Peter Apo, one of Hawai‘i’s most distinguished political and community leaders, served eight years as an elected trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and 12 years as a Hawai‘i state legislator. He also was special assistant on Hawaiian affairs to Governor Ben Cayetano, and both director of culture and arts and director of Waikiki development for the City and County of Honolulu. Today, he is a cultural tourism consultant and a freelance political columnist.
Before joining the panel at a Zócalo/Daniel K. Inouye Institute “Pau Hana” event titled “How Much Tourism Is Too Much?” at Artistry Honolulu, he spoke in the green room about trips to Oregon and Italy, what Waikiki is missing, and how he holds himself accountable.
What was the last book you read?
It was by Terry Shintani and about healthy dieting in Hawai‘i.
What’s your favorite movie about Hawai‘i?
Bird of Paradise.
What was your greatest vacation?
Recently spending two weeks with my family in Oregon over Christmas—with 4 children, 7 grandchildren, and extended family. It was nice partly because that was my 80th birthday.
What would you most like to change about Waikiki?
Everything. If we had to do it over again, I definitely would have invoked zoning that left some open space. Right now, the only two open spaces happen at either end of Waikiki: one is Fort DeRussy, owned by the federal government, and the other is Kapi‘olani Park, which was created as a royal trust.
What’s the most important thing to understand about Hawai‘i politics?
That it’s very, very personal. It’s all about who you know.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
I think it’s the traffic.
Where’d you go to high school?
I went to high school at Mid-Pacific Institute.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about Hawai‘i?
The global image of Hawai‘i is driven by 65 years of tourism marketing—the palm trees, the nice beaches, and the aloha spirit. That’s what most people think about Hawai‘i because it sells a lot of airline tickets and hotel rooms.
But the notion that Hawai‘i is this fantastic place and paradise where nothing bad happens is wrong. And it prevents us, for example, from having congressional hearings here on different problems. Because congressional people who come for an event here are accused of being on a boondoggle. It’s very hard to get those kinds of gatherings for serious discussion to happen here. Hawai‘i is never thought of as a place where you go to do business.
If you turned on your TV right now, what channel would most likely to be on?
I hate to admit it, but CNN.
What teacher changed your life?
There were two. They didn’t change my life exactly, but they influenced my decision as to where to go to college. One was my American history teacher in high school, who was from Oregon. and the other was my math teacher, who was also from Oregon. And so, I went to the University of Oregon, where I met my wife and got married.
What trip in your life do you find yourself remembering the most?
A four-week vacation in Italy.
What place where you haven’t been would you most like to go?
New Zealand. It has a native history with the Maoris, and they are closely connected to Hawaiians in terms of our migration. And boy, after seeing Lord of Rings, you can’t argue with that kind of scenery. Also, you can ski there in summer.
Where would we most likely find you on a Sunday afternoon?
I meet every Sunday with an ex-colleague of mine, and we go through what we’ve done, and we hold each other accountable over our goals and objectives that we had for the previous week, and what we actually did. I’ve been doing this for about five months.