Introducing Hawaiian Electric CEO Connie Lau to Notorious RGB

This post dedicated to Breonna Taylor. She didn’t need to die. She was murdered. Not by the previous boyfriend who “jailhouse snitched” on her — leading to the search warrant in her name; not by her current boyfriend who apparently in confusion fired at officers; not by the police who returned fire fearing for their lives. Breonna Taylor was murdered by the War on Drugs.


Prohibition of cannabis began in the 1930s when a racist government official, Harry Anslinger, renamed cannabis to “marihuana” to demonize Black and Brown immigrants. The War on Drugs set in motion a system of Institutional Racism beginning 1970 when a paranoid President Nixon placed “marijuana” (cannabis, THC) in the top classification of illegal substances, which even prohibits research.

The War on Drugs continues to target Black Americans more unjustly than those who are White. This policy has filled our nation’s jails and prisons, while militarizing our police. The Prohibition of Drugs has become a War Between the Black and Blue. The result is similar to the failed experiment with the Prohibition of Alcohol, which triggered unacceptable violence and crime in our communities. As Americans, we have forgotten the lessons of the past.


America Must Continue to Change

In this time of national discord and tension, as youngsters tear down statues and express their frustration in extremist behavior, let us join together to erect a monument to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Americans didn’t agree with all her positions. RGB didn’t agree with everyone on the courts on which she served. Yet none criticize her dignified example of leadership, as she pledged not to be disagreeable with those when she disagreed. Notorious RGB represents the best in all of us.

Professor Ginsburg’s most inspiration message for us, in my opinion, and which focused her distinguished career, was expressed in closing remarks before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1972:

We’re not asking you to change the country; that’s already happened without any court’s permission. We’re asking you to protect the right of the country to change.

Born in 1933, Notorious RGB faced discrimination throughout her life due her status as a woman. She must have hated men. Many in her path stubbornly fortified barriers to thwart her professional career, along with millions of women around the nation. RGB didn’t lose her heart, mind and soul to anger. She’s notably distinguished, as she chose plaintiffs carefully, and at times selected male plaintiffs to demonstrate gender discrimination was harmful to both men and women.

Let’s contrast Notorious RGB to one of Hawaii’s most recognized female professionals, Constance Hee Lau, CEO & President of Hawaiian Electric Industries.


Tale of Two Remarkable Women

RGB attended James Madison High School, which is a public school in Brooklyn, NY. Connie’s family enrolled her in prestigious private Punahou academy in Honolulu, HI. Barack Obama also graduated from Punahou (1979).

RGB’s Jewish father emigrated from Ukraine; her mother’s parents came from Poland. All suffered persecution due to their religion. Fourteen months after RGB was born, she lost her older sister; her mother battled cancer throughout her high school years and died the day before her high school graduation in 1950. RGB endured much hardship and heartache.

Connie’s father was a Chinese American immigrant who encountered significant discrimination as well. Fortunately, Connie didn’t need to brave New York’s concrete jungles and inner city rivalries. She was privileged to live near Kaneohe Bay on the beautiful and majestic east side of O’ahu.

Connie grew up watching rain squalls roll in across the bay. She says she studied the sky a lot, which RGB rarely could see. Connie found nature to be her toys. There was mostly asphalt, smog and congestion surrounding RGB in densely-packed Brooklyn. Connie claims brain research shows keiki who grow up around nature tend to be more creative because nature is constantly changing — just like our world is constantly changing — and why we must accept and embrace change.

RGB left high school for Cornell University — graduating 1954 — and was admitted to Harvard Law in 1956. This was an extremely male-dominated, hostile environment, with only eight females in her class of 500. Yale first opened doors for undergraduate women in 1969. Connie was in the second class 1970 — twenty years after RGB entered college at Cornell. She was one of about 120 women in a class of 1,000 men.

“The glass ceiling? You just ignore it. I think I was probably fortunate to have people around me who really believed in equality and were willing to give me a shot.”
Constance Hee Lau

Certainly, this man-friendly campus lacked aloha for Connie, but America had changed — and was in the process of changing even more. RGB knocked down doors so women like Connie would be able to walk through with their head held high.

Facing adversity, both women displayed remarkable courage, discipline and persistence. RGB graduate from Columbia law school and overcame gender discrimination each step of her illustrious career. Connie graduated from Yale (1974), earned her law degree at UC Hastings in California (1977) and completed her MBA at Stanford (1979).

Speaking to Beverly Creamer, Connie said her “career has never stalled. She attributes this to “having a lot of balls in the air. A lot of the things I did led to the next thing.” Connie brushes off concerns over gender discrimination, “The glass ceiling? You just ignore it. I think I was probably fortunate to have people around me who really believed in equality and were willing to give me a shot.”

Connie was supported and encouraged. RGB didn’t have this privilege twenty years earlier.

Compassion for People vs. Corporations

Two powerful women from different generations. Similar histories, but not parallel careers. At the start of her legal career, RGB encountered roadblocks finding employment due to her gender. Connie did not. RGB therefore served as a professor at Rutgers Law School beginning in 1963. She was paid less than her male colleagues because she had a husband with a decent paying job. Connie did not suffer similar discrimination.

In 1972, Ginsburg co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, as men had denied RGB a career path in corporate America. Connie’s started her distinguished career in 1979 as a corporate attorney with Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe in San Francisco.

Connie’s career took a major leap when she became COO for American Savings Bank (ASB) in 1999. At that time, she was also assisting to rebuild the financial structure at Kamehameha Schools as an interim trustee. The distinction between the two became clear. RGB fought for human beings, primarily women, at the ground level. As a result, President Bill Clinton appointed RGB, an established liberal thinker, to SCOTUS in 1993. Connie championed corporations from the top of the boardroom — a position generally held by conservative-minded professionals.

Maybe this explains Connie’s cruel and callous behavior toward people with disabilities. The nation mourns the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Both conservatives and liberals respect the compassion she extended people — especially toward human beings who were in need.

It would be unfair to claim Connie isn’t caring. Helping refinance Kamehameha Schools certainly assisted many Native Hawaiian families. Chairing the Consuelo Foundation provides resources to assist families in Hawai’i and the Philippines. Yet her comments about revitalizing ASB provides a window into her priorities and soul:

“So we set out to transform it and grow a commercial banking unit and a real estate unit and a full panoply of banking services. It’s about the same size now but creates double the net income, and the profitability metrics are much higher.”
COO Connie Lau


Wall Street appreciates such competency. Investors praise such financial skill. Unfortunately,  it leaves too many corporate executives with only a bird’s eye view of America and ordinary people.

Helping One Man to Help Millions

Most know the story about Notorious RGB and Charles Moritz, a never-married man, who claimed a tax deduction for the salary of a caregiver he hired to assist his mother. The Internal Revenue Service disallowed the deduction on the grounds Moritz was not a woman and had never been married, making him ineligible for the caregiver deduction.

As a corporate lawyer, Connie Lau likely would have argued against Mr. Moritz. Compassionate RGB welcomed the challenge and changed the world for single, unmarried men like Charles, while setting in motion forces that would topple discriminatory walls for hundreds of millions of women.

Today, corporate CEO & President Constance Hee Lau faces a similar challenge. One of her male employees at Hawaiian Electric was fired due to his disability and associated medication. Like Breonna Taylor, he’s a victim of the War on Drugs. The State of Hawai’i legalized cannabis for medical purposes twenty years ago (2000). The legislature amended the “329” statute to classify a medical recommendation as a prescription in 2015.

Charles Moritz, as a never-married man, fell through the cracks of a poorly-written and discriminatory tax policy. Notorious RGB corrected the shortcoming. The male Hawaiian Electric employee, an IT professional in a non-safety sensitive position, similarly fell through the cracks of an outdated corporate policy that discriminates and punishes patients who avoid dangerous opioid pain analgesics by substituting cannabis.

Anyone who takes a few minutes to read one of Justice Ginsburg’s official positions clearly sees the brilliance of her legal mind. This is Connie Lau’s Corporate Code of Conduct related to medical cannabis:


Reporting to work under the influence of alcohol or drugs, drinking alcoholic beverages (other than as permitted at functions or events approved by your respective Company President, possession of the unprescribed use or distribution of any controlled substance or illegal drug, or any other illegal act which occurs on work premises (including any non-Company site where you are performing for on behalf of the Company) or during your work hours (including meal breaks or rest periods) or which interferes with work performance.

The male employee only medicated at night before bed — never before or during work hours — per his doctor’s directive. There is no indication of intoxication or being under the influence of alcohol or drugs at work. To the contrary, his manager and dozens of coworkers overwhelminglhy appreciated and respected his service. The group offered him a permanent position of employment within their department.

Notorious RGB likely would have thrown out a corporate decision like this. There is no federal or state statue to justify such a dismissal. There is no evidenced-based science or research to support the discriminatory policy. Even Hawaiian Electric’s counsel, Joseph A. Ernst, recommended local companies update their code, as America has changed.

We’re not asking you to change the country; that’s already happened without any court’s permission. We’re asking you to protect the right of the country to change.

The sole male employee, like RGB in the 1950s, is denied opportunity by those who have so much, who have benefitted so greatly by the sacrifice of those who went before them, and who do not have the compassion, courage or conviction to lift the yoke of injustice off the necks of ordinary people. By updating corporate policy for this one male, CEO Connie would help tens of thousands of men and women in Hawai’i.


Moms now flock to the Supreme Court with their daughters to remember Notorious RGB. None of these women likely know the name of the HEI CEO. There’s the real life difference in the careers of these powerful women. NBA stars honor the distinguished justice by wearing special lace collars. It’s unlikely they’ll don HECO polos after Connie Lau passes.


Let’s stand together now for Notorious RGB, as she stood for all Americans who needed protection from the confused, and frequently cruel, collective masses. Breonna Taylor didn’t need to die. Hawaiian Electric didn’t need to fire the talented male employee. The War on Drugs Against the American People must end.

To Hawaiian Electric Industries CEO & President Constance Hee Lau … we present to you the Notorious RGB. 


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Ko’olau of Kaua’i. I am the Defiant One
“I Believe We Can”

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