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Cherry Lei: So this is the last week of voting for the City and County's Neighborhood Board elections and Danny you're up for your re-election! You seem to have a pretty diverse background. How did you get into politics to begin with and what got you interested in running for office?
Danny de Gracia: Thanks Cherry for interviewing me! Well it's been a really long journey. One of my earliest political memories goes all the way back to when I was a little boy and President Reagan flew in to Hawaii. I was probably only about two years old at the time and my parents and I waited in the hot sun at then-Hickam Air Force Base for Reagan to land. It was something I never forgot and in all honesty it sparked a desire in me to one day run for President myself. So from that day forward as a kid I started telling every adult that ever asked me "What do you want to be when you grow up?" that I wanted to be the President of the United States!
But even before me, my grandfather Pablito was one of the very first Filipino immigrants to come to Hawaii and he was an electrician and the owner of a boxing club who dreamed one day of being a political figure. He used to go to court hearings and sit down just to listen to the law being debated and he wanted to be a part of the process someday. He died in his early forties of a heart attack from working so hard, which orphaned my father and left his dreams incomplete. I guess you could say that in my genes are the legacy of Pablito’s struggle.
From a young age I guess you could say that God has been preparing me for political service and leadership. When I was a young boy for whatever reason my parents insisted that I compete in speech and poetry contests, so I spent much of my early childhood having to memorize historic speeches or recite poems or Bible verses at these events and amazingly I turned out pretty good at it, from day one I seemed to have a natural talent for public speaking.
My parents were great role models for me as well to learn about politics. My dad was a colonel in the Air Force so I was routinely around generals, admirals and civilian leaders growing up. During Operation: Desert Storm my dad was also a group commander at a wartime operations base in Guam and as strange as it may seem, since my parents didn’t trust babysitters, I spent many many many hours sitting in the back of my dad’s office after school had been let out listening to him plan things with his command staff.
There’s a famous B-52 nicknamed “In HARM’s Way” that flew during the Gulf War and got hit by a Coalition AGM-88 HARM missile by mistake. The B-52 diverted to Guam and landed there and I remember my dad bringing me into the hangar during the war to see this giant plane with a hole in it from a missile strike and talking with other officers about what happened. That’s the kind of things I grew up with. It’s the weirdest thing ever growing up and being in the background of major events as an observer. I can’t really think of any way to describe that.
Years later when I got accepted into college, I majored in political science and focused heavily on international relations, diplomacy, military policy, psychology, history and public administration because I knew in the future I was going to be preparing for public service and policymaking. After I graduated, it only took me a year to get my master’s degree in political science and I moved back here to Hawaii.
|The Hawaii State Capitol.|
Cherry: So what’s it like for you being in politics? A lot of people hear about it on the news or watch it in movies, but what’s it really like being in it?
Danny: In America, politics has several sub-fields to it, one is academic, another is partisan-electoral, another is bureaucratic. The people in the academic and bureaucratic wings focus on researching why the world works a certain way and develop and implement models and systems to address the problems and demands of the day. The partisan-electoral side is the one that gets most of the attention and is a lot of antics, theater, posturing, half-truths, cover-ups and all that stuff that turns the average person off or confuses people into staying home come election time. It’s also those things that also make life at times very stressful, dangerous and complicated for the other two fields of politics.
I’ve been in all three fields at one point or another and I gotta say it’s something that takes a lot of grace to get through. But the most rewarding part of all this is the knowledge that if you stand for principle and serve with all your heart you get to help people and change lives for the better. That’s reward enough for me to keep me in the game.
Cherry: If you could change anything right now, what would it be?
Danny: Well first and foremost I’d like to see America’s dollar strong again, which means for you and me and average people the power to live with less expenses and even lower taxes. There’s a link between weak currency and taxation, many people aren’t aware of that. The weaker the currency, the more the government has to take from people to offset inflation. People need jobs and they need the space to save. If you fix the dollar, you fix almost everything.
|"We can't afford a future where the water is poisoned"|
Last of all, we have to do something about the environment. We can’t afford a future where the water is poisoned or loaded with radioactive leakage, or where the reefs are obliterated and the land doesn’t yield crops anymore. We’re going to have to look very closely at environmental policy and make changes that will preserve our planet for our children. One of my heroes is State Representative Jessica Wooley because she has taken a very committed stand for Hawaii’s environment. I think we have to be good stewards of the planet.
Cherry: So during an election, when votes are being counted or you’re waiting for the official returns to publish what does that feel like?
Danny: Oh gosh, the best way to describe how that feels is like being in college again and sitting in the computer lab waiting for grades to post to a class that you have no clue how you did on the final. You’re thinking to yourself, “Am I going to have to do this all over again?” You like to think positive and you do everything you can right up to the minute the last vote is cast but in the end in all elections the power to win rests with God’s choice.
Cherry: You mentioned role models, who would you say are some of the people who you look up to or helped shape your political opinion and view of the world?
Danny: Here in Hawaii we have some very great examples. Representative Wooley is one. Growing up I also admired the character and life story of people like Admiral Chester Nimitz, Admiral Ray Spruance, Master Chief Petty Officer Carl Brashear, Astronaut Gordon Cooper or Air Force Brigadier General Chuck Yeager who I had the chance to finally meet and talk with in 2011. I also admire General Hugh Shelton, former CJCS under Clinton. He’s a great man. These are all people who had to overcome some heavy obstacles and eat a lot of humble pie to accomplish great things. But above all else as a born again Christian, my greatest example for all things and all honor is Jesus.
Cherry: There’s a big argument going back and forth over which news channel people watch, Fox News, MSNBC, CNN ... since you’re also a national media personality, what do you watch for news?
Danny: Honestly I don’t watch any of them, except of course when my friends are being interviewed on one of them. And even then I can only bear to watch it for a few seconds because the questions most of the major network news personalities ask are so ridiculous or petty. What I do like watching is the PBS show FRONTLINE. That’s the best thing ever, followed by 60 Minutes. Both shows are all about embarrassing corrupt or grossly incompetent politicians that got glossed over by normal reporting. The format is really fun to watch too.
Cherry: So what kind of movies do politicians watch?
Danny: There’s a great movie anyone considering politics should watch called The Candidate starring Robert Redford. It pretty much sums up exactly what happens during a campaign and especially after. I personally generally try to avoid movies about politics simply because it reminds me too much about what goes on behind the scenes on a daily basis. I do like watching movies though, especially comedies, the more ridiculous and hilariously detached from reality they are, the better! In fact I actively look for low budget, independent films on weekends that I can watch because those usually have the best comedy value.
Cherry: What would you say is your favorite kind of music?
Danny: Great question! I love music, so much to the point that when I had a BlackBerry I programmed a “theme song” for every single person on my contact list. My new phone is so much harder to program and personalize now so I can’t do that but in regards to your question I’d have to say my all-time favorite kind of music is R&B. There’s so much creativity in that music and the artists have some of the most memorable and enjoyable lyrics. The music videos for R&B tend to be really fun too, especially the old school R&B.
Cherry: Politicians have to dress their best, when you get suited up what do you like to wear?
Danny: Salvatore Ferragamo makes great threads, in fact you could put together an entire outfit out of their products, not to mention I love their shoes. For a great tie you gotta look at Brioni, but I also like some of Burberry’s ties. One of my friends a few years ago gave me a special red striped Burberry tie for my political career and if I ever get elected to higher office I’ll probably use that in my official photo as a nod and a thank you. I’d say about 90% of the rest of my work ties are from Tommy Hilfiger, simply because they have a very conventional American look. In terms of accessories, I love Tiffany products. I usually give most of my business gifts from Tiffany but when I’m buying for myself for accessories that’s the designer I love.
Here in Hawaii though most of the time it’s alohawear for local situations, so I like to use Tori Richard products around the islands. Tori Richard shirts are really colorful and their pants especially are made of great material. I think some people call that “resort attire” but it makes great work attire too.
Cherry: What’s dating like for people in politics?
Danny: Everyone is different, but it’s pretty much the same as normal life. The only difference is political people go to a heavier frequency of state functions, diplomatic events, cocktail parties and fundraisers than a normal couple would. In terms of relationships the rules are still the same, contrary to what the media and Hollywood portray things. It’s still about connecting with people who you trust and who appreciate and like you for who you are and being mutually rewarding.
Ideally though the best thing for political people to do is to date people who are not political. Reason being if people think high school was bad, just imagine what it’s like when special interests, government positions of authority or partisanship are in play. When you date someone that’s politically known all the political people talk about you and it can be a vector for trouble if people mess up. The really smart people let everyone think they’re single when they’re actually dating someone to keep their private lives covered.
I look at relationships a little bit differently, having grown up watching the example of the way my parents as senior government and military personalities treated each other. No one wants to admit this publicly but a significant other is very “political” when you’re in politics. So it’s important to be with someone who is loyal, whose personality types enhance your own and someone who in your absence can speak on your behalf and represent you – and vice versa. People in politics need someone who can stand by them no matter what mud gets hurled at them or no matter what office they run for.
And believe me, politics requires strong personal relationships! The media and other people can concoct all kinds of wild stories and false accusations and so it’s important to have people who understand that and understand you. The most attractive thing on earth to me is a politically savvy, protocol sharpened, culturally adept person.
Cherry: So do you see yourself eventually running for higher office like Congress or above?
Danny: Well right now I’m primarily focused on two things, one being faithful at a local level to do the right thing and represent the community, and two, finishing my doctoral program. I’m in a very small office right now but small, humble things are a big opportunity to serve – and being a Christian I also recognize all too well that God chose a carpenter’s son to reveal Himself to the world. If it’s God’s will for me, I will be promoted.
Cherry: Last but not least, do you think you’ll win re-election in a few days?
Danny: I certainly hope so! A lot of people have already told me that they voted for me and we did our best to get the message out, so at this point all we can do is just have faith, speak positive words and trust God to do the rest. I really appreciate the support and aloha from everyone who has helped out, and I thank you for the opportunity to be interviewed!