Wednesday, July 26, 2006

My First Day as a Candidate

The first task in becoming a candidate, is getting signatures of registered voters in your district; surprisingly, some people do not get past that hurdle. The people at the Office of Elections were very impressed that I had absolutely no trouble doing so, and had these big grins of amusement as I recounted my experiences to those who did -- working for weeks, to come up with the required 15. That does not bode well for their election chances -- because it means they are not well known (trusted) in their neighborhoods -- and don’t have the skills to win people over in that manner.

I hadn’t really thought about that very much -- as sort of a first test of one’s credibility and influence. People seemed to like me stopping by and talking to them -- and seemed profusely sorry if they couldn’t help, by being too young or unregistered. What was surprising was the number of people who said they were not registered; on the other hand, the few disqualifications I had, were the most adamant they were registered voters. So one is learning something all the time.

Very few stopped to demand answers to their challenging questions about what to do with the schools -- or what my platform was. I told them I was running mainly to support the governor’s proposals for change -- feeling pretty confident she gives much more thought to these things and consults with reliable advisors. But obviously, I do my own thinking -- but know when I can coast if the other has proven their judgment. That's also what leadership is about -- knowing who to trust and delegate rather than micromanaging and mastering every petty detail.

Most of the people are more impressed with one’s skills at relating to them -- as the best indication of whether they want you representing them. That’s how I have a decided advantage if I just get out there -- having lived in the Waikiki-Kapahulu area all of my days in Hawaii. That comes with the territory. That’s quite different if one has lived all their life in Kalihi or Mililani -- where strangers are less frequent.

I think that’s what people find most remarkable about me -- that I’m the most comfortable around others -- and that comfort is infectious. My communication style is not to create a division and distinction between me and the other -- but to share a perception, and understanding -- and if impossible, to quickly move on. I just ran into two people who were adamant in support of the opposition candidate -- and wished them well.

Many had the perception that the incumbent was not a good representative of this district because he was not a resident of this district -- and so had no feel for the people here. Me -- I was one of them, having lived all my life in Hawaii in Waikiki-Kapahulu, which has a very distinctive meaning for this neighborhood.

Edging into government

Scott Nishimoto never considered politics until a year ago, when a story calling for student leaders in the University of Hawaii newspaper prompted him to run for senator on the UH Student Council.

This school year, the 22-year-old serves as student body president for the nearly 15,000 undergraduates at the Manoa campus.

"I guess it happened by chance," explained Nishimoto, a senior majoring in sociology. "I never was involved with government in high school, elementary school. I never held that kind of position before."

But after high school, he wasn't involved in sports and felt something was missing.

The aspiring attorney spent six weeks this summer serving as a congressional intern for U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye, a stint he says was a rewarding and eye-opening experience.

Although it was the first time the Mililani resident spent an extended time away from Hawaii, he was never far from home ties. One of his duties as Inouye's intern was conducting tours of the U.S. Capitol for visiting Hawaii folks.

"That was a real enjoyable part of it, seeing people from Hawaii," said Nishimoto, who also wrote letters to constituents and did research for Inouye's legislative assistants.

Even so, Nishimoto cut short his internship to prepare for the upcoming school year. Where last year's theme was to protest budget cuts and tuition increases, this year's focus for students is to cope with those realities, he said.

Nishimoto expects students to be just as active this year, and he hopes to get more people involved in government, a problem that persists largely due to Manoa's "commuter campus" atmosphere.

Meanwhile, Nishimoto feels at home in Manoa. He attended Manoa Elementary and St. Louis School before graduating from Mid-Pacific Institute. His mother, Patricia, works on the Manoa campus and his father, Melvin, works in the state Attorney General's Office.

As a youth, Nishimoto spent much of his free time hanging out at the UH athletic complex.

"I've lived in Mililani all my life, but I really grew up in Manoa," he said.

Pat Omandam, Star-Bulletin