restricted.  So, I always wanted to learn to scuba dive, and you could get certified when you’re fourteen.  So, soon as I was fourteen, my dad and I signed up for a course, and we both took it.  And I was actually much more comfortable underwater than he was.  But we got certified, and then I started diving, and then I found people to go diving with as well.  And then, I saved up my babysitting money to buy a set of scuba gear—so tank, regulator, pack, vest.  And I used to go diving a lot, mostly on Oahu off of Waikiki, off of Hawai‘i Kai, off of Hanauma Bay, Cockroach Gulch, and also Sharks Cove, Makua. So, you know, I loved kinda the meditation of being underwater, and just blowing bubbles, and being still and—

 

Bringing your camera.

 

I did.

 

With the underwater housing.

 

I did; I did.

 

After graduating from Punahou School, Suzanne Case followed in the footsteps of her father and others in the Case ‘ohana, including her older brother, former Congressman Ed Case, by entering the world of law.

 

In our family, half of us went into law.  I would say on my cousins’ side, they were more on the business side.  But I think all of us had, you know, a sense of like, kind of social responsibility.  You know, a sense that we needed to contribute somehow to Hawai‘i, to society and stuff, and so, it just expressed itself in different ways. You know, Ed’s very much of a public servant in politics, and you know, Steve obviously is a really fine businessman. And you know, all just trying to do something good for the world.

 

Was that said to you explicitly by your parents? This is what you’ve got to do, this is what we believe in.

 

They had a strong sense that we had to contribute to society, I guess is the way we were kind of brought up.  I mean, I can’t point to a specific thing they said, but that was kind of a theme going on.  You know, you need to do something good for society with your life.

 

You chose to go to law school.  Was it a real choice?  Did you feel, you know, expected to?

 

By the time I went to law school, it was a real choice, because I didn’t think I was gonna go for a long time.  And honestly, I didn’t really understand what my dad did.  He did business legal transactions.  So, I was around it all the time; I just didn’t really understand what a lawyer did.  And I didn’t really understand it until I went to law school.  But I think by the time I went to law school, I realized that I needed to do something that was intellectually engaging.  And so, it turned out to be a really good path for me. And I ended up practicing law for eighteen years, mostly real estate transactions, mostly in conservation.  I worked at the Nature Conservancy for twenty-eight years.

 

A nonprofit; and in charge of conservation of lands.

 

It’s a conservation organization globally.  And so, I worked there as a lawyer from 1987 to 2001.  I worked all over the western United States.  I worked in Hawai‘i, I worked in the Asia Pacific region, places like Indonesian and Papua New Guinea, and China, and Pohnpei.

 

Were you negotiating tracts of land?

 

So, in the US, we were, very much.  We were basically doing conservation transactions.  So, real estate transactions to put important pieces of land into permanent protection.  And so, that was just another switch.  I practiced real estate law in a law firm in San Francisco for four years after I graduated from law school.  And that was just straight real estate transactions; one pension fund buys an office building from another pension fund, so I saw it as kind of morally neutral work.  Whereas when I made the switch to the Nature Conservancy, you know, I felt good about everything I was doing.  But it was still real estate transactions, it was still problem-solving in terms of like, what are all the things you need to do to get to this point on closing day. You know, always referred to it as closing instinct.  You need to get here by this date, so what are all the things you need to do.  But that was for conservation.  And then, in the middle of that in 2001, I was in Hawai‘i, still as lawyer, and was asked to be the acting director, ‘cause the previous state director was leaving.  And I said: Uh-uh.  I said: There’s plenty of people that could do a much better job than me, I’m perfectly happy being a lawyer.  And so, the regional director who had asked me just, you know, continued to talk to me about it, and then something just switched in my head, and I said: Yeah, I’d like to do that.  And it was a real switch.  It was a switch from implementing to like, figuring out where we need to go, what’s the path to get there.

 

Also, you began working with donors, too.

 

Very much; yeah.

 

Fundraising big deals.

 

Yeah; yeah.  And that’s obviously a big challenge for people to do and very much of a change from, you know, just doing the legal work.  But you know, my only kind of path in it was just to realize that, you know, what you’re doing is, you’re telling people this great work that needs to be done. And there are people who want to do this great work, so you’re, you know, offering them a path to implementing their own dreams as well.  So, you know, once you realize that you’re talking that language with a person about what they care about too, then it works.

 

Suzanne Case led the Hawai‘i program of the Nature Conservancy for fourteen years before being nominated by Governor Ige in 2015 to head the State Department of Land and Natural Resources.  Case said she had not envisioned herself in that position, but after legislative approval, she stepped up to a new set of challenges.

 

You were chosen after lawmakers didn’t like a previous selection by the governor, who was Carlton Ching.  But when you came onto the scene, many people were saying: She’s perfect for this job.  You live the job.

 

Yeah.

 

And in a sense, I can see exactly what they mean, because you are somebody who loves the outdoors.

 

Yes.

 

You live it.

 

Yeah.

 

And you want to protect it.  So, that’s who you’ve always been.

 

Yeah. I’ve always been very outdoorsy, very deep love of Hawai‘i, deep love of places, and this problem-solving; you know, the how you do it, and the why you do it.

 

Right.

 

In combination.

 

And you had legal skills, to boot.

 

Yeah. And so, that’s been really helpful to me.  So, all of that, you know, DLNR has a broader mandate.  In the Nature Conservancy, we were very focused on protecting our forests and reefs.  And that is true also in DLNR, but there’s also state parks and historic preservation, and enforcement, and conservation regulation, and small boating, and you know, a whole slew of things.  You have to come up with a decision a lot of times, and the decision is gonna affect somebody positively and somebody negatively.  So, how do you make sure that at least they all feel like they’ve been heard.  And then, you know, that you’re doing something that really has a good public policy base in it.

 

But you know that it’ll never be win-win for everyone.  Somebody will always be unhappy with your decision.

 

That’s a very hard thing about it; it’s a very hard thing.  Yeah; yeah.  But overall, our mission is to protect Hawai‘i’s public trust, natural and cultural resources. So, that’s just the underlying driver. And that helps a lot, because a lot of times, there is a greater good and, you know, it may hurt somebody who would like a bigger piece of that greater good, but you’re trying to come up with something that’s fair.

 

Do you sleep at night saying: Oh, no, you know, I’m working really hard in this area, but over here there’s coral bleaching going on.

 

All the time.

 

And what’s gonna go on.

 

All the time; yeah, yeah.  And it’s even much more specific.  It’s like: Oh, gosh, I need to get back to this person, or there’s an issue here. Something is bothering me here, so we haven’t worked this one out yet.  And so, yeah, there’s a lot of processing, you know.

 

Always feeling like you’re not doing enough, and in fact, you’re doing a lot.

 

Yeah; yeah.  But again, you know, you have to find that balance, too; right?  So, you know, I’m fortunate I live on Tantalus again, and around my family all the time, and I’m in the forest all the time.  So, I have that kind of, you know, ability to kinda step back and, you know, take a deep breath, and go: Okay, what’s important to do next.  And that’s been very special for me.

 

Does it ever take away from your feeling of enjoyment in these places that you have the obligation to protect them, and there’s a lot to do?  I mean, does that tarnish some of it for you?

 

Not at all.  It drives it. And a lot of the projects, you know, are also very much driven by the communities that we work in.  And so, they have that intimacy too, sometimes for many, many generations.  And so, it’s a motivator.  You understand how important it is, and so it’s very inspiring.

 

What’s next after this?  I mean, this could go on for a while or not, but what’s after this?

 

You know, I think the point is, you just have to be open to, you know, whatever life brings.  And once you make that leap to leave a whole career behind, and do this public service, you just have to hang with whatever the future brings.  So, I’m definitely in this general field for the long haul, and will just continue to try to do my best for Hawai‘i and the planet.

 

Suzanne Case says that outdoor activities are still her favorite pastime, and they help her to understand her conservation work from inside, out.  All of her career, she’s jumped into her work on site visits, such as on numerous trips to Palmyra Atoll, a thousand miles south of Hawai‘i, for the Nature Conservancy. She likes to get a firsthand look at what needs to be protected.  Mahalo nui to Suzanne Case of Honolulu.  And thank you for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawai‘i.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Palmyra is a place to me, you know, it’s both good and bad that more people can’t get there. But it’s the kind of place where, if you can see a place like that, it totally resets your baseline.  You understand what our world is supposed to look like underwater, and you know, what we’ve lost in Hawai‘i just from overuse.  But to me, it’s a great inspiration for what we can make it look like again, if we take care of it.

 

 

KĀKOU – Hawai‘i’s Town Hall
The Future of Work

Program

 

Will you be employable? Will your children?

Conversations about the future and the kind of world our children and their children will inherit from us include familiar concerns and well-defined subjects: The National Debt. Environmental Destruction. Climate Change. Sustainability. But there’s another conversation that needs to happen. Although the workplace has changed throughout the decades, none of us can fully grasp the kind of transformational change that lies ahead. How we work. Where we work. And the skills we need for work will change work – as we know it today – forever.

 
Preview opening clip: Growth Tribe

 

The FUTURE OF WORK is the topic for the next live KĀKOU – Hawai‘i’s Town Hall – Thursday, October 25 from 8:00 – 10:00 pm. Representatives from government, labor and the education and business communities will be joined by workers, parents and students for a community conversation about what is referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the impact it is creating on local economies and employment landscapes – including Hawai‘i’s. Are we preparing our children for a future where disruptive technology will transform the workplace and much of the way we live?

 

What will life in Hawai‘i be like 10, 20 and 30 years from now when technology is firmly embedded and in most cases dominating the workplace? Could this be a positive opportunity to diversify Hawai‘i’s economy and job landscape? How do we prepare future generations for WORK 4.0?

 

 


<< Return to the KĀKOU home page.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Original Thinkers

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Original Thinkers

 

Look back on three guests who trusted their instincts and possessed unwavering confidence in the choices they made. We revisit our conversations with the late Hawai‘i State Supreme Court Chief Justice William S. Richardson, Wai‘anae High School (O‘ahu) educator Candy Suiso and video game creator-turned-philanthropist Henk Rogers.

 

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Oct. 14, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Original Thinkers Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

It’s a monumental decision that affects us every day.

 

William S.  Richardson:

It does, and I go swimming too.  And I know I can walk to a certain spot, and this is public property.  And my friends and I can use it.

 

Candy Suiso:

And for our kids, we want them to be the best at whatever they choose to be.  And be honest, contributing citizens to our community.  To come back, to give back, and just to do what’s right in life.  Do what’s right, even when no one’s watching.

 

Henk Rogers:

The game business is bigger than the movie business.  Sometimes, I see young people, and they go: I want to be a game designer, I want to get into the game business.  To get into the game business today, you can’t just be good; you have to be brilliant.

 

How can you spot a truly creative mind, an innovator and problem-solver?  Do they share similar personality traits?  Are they smarter than the rest of us?  More confident, more daring.  Coming up on Long Story Short, three very different, all practitioners of original thinking.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Original thinkers reveal themselves as they assume a variety of roles within our community. What is that special motivation or skill that inspired a chief justice, a public schoolteacher, and a videogame creator turned philanthropist?  All three trusted their instincts, their sense of priority and free-thinking.

 

First, we’ll turn to a 2009 conversation with a man known as CJ, a nickname given to the late Hawai‘i State Supreme Court Chief Justice William S. Richardson.  He was a public school graduate who grew up in a working class Kaimukīfamily during the 1920s.  He championed Hawai‘i’s Democratic Party during its rise to power in the 50s, and served as lieutenant governor during the John Burns administration.  He was the State’s chief justice during some of the most formative years in Hawai‘i’s history, when a young island state searched for its sense of identity and fundamental values.

 

You were one of the people that was excited about statehood, that helped to make it happen, that recrafted government in the wake of statehood.  And now, we’re coming up on the fiftieth anniversary of statehood, 2009.  Many Hawaiians don’t see that as cause for celebration.

 

Well … to me, it’s great cause for celebration. We’re part of a great country. Like every other state in the union, they had to come up and live, and have their new laws jive with the old. Even if you go back to England, where the common law came over, and if you looked at the way the law went across the country right through the Louisiana Purchase where the French came in, and the country had to adjust to that.  And now, we must still look at how it affects the Far East and all the other countries and states and islands throughout the Pacific Ocean.

 

Part of what is now, is based on the Great Māhele, King Kamehameha III.  And it was a distribution of land.  Do you think that was pono?

 

I think it’s pono.  I think our leaders of the past were as good as any that ever existed, that our Hawaiian ways were just ways of living.  And Hawai‘i should revive what we could of the good parts. And I would say almost all of it were good parts.

 

You could have used the English law as a precedent, but often, you would look back to see what ali‘i from the Monarchy days did.

 

Well, whenever I could, whatever the history books would come up with on old Hawai‘i and what few things that I had picked up over the years, I felt that I should try to apply those to the extent that we could.

 

For example, when the question came, who owns the new land being created by lava from the volcano, what was the answer of your court?

 

Well, that seemed easy enough for me, but I know the beaches were needed in Hawai‘i.  Without our beaches, there was no Hawai‘i to speak of, the Hawai‘i that we loved.

 

Now, in many parts of the continent, the beaches are private property; right?

 

Yes.  It seemed perfectly logical to me that people should be able to use the beaches, and that the property lines could not follow all of the methods of old England, say, and that I should try to bring those cases up in line to the way the Hawaiians did it.

 

And that wasn’t the only big one you did.  There were the rights of citizens to challenge Land Court decisions, Native Hawaiian rights, and use of private property water.

 

Again, I wasn’t that much of an expert on Hawaiian law.  But I had a good court.  They were willing and able go and look at all of the problems, and see what was going on. And I traveled around the islands a lot. And you’re speaking now perhaps of water right, which was so important, because we were a plantation community. And you get to a case like when two plantations began to argue over how much water they could have.  They both needed water.  But when a third one began to take too much water, to the detriment of some of the others, then you had to decide whose water should it be.  The Robinson case in the end was clear to me, but it seemed revolutionary, I suppose.  But the people who really needed the water were those on the bottom of the streams, the taro patch and the rice patch owners.  They’re the ones that needed the water.  And so, it seemed simple to me to just say: Well, neither of you is entitled to all of that water; it’s the people down below, the taro patch owners and the rice patch owners.

 

It’s elegantly simple.  I actually talked with the dean of the law school, which is named after you.  Avi Soifer said imagine, you know, very complicated filings, going on for years, big battle, and you said: Well, let’s take a look at what’s happening at the end of the line.

 

Well, and we were a new state, not used to following and just being a follower.  We needed to decide to decide for ourselves what was best for our people.

 

You took some heat over that.

 

I did.

 

But it became a symbol of enlightenment.  People said, you know, here’s a far-thinking guy using the past to build on the future.

 

Well, of course, I’m glad to hear you say that. And I thought it was right.  There was never any question in my own mind.

 

Chief Justice William Richardson, for whom the law school at the University of Hawai‘i is named, was an original thinker, in the right place at the right time, and his legacy is embedded in the constitutional laws of our state.

 

Sometimes, the journey that brings the right original thinker to the right place and time is really not much of a journey at all, but no less impactful. In our 2009 conversation with Candy Suiso, she said that when she graduated from Wai‘anae High School, she thought she wanted to get away from the Leeward Coast community, and never come back.  Thankfully, this second-generation teacher and Milken Award winning educator had a change of heart.  Although she would insist on sharing the credit, today, Suiso’s legacy is the national Emmy Award winning Searider Productions at Wai‘anae High School.  It is not only the largest, most successful digital media center any school in the state, it’s the driving force behind a movement to improve a challenged community from within.

 

I wanted to make a difference.  I wanted to give back to a community that was very good to me.  I really felt that that’s where I was the most needed.  It felt right.  I wanted to be home.  I wanted to be in a community that raised me.  And it was the right thing to do; I just felt that that was the right thing to do. And it was the right decision, when I look back.

 

Much of what you’ve done at Wai‘anae High School wasn’t done, really, within the system.  You had to find ways to equip yourself and your students with grants.  You had to become a grant writer to get the proper equipment, the space.

 

M-hm.  Within the DOE, there’s so many limitations, and there’s only so much money to go around. And part of our success is, I believe we’ve learned to work around the system, and been very successful in, like you said, going after a lot of grants.  A lot of support, pulling together partners, pulling together people that believe in you; that’s been our success.  We had to prove our self.  You know, like you said, the right people at the right time started to notice these students, and started to give.  Because they were doing things with nothing.  When we first started, we started in a classroom with no air conditioning, with very little equipment.

 

And by the way, heat isn’t just bad for people.

 

It’s so bad.

 

It’s bad for equipment.

 

We would pack fifty kids, forty kids in a classroom, and it was hot, and no air conditioning.  But you know, those kids never grumbled.  They never grumbled because they didn’t have an air-conditioned room or top of the line equipment, like a lot of other schools did.  Instead, they just started to create projects, and they did some pretty good projects, and people started to notice.  That’s what happens; people started to notice.

 

How did they know they could do that?  What got them started?

 

You give them the tools.  As educators, you know, the team of educators, there was enough people out there that said: You can do it; of course, you can do it. Make a video; here, here’s the tool, here’s the camera.  Here’s your tool; here’s how you do it.

 

The essence of video production, as I look at it, is storytelling.  What kind of experience do you think your students had in storytelling?

 

They are born with the gift to tell a story. I really believe their success is because they are born with the gift to create.  The kids out in Wai‘anae, I really believe, are the most creative, loving storytellers.  Because they grow up; they don’t grow up with a lot.  I really believe that they don’t grow up with a lot, so they entertain themselves by playing the ‘ukulele, sitting around talking story, they draw, they doodle, they sing.  And it carries over.  When they come to us, they’re so strong, their heartfelt creativity carries over with this tool.  All of a sudden, we have these expensive toys now that we give them, and we say: Go create. And they’re great.

 

And they just take to it.

 

And it’s amazing; it’s incredible.

 

You didn’t have the star pupils of Wai‘anae High School.  Some of your kids were doing really poorly in other classes, they were reporting to school from their homes on the beach in tents.

 

M-hm.  We have the homeless, we have kids whose parents have been in jail, they are abused, they come to us.  You know, a lot of dysfunction; so much.  And you know, that’s my world; I grew up there, and I know that world.  And they come to us, and we give them hope.  For a lot of these kids, it’s their security. We’re their family.  We teach them a tool, and they become successful at it. And they see something that they create, and for their self-esteem, it’s: Wow, I did that.  You know, it gives them hope.  And they realize: I have just learned something that I can do for life.  And a lot of these kids’ lives have been turned around.  They would have dropped out, I really believe.  And they’ll tell us that too: If it wasn’t for this class, I would have dropped out, or I didn’t know I was gonna go to college, or I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.  And now, so many of our kids are college graduates.

 

They’re being recruited by television stations.

 

They’re being recruited.

 

And advertising agencies.

 

Yes, yes, yes, yes.

 

I remember when your Seariders first started doing public service announcements for various clients, you invited the business community to hire the kids and said, “We’ll see what we can come up with for you.” And I just remember as a professional television person at that time, how the students’ work had so much more depth than what you would normally see in a PSA, a public service announcement, because the kids knew that world, as you mentioned.  When it was about crystal meth, they brought a reality to it that nobody had brought before.

 

These kids know what it’s like to living in houses and homes where there’s crystal meth, where they have to be in a car where someone’s been drinking.

 

They know how it hurts.

 

They know how it hurt.  And it was their stories.  If you look at any of those PSAs, those are their stories.  That was either them, or that was someone they knew, and they were able to come up with the ideas from the heart, from real life.  And I think that’s what makes their work so powerful.  It’s real stories.  They tell their stories.  Whether it’s a news story, a public service announcement, a commercial, they’re just telling their story.

 

Tell me about if can, can.

 

If can, can; if no can, no can.  Because you know, there’s nothing worse, we feel, than saying you’re gonna do something, and not do it, and not follow through. And we tell these kids: If you’re gonna do something, if you’re gonna say you’re gonna do something, hold yourself to it and do it, follow through and do it.  Because really, there’s nothing worse than not completing something that you’ve committed to.  And if we could teach them now in school, it will carry over in life, in a job, in a marriage, in a relationship.

 

And when you work in teams, you know other people are counting on you.

 

Yes; ‘cause it’s teamwork.  And the good thing about our program is, every project that these kids do is a team effort.  And we always think, when you leave our program, if you have learned nothing about video production, about creating a web page, about page layout, a newspaper, we hope you’ve really learned the importance of teamwork, cooperation—

 

And getting things done on time.

 

Meeting deadlines, respect, respect for self, respect for other people, respect for property.  So, if you’re gonna say you’re gonna do something, you better do it, because if you don’t, you’re dropping the ball for your teammates.  But just don’t say you’re gonna do something if you can’t do it, ‘cause you let everybody down.  So, if can, can; if no can, no can.  And it’s been our mantra.  And the kids, they get it; the kids get it.

 

Where do you think this movement will take the Wai‘anae Coast?

 

I hope eventually it will take them out of poverty. It might take decades, but this is certainly a start.  You have a group of young adults that are really making a difference, because they have come back to the Wai‘anae Coast, and they are giving back, and they believe in themselves, and they’re believing in the students that are under them.  And they are trying very hard to prove to the rest of the world that we’re just as good as everybody else, if you just give us a chance.

 

Perhaps educator Candy Suiso would have provided inspiration for our next original thinker, who nearly dropped out of high school.  In 2016, visionary entrepreneur Henk Rogers told us that he took the one and only elective course offered at Stuyvesant High School in New York City.  When he learned everything there was to know about that elective in computer science, he saw no reason to remain in school.  But he did graduate from high school, and Henk Rogers has made a fortune in the video gaming industry, most notably for bringing Tetris, one of the world’s top-selling videogames, from Russia to the rest of the world.  More recently, this Hawai‘i resident and visionary entrepreneur has turned his talents to no less than saving the planet. He made that leap when suddenly confronted with just how fragile his own life could be.

 

I found myself in the back of an ambulance with a hundred percent blockage of the widow-maker.  That is the artery, the biggest artery in your heart, and it will kill you if it’s blocked.  And so, I was lucky, ‘cause I kind of felt it coming, and they called an ambulance for me, and so, I was already on the way to Straub.  And then, I realized, because they were gonna take me in for observation; they said: There’s nothing really wrong with you, we’ll just take you in for observation, we won’t even turn on the siren.  The siren went on, the guy who was taking care of me was in the cockpit talking to the hospital and saying—I didn’t hear, but I knew he was saying: This guy is not even gonna make it, get an operation room ready, an operating room ready, blah-blah-blah.  And I’m back there saying: You gotta be kidding me; I haven’t spent any of the money yet.  You know.   I was going: Oh, is this some kind of a joke?  I worked so hard all my life, and finally sell my company, get a bunch of money, and I’m on the say out?  And then, the second thing I said: No, I’m not going, I still have stuff to do.  And it’s kind of like, I thought, you know, what are the things that I’ve always talked to myself that I was gonna get done in life, and that I hadn’t even started?  And that just made me say: No, I’m gonna do this.  And so, I was in the hospital recovering, and the next couple weeks I didn’t go back to work.  I had my chance to think about my bucket list.  And I said: These are missions in life.  And the first mission came to me in the back of the newspaper.  It was like, in the back of the newspaper, it had a story about coral.  Oh, by the way, we’re gonna kill all the coral in the world by the end of the century. And you know, I moved to Hawai‘i, and I fell in love with the ocean.  I used to dive, surf on the North Shore, and I couldn’t believe that we would do something so callous as to kill all the coral in the world.  Islands are made out of coral.  And you know, you look a little bit further, and it’s like a third of the life in the ocean is dependent on the coral existing.  So, I said: No, no, we’re not allowed to do that. What’s causing that?  It’s ocean acidification.  What’s causing that?  Carbon dioxide going into the ocean is causing that.  So then, my first mission is to end the use of carbon-based fuel. And so, I started the foundation, and recently, we had a big success in Hawai‘i, that Hawai‘i has made the mandate that they were gonna be a hundred percent renewable by 2045, for electricity. And that is a huge step in the right direction.

 

And your Blue Planet Foundation had a role in that.

 

Oh, I would say we’re the ones who created that legislation and fought for it.  And, you know, ‘cause when you create a piece of legislation, then you have to work with all the politicians, and you gotta get enough politicians to get behind it, to get it passed.  So, it’s not good enough to just come up with the words, ‘cause it’s—it’s all the pushing that goes on.  I guess it’s called lobbying.

 

Yes, it is.

 

And you’re already off the grid at your home in Honolulu, and on the ranch.

 

Yes.  So, we were studying storage, and we finally decided that we were gonna just get off the grid on the Big Island.  And so, we tested the different storage technologies, and now we ended up with a battery technology that basically runs by itself.

 

What are some of the things that prepared you to have the career you did, which was something you made up yourself?  You didn’t follow a template for it.  What were some of the formative things along the way?

 

I think one of the things is that I always had a deep-rooted feeling that whatever it is that I wanted to do, I could do it.

 

Where did that come from?

 

I think it came from New York.  It’s kind of an attitude that we had in high school.  We stopped the war in Vietnam.  Okay; we didn’t specifically, but we were part of it. And that kind of energy, the feeling that youth can change the world, and that is a very important feeling. And I need the young people in Hawai‘i to have that feeling.  They need to take ownership of their future, and make Hawai‘i the example of sustainability.

 

This videogame creator, environmentalist, the public schoolteacher, and the chief justice; three original thinkers.  What they seem to share is an unwavering persistence to push, to get it right, and have confidence in the choices they make. We’re honored to revisit our conversation with the late Chief Justice William Richardson, and we thank Candy Suiso and Henk Rogers for their inspiring stories.  I’m Leslie Wilcox for Long Story Short.  Mahalo to you for joining us.  Aloha nui.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Were you ambitious?

 

Not that I know of.

 

But you went ahead, and went through four years at UH.

 

I went four years at UH, and enjoyed it all the way through.

 

Met a lot of people who would later be your allies in politics.

 

Yes, yes.

 

And good friends.

 

Good friends; they helped me in everything I’ve done.

 

You went to UH, and you had more than most people of your time had, a college degree, but that wasn’t gonna be the end of your higher education.

 

Well, I thought it was, but I had a job with the oil company, and I thought: Well, this would be great, I like this kind of work; I think I’ll do this the rest of my life.  And then, one of the professors up at school went to see my father, and he said: Now, this boy better go on to law school.  And well, how can you do that Dad; you can’t afford it.  Well, he said: You know, if you’re really gonna go, I’ll rent your room out, and you go on to college.  Which he did.  In those days, it was five days by steamship, and another four days by train to get to the East Coast.

 

Your mom was a legendary teacher on the Wai‘anae Coast; right?

 

Oh, thirty-one years of her life, she dedicated her life to teaching out there.  And really, that was her life.  She impacted a community, and thirty years, just taught at Mākaha Elementary School.  She went there, and she never left.  I know the principal would always throw all of these hardcore kids and say: Okay, Mrs. Smith, you’re the one that’s gonna take these kids. And she would turn them around. She was mean, but she was very strict, and she was very fair, and she loved them all.  And she did; she turned a lot lives around.

 

When I started my company, I used my Hawai‘i experience of ARRG, which is playing Dungeons & Dragons.  And personal computers happened, and I thought: This is my chance.  So, I made the first roleplaying game in Japan.  But I didn’t speak, read, or write Japanese, and I hacked that computer and got my wife to try to read something in the manual, but she knows nothing about computers.  And so, that was also like hocus-pocus that was coming out of them.  Anyway, I hacked my way through the game, made it.  So, there were no roleplaying games before The Black Onyx, and it became the number-one game in 1984, and it was the number-two game in 1985.  So, it had a two-year reign.  And now, something like thirty percent of all games in Japan are roleplaying games. So, you know, people that are in the industry that meet me and find out that I wrote Black Onyx, they say: Oh, my god, you’re the reason I’m in this industry, you know.

 

 

 

AMERICAN MASTERS
Harper Lee

 

Uncover the mysterious life of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of To Kill a
Mockingbird
. AMERICAN MASTERS offers an unprecedented look at the life of
Harper Lee, illuminating the phenomenon behind To Kill a Mockingbird and
the Oscar-winning 1962 film adaptation. The documentary reveals the context and
history of the novel’s Deep South setting, and the social changes it inspired
after publication. Tom Brokaw, Rosanne Cash, Anna Quindlen, Scott Turow, Oprah
Winfrey and others reflect on the novel’s power, influence, popularity, and the
ways it has shaped their lives. This updated program also previews Go Set a
Watchman
, Lee’s novel set to be published for the first time on July 14th.

 

 

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
The Chinese Exclusion Act

 

Examine the origin, history and impact of the 1882 law that made it illegal for Chinese workers to come to America and for Chinese nationals already here to ever become U.S. citizens. The law remained in force for more than 60 years.

 

 

FRONTLINE
The Gang Crackdown

 

Investigate a slew of killings linked to the MS-13 gang and the crackdown that swept up immigrant teens. Some 25 bodies have surfaced since 2016. Law enforcement is trying to stop the gang, but some teens have been unlawfully detained in the process.

 

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
Election 2018 Preview

 

Hawai‘i has the distinction of having the lowest voter turnout in the country. Will that track record continue? INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I previews what’s to come. In November, the people of Hawai‘i will elect a Governor, members of Congress, new Mayors for the counties of Maui and Kaua‘i, County Council members and State Legislators.

 

Join us during our live discussion by phoning in, or leaving us a comment on Facebook or Twitter. INSIGHTS is also live streamed on pbshawaii.org and Facebook Live.

 

Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Facebook:
Visit the PBS Hawai‘i Facebook page.

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

To see an archive of past INSIGHTS ELECTION 2018 shows, click here.

 

 


INDEPENDENT LENS
True Conviction

 

After serving a combined 60 years in prison for crimes they did not commit, three recently exonerated Texans join forces to form the unlikeliest of investigative teams, on a mission to help wrongfully convicted prisoners obtain freedom like they did. In True Conviction, brotherly bonds are formed out of shared hardships — lengthy prison sentences in a state that executes more inmates than any other.

 

 

1 2 3 13