I ran into Gary Hooser, the former lawmaker, at a dinner the other night and couldn’t figure out what was different about the man.

And then I saw it: He had shaved off his beard.

We got to talking and Hooser remarked that citizens are less likely to vote for people with beards, mustaches, goatees and the like.

We quickly brainstormed on how many Hawaii politicians have facial hair.

“David Ige,” I said.

“Ige has facial hair?” Hooser asked, apparently forgetting what our governor looks like.

“Yes,” I replied. “A lot of our governors — Neil Abercrombie, Ben Cayetano, John Waihee.”

Clockwise from top left: Gil Keith-Agaran, Neil Abercrombie, John Mizuno, Sam Kong, Ben Cayetano, John Waihee, Duke Aiona, Bob McDermott, Donovan Dela Cruz and Richard Creagan. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But after that the list of Hawaii pols with face fuzz dwindles. Of the 18 men in the 25-member state Senate, for example, none currently have facial hair — not even a soul patch.

Donovan Dela Cruz sometimes lets his whiskers grow out a bit. Brian Taniguchi used to have a ‘stache. Gil Keith-Agaran used to have a goatee. And old photos of a young J. Kalani English show a black caterpillar above his mouth.

There is more hair in the state House of Representatives, at least from the forehead down. Hirsute reps include Richard Creagan, Sam Kong, Bob McDermott, Angus McKelvey, John Mizuno, Roy Takumi and Chris Todd.

Still, that’s just seven out of the 34 men in the 51-member chamber.

How about county mayors?

Maui Mayor Mike Victorino speaks to joint WAM Finance committees.
Maui Mayor Mike Victorino speaking to the money committees at the Legislature in January. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Mike Victorino of Maui has a pretty good cookie duster. Former Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. too. But Carvalho failed to win a race for lieutenant governor last year. Former Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle has also failed to regain office (although he seems a good bet for city prosecutor again).

Besides Abercrombie, Hawaii has not elected a facial-haired person to the U.S. Congress since statehood.

We did elect Duke Aiona lieutenant governor when he had a prominent lip rug. But he shaved it before losing two runs for governor. Coincidence?

Changing Times

The literature on American politicians and facial hair is slight, and a lot is anecdotal. But there is some research and lots of items of interest.

Facial hair was “out of style” during the time of the Revolutionary War, for example, and the first 15 presidents were beardless, says Slate. John Quincy Adams appears to have been the first U.S. president to have “notable” facial hair, as Wikipedia puts is. In his case, that meant long sideburns.

The first president with a beard was Abraham Lincoln who, the story goes, grew one when a young girl wrote him a letter and suggested the idea. The last president with facial hair was William Howard Taft, who wore a big mouser with turned-up tips.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige in Washington, D.C., in February. Nick Grube/Civil Beat

“Ever since the mustachioed Taft completed his term in 1913, just a few years before American women won the right to vote, few U.S. politicians with facial hair have run for or served in national elected offices,” says scholars.org. “Currently, fewer than five percent of the members of the U.S. Congress have beards or mustaches, according to recent estimates.”

Politics has a lot to do with appearances, and the face is the first thing noticed.

Scholars.org reports that politicians with facial hair were “in vogue” during and after the Civil War but eventually became less so, in part because of the popularity of the double-edge safety razor by the turn of the century. Around that time, the U.S. military banned beards because they interfered with gas masks.

In Hawaii, several monarchs of the 19th century had facial hair, including an impressive pair of muttonchops on King David Kalakaua. And Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole had fine upper “lipholstery” when he represented the territory in Congress.

More recently, former U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan made headlines when he grew a beard while serving as House Speaker in 2015. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is currently bearded, prompting CNN to suggest that beards are “making a comeback.”

Maybe not.

Pacific Standard reported in 2015 that sociologists investigated stereotypes associated with men’s facial hair and the consequences for U.S. politicians. What they found is worth quoting at length:

They found that potential voters perceived men with facial hair to be more masculine and this was a double-edged sword. Higher ratings of masculinity were correlated with perceptions of competence, but also concerns that the politicians were less friendly to women and their concerns.

In other words, the more facial hair, the more people worry that a politician might be sexist.

In reality, facial hair has no relationship to a male politician’s voting record. They checked. The research suggests, though, that men in politics — maybe even all men — would be smart to pay attention to the stereotypes if they want to influence how others see them.

Facial hair — especially beards — might also be seen as masks.

Christopher Oldstone-Moore, author of the book “Of Beards and Men,” points to the example of Al Gore, who famously grew a beard after losing the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000.

“I think it’s what somebody called ‘shaveism,’” Oldstone-Moore told Esquire in 2016. “I think it’s the assertion of this assumption that shaving is normal, and that makes wearing a beard abnormal in some way. Particularly a person like Al Gore who’s always been clean shaven, and suddenly grows a beard, and there’s a suspicion: What’s he trying to prove? There was all that discussion that he was trying to be an alpha male, because he wasn’t, you know?”

Of note: Oldstone-Moore calls urban-dwelling males that grow beards “lumbersexuals.”

It’s Personal

I called a couple of past and present local lawmakers to get their thoughts on facial hair.

State Rep. Chris Todd has had facial hair since his late teens.

“My wife prefers me with a beard, so that’s a big point of consideration,” he said.

Rep Chris Todd Vice Chair Committe on Human Services. 3 feb 2017
Rep. Chris Todd at the Capitol, February 2017. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

When Todd graduated from the University of Hawaii Hilo and was looking for full-time work at Suisan Fish Market, he “committed” to the beard.

“I figured I would be younger that the others, and I did not want to go in looking even younger,” he said. “So I committed.”

When he later ran for office, he was told that perhaps he should shave it off.

“But the second you start doing that stuff for that reason, it’s a sign that you should get out of politics,” he said.

Todd was appointed to fill a vacant House seat in January 2017 and won the seat outright in landslides in the 2018 primary and general election.

John Waihee, the former governor, said he had a mustache when he first went into politics because he wanted to look older and be taken seriously.

“I wanted to look respectable,” he said.

Gary Hooser, at far left, with 2017 graduates of the Kuleana Academy. He has since ditched the beard. Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action

But in Waihee’s case, he actually reduced the amount of hair on his face before running for the state Legislature in 1980.

“I used to have a scraggly beard and long hair running down my back and neck,” he recalled. “I did a Kalakaua thing, because I am a child of the ’60s and ’70s.”

I think he meant the 1960s and 1970s, not the 1860s and 1870s.


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