Dalton Tanonaka, who was born in Kohala on the Big Island, graduated Kalani High School on Oahu. Tanonaka, a member of the Republican Party ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2002 and against Rep. Neil Abercrombie in 2004.
Dalton Tanonaka: Getting back in the news
The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Fri, 11/03/2006 11:32 AM | Life
Bruce Emond, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Dalton Tanonaka has tired of the same old nagging question since he joined Indonesia Now, Metro TV's new English-language weekly show offering a carefully packaged window into the archipelago.
Why did the veteran broadcast journalist opt for Jakarta to make his return to the small screen after a brief, ill-fated dalliance with politics?
""Just the other day, a friend of mine working for another international news organization said someone had asked what I was doing here, and I said, 'Just tell them to shut up',"" the 52-year-old said Wednesday at the station in Kedoya, West Jakarta.
It riles him that a Jakarta posting is considered a ""comedown"" from his previous stints with U.S. network affiliates in his native Hawaii and international broadcasters, such as NHK, CNBC and CNN.
""It's not, or else why would all of us be based here. Indonesia is at a crossroads -- it could take off, with all the resources, natural and human, and become one of the greatest countries in Asia, or it could wallow in the muck ...
""I am happy to be here. It's a tremendous personal and professional challenge, I'm enjoying every moment of it.""
He met media mogul and Metro TV owner Surya Paloh several years ago when he interviewed him for CNN. His involvement in Indonesia Now, Tanonaka said, resulted from an ""opportunity from a past relationship, and timing. Timing and hard work pay off"".
""We kept in touch over the years, and four or five years later he had a plan to go global, to internationalize his product as its first vehicle to go overseas,"" said Tanonaka, whose only daughter lives with her mother in Tokyo.
Indonesia Now, which made its debut on Sept. 1 and is cohosted by local anchor Kania Sutisnawinata, provides another perspective on the usual doom and gloom of reports about Indonesia, he said.
""Indonesia has a bad rap all around the world -- when you first think about it, it's earthquakes, bird flu, tsunami, corruption, you name it. We're not proponents, we're not propagandists, we're just presenting a balanced picture,"" he said.
""If you see our program, besides the news, we do the cultural side, the newsmaking interviews, different spots outside of Jakarta and Bali.""
Tanonaka cites the challenges and adventure of his first time reporting in a developing country, and that he is returning to what he knows best. But it's also hard not to see Jakarta as a safely distant haven to resume his career after a sour end to his venture into politics.
He was sentenced to 89 days in a detention center and fined in November 2005 for campaign financing irregularities during his 2004 bid for the U.S. Congress.
Tanonaka says he does not want to dwell on the past but the problems resulted from unintentional mistakes.
""There wasn't a trial, but a resolution of an agreement. It was more politics than anything ... I worked with the authorities from the beginning to resolve it quickly. The headlines are much worse than the reality,"" he said.
He had decided to make a bid for public office following 9/11, after witnessing the shutdown of Hawaii's gateways and the effect on the economy. He broke his contract with CNN to do it, and went against the advice of family and friends in an unsuccessful 2002 run for lieutenant governor.
He learned for himself, he added, that politics is a ""dirty game"".
""I was an easy target. They wanted to hold up someone up as an example. I was just running, I had never been in office. I kind of look back and shake my head and think why did that happen. But I wouldn't be here if I didn't go through some of those things. They've made me stronger and better.""
It was a painful time not only for Tanonaka and his family, but also many Hawaii residents who had watched proudly the progress of the local boy from Kalani who made good in journalism.
""He was not the first, but he was one of the first to sit in that esteemed spot that had belonged only to white men from the mainland,"" The Honolulu Advertiser columnist Lee Cataluna wrote after Tanonaka's sentencing last November.
""And then he topped it. He went international. He represented what was possible at a time when we were told that anything was possible but we had little reason to believe.""
From a blue-collar family background (his father, a worker in the dairy business, died three weeks ago), Tanonaka was a self-described inquisitive kid ""who marched to his own beat"". Although his three siblings have remained in Hawaii, he always wanted more than the simple life in the islands.
""I always was the one who asked the most questions in class, I guess that paved the way for me for a career in journalism. And then I wanted to see snow,"" he said of a yearning that led to him studying at Mesa State College in Colorado and Northern Illinois University on journalism scholarships.
Tanonaka, who played football in high school and was a classmate of Jakarta businessman Ron ""Papa Ron's"" Mullers, also did not fit the stereotype of what he calls the ""smaller, glasses-wearing, meek, nerdy kind of (Asian-American) guy"".
""One of my heroes growing up was Bruce Lee, and I don't mean because he was the kung fu hero. But because he fought the stereotypes when he went to Hollywood, he said, 'I'm not going to play the subservient guy, I'm the strong male that is prevalent throughout Asia' ... ""
Straight out of college, he was recruited to work for his hometown ABC affiliate. He later returned to the mainland, one of the few minorities in broadcast news. As Cataluna noted, in the late 1970s he was the only Asian-American male news anchor in the entire U.S.
It's a problem that persists today; while young Asian-American women have followed the lead of Connie Chung into the business, their male peers are conspicuous by their absence. A 2002 study by the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Southern California found there were only 20 male Asian-Americans on the air in the country's top 25 markets, and only one news anchor.
Tanonaka is baffled that even in predominantly Asian Hawaii, white males still dominate the airwaves.
""It's an annual debate, the lack of Asian-American males in broadcast journalism,"" he said. ""First, there is the lack of role models. Young women want to be Connie, but I wanted to be Dan Rather. It helps if there are people who look like you doing what you want to do -- it gives you greater motivation.""
""Second, Asian families and Asian-American families point their sons toward different professions instead of journalism. 'Be a doctor, be a lawyer'; it's those stereotypical fields, but it still holds true.""
He came to Asia with NHK in Japan in 1990 before moving on to host Asia Today on CNN (he also anchored BizAsia and Inside Asia), feeling ""culturally comfortable"" in the region while always aware that he was an outsider as an American.
But 9/11, his reason for trying his hand at politics, changed all that. He said coverage of the region today is ""horrible"", with major cable news networks slashing their budgets and choosing to fly in big-name correspondents when need be, instead of promoting their local bureaus.
Tanonaka believes that it's here that programs like Indonesia Now -- beamed by satellite into homes around the world -- can help. On a table in his office is a fat stack of e-mails bearing praise from viewers around the world.
It looks like Dalton Tanonaka is back in his element, putting the past behind him and ready to reap some more success in his long career.
""I was fortunate, but then again you work to create the opportunities. Nothing fell into my lap. You always have to work to progress.
2002 & 2004 campaign finance irregularities
On Nov. 4, 2005, Judge Helen Gillmor sentenced Tanonaka to three months in prison, three months home detention and a $10,000 fine. Tanonaka potentially faced up to 30 years in prison. Tanonaka plead guilty to illegally financing campaigns for lieutenant governor and Congress with about $80,000 in loans. He hid the debts from a bank to get other loans and he kept a consulting contract with a Japanese lumber company undisclosed. Star-Bulletin reporter Nelson Daranciang added key pieces of the puzzle to his story yesterday on the sentencing of former journalist and candidate Dalton Tanonaka. His story makes clear that the case wasn't simply about failing to report campaign cash. It was also about the selling of influence.
Tanonaka had failed to disclose a $10,000 per month "consulting" contract, plus a 5 percent kicker on any sales over $5 million, from an individual and company pushing to obtain timber harvesting rights from the state. They were identified in court documents only by their initials. But Daranciang adds important information: IDB is Incentive Design Builders and its owner is Kyle Dong. Dong also owns Koa Timber, which was to do the logging, and Hawaii Forest Preservation, LLC, which owns koa and ohia forests on the Big Island.
In 2004, the state fined Koa Timber and Hawaii Forest Preservation $149,430 for illegally harvesting koa and ohia trees on land in the state conservation district. The companies later withdrew their application.
The Hawaii State Campaign Spending Commission has also assessed Tanonaka the $7,500 for failing to report contributions from four donors totaling $83,000. He also will have to amend his campaign spending disclosure statements. 
Dalton Tanonaka co-anchors with Frida Lidwina Metro TV's weekly English-language news program 'Indonesia Now', the network's first internationally-distributed program. He joined Metro TV in June 2006. Indonesia Now provides an objective look at the world's fourth most-populated country and home to the world's biggest Muslim population.
Tanonaka interview with Maya Soetoro-Ng
JAKARTA POST, 03/19/2008. The people behind Barack Obama's run for the U.S. presidency include political supporters, friends and his Indonesian sister. Maya Soetoro-Ng, 37, has the same American mother as her candidate brother. She was born in Jakarta, and attended international school here. She now lives in Hawaii, where she teaches school. In her first interview with Indonesian media, she talked with Dalton Tanonaka and Frida Lidwina of Metro TV's Indonesia Now program about her brother's Indonesian roots and her political role in his campaign.
Question: How much are you involved in the campaign?
Answer: Thank you for speaking to me; it's a pleasure to speak with Indonesia. I'm getting involved as best as I can. I campaigned on the mainland U.S. for two-and-a-half months last fall, and since returning to Hawaii to return to my teaching job, I have been doing my best to make phone calls to groups on the mainland, women's groups.
It seems from where we sit, Barack doesn't talk much about his Indonesian childhood. Is that a conscious decision?
No, he is incredibly grateful for his years in Indonesia. He also has said that his time in Indonesia allowed him to develop a strong foundational understanding of the rest of the world. He has very fond memories. He says that he wants to return and bring his entire family there as soon as possible. I think we have to remember that he was pretty young when he was there. He wants to make sure that the people of Indonesia understand that the bond that he has with the nation will always be there. And he is looking forward to a wonderful relationship with the country.
How much do you think Barack's exposure to Islam while living here would help him as president?
I think that Indonesia contributed a great deal to giving him the flexibility that he now possesses in terms of being able to communicate with so many different kinds of people and to empathize with people from far-flung countries. I think it's going to be key in terms of making him place a rigorous democracy at the forefront of his policies and to prioritize building strong relationships.
You must be aware of the support your brother has here -- a new fan club made up of former classmates was recently formed. What would you like to say to them?
Well, I feel tremendously grateful for all of the support that Barack has received, and that the family has received. That affection means a great deal to us and we have really enjoyed hearing the stories from Indonesia.
- anchored news and business programs for CNN, CNBC, NHK and MetroTV in Asia.
- was special adviser for international relations at the University of Hawai'i
- was executive director of Honolulu's Office of Economic Development.
- AA degree, Mesa State College, 1976
- BS degree, Northern Illinois University, 1977
- Republican Tanonaka seeks to challenge Abercrombie (Honolulu Advertiser, 6-3-04)
- Tanonaka to serve 3 months in prison -- The sentencing judge points out his abuse of the public trust By Nelson Daranciang (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 11-4-05)
- Dalton — for better or worse By Lee Cataluna (Honolulu Advertiser, 11-6-05)
- OUR OPINION: Willful misconduct caused legal plunge THE ISSUE: Dalton Tanonaka has been sentenced to three months in prison for lying about campaign finances in his bids for elective office. (Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 11-7-05)
- Tanonaka assessed $7,500 penalty (Honolulu Advertiser, 11-11-05)