While some may use tools well, great people redefine their use. Scott Foster is one of the most effective and progressive masters of communication technology and technique since the rise of the internet. He is the type of person I write software for — not the typical user, but the individual who deeply understands and fulfills the potential of communications technology. Scott routinely puts entire marketing departments to shame. — Kevin Hughes.
Honolulu-based research writer, political strategist and communications consultant Scott Foster has advised, choreographed and executed successful political organizing & media strategies for scores of high-profile Hawai`i, national and international public policy issues and electoral campaigns. Before moving to Hawai`i in 1985, Scott had enjoyed successful careers in the entertainment and hospitality industries.
Scott has been called upon twice to assist the White House. In 1995, he was asked to perform advance communications in Hawai`i for President William J. Clinton to prepare for his official visit to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the end of World War II; “VJ Day.” Details HERE.
In August of 2014, Scott was contacted on behalf of the Obama Whitehouse by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Global Ocean Legacy project. The goal was to conduct a public education campaign to help the President gain the political and public support needed to expand the protected waters surrounding three of the five U.S. Pacific National Marine Monuments. Scott notes, “While I felt honored to be involved, the fact that we had only three weeks to pull this off kept me awake nights.” More HERE
Passage of The 2018 Hawaii Death With Dignity Law
Representing the Hawai`i Death With Dignity Society, Scott accepted one of the four ThinkTechHawaii Annual Community Service Awards in 2017 “for outstanding service to the community in its efforts to educate the community on Medical Aid in Dying legislation and in offering advice to those who are confronted with the pain and turmoil of terminal illness.” Read the media release HERE
Scott became interested in the Death With Dignity issue in the mid-1980s during the AIDS Pandemic when he watched many of his friends in Hawai`i and on the Mainland die “long, painful deaths.” Two decades later, several of his political mentors approached him to discuss seeing a such a bill passed in Hawai`i. And so, after many years of laying the groundwork pro bono, when Governor Ben Cayetano unexpectedly told his staff in 2002 that he intended to introduce a Death With Dignity bill, Scott and his “formidable” team of supporters were ready.
Working directly with Governor Cayetano, Oregon attorney Eli Stutsman, Esq. helped draft the 2002 Hawai`i bill. A board member of the original Death with Dignity Oregon, Stutsman had played a major role in drafting and in passing the original “Oregon Bill” in 1994.
To everyone’s amazement, the Hawai`i Bill moved quickly out of the House and after much contentious debate in the Senate, the bill failed by only three votes. The news made international headlines and Governor Ben Cayetano said, “The Death With Dignity issue has never come this far or moved this fast in any state legislature.” Read the history of the 2002 “near win” HERE. Read Death with Dignity Oregon’s letter of appreciation HERE
After the “near win” and seeing the need for a statewide local organization, Scott founded the Hawaii Death With Dignit Society. Scott and his organization continued to keep the issue before the public and in 2017, a new bill was passed by the Hawai`i State Senate with only three “no” votes but was “deferred” by the House Health Committee.
During the ensuing legislative interim with much “behind the scenes” political strategy and maneuvering, a new bill “with more safeguards” rebranded as the Our Care, Our Choice bill was introduced in 2018 and was passed by the legislature and immediately signed into law by Governor David Ige on April 5, 2018. The law is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2019.
Scott believes this could have happened only because of the dedicated support of the Oregon Death With Dignity National Center, Compassion & choices and his long-time associate Marsha Joyner. “It was Marsha Joyner’s sage idea to rebrand the issue as a civil rights choice issue. That and our combined volunteers who showed up to present testimony and to personally lobby their own legislators made it happen. It was truly an amazing team effort” Scott said.
Also of note, before the bill passed, a credible state-wide poll had indicated “… 71 percent of poll participants said medical aid in dying should be approved.” Scott says, “The fact that 2018 is an election year made passing such a controversial bill rather extraordinary but I believe that these high Hawai`i poll numbers gave them the political courage and cover. After 16 years, the planets truly aligned for us.”
In October 2013, Scott was retained by the American Civil Liberties Union to help pass Hawaii’s Marriage Equality legislation by managing the public communications. Scott said, “Our first challenge was to convince the governor to call a special session of the legislature with the hope that the issue could be passed before the next regular session which convened in January, 2014. The thought was, the controversial issue would have the legislature’s undivided attention during a special session and they could better manage it then without disrupting the many other important issues they would face during the regular session. We only had a few weeks and the clock was running.” More HERE
I am a thinking thing
– Rene Descartes –
Scott has said, “Public policy and electoral campaigns are both demanding and complicated propositions. If one wants to win in the political arena, one must know how to go about it and that’s what I teach. I had the great fortune to work directly with the best in the business during three Hawai`i gubernatorial campaigns. The late Joseph Napolitan was my friend and mentor for over 20 years.” Scott met Napolitan while serving as the Director of Communications for former Hawai`i Governor Ben Cayetano’s first gubernatorial campaign in 1994. Learn more about Joe Napolitan and Scott HERE.
Scott has been blessed with a series of remarkable mentors including advertising and marketing “genius” Marion Harper Jr. Scott says, “I met Marion long after he had retired back to Oklahoma City, my own home town. At first, I thought he might be a rancher because he was wearing Khaki pants and drove a pickup. After I learned that Marion had been ‘the boy wonder’ of advertising giant McCann Erickson in the 1950s and the founder and former chairman of the huge Interpublic Group of international advertising agencies, I wasn’t much surprised to learn he raised Quarter Horses.“
“Marion encouraged me to study and understand the psychological and sociological aspects of public relations, advertising and marketing. I later realized that Marion had in fact taught me many of his thought processes; how he mentally approached identifying and fulfilling a client’s core needs. The lessons learned have been invaluable and I’ve tried to emulate Marion when working with clients and especially with students; how I think about problem solving.” Read more about the legendary Marion Harper Jr. HERE.
Shortly after moving to Hawai`i from Hollywood, Scott was befriended by the late Ah Quon “A.Q” McElrath. “I learned just about everything I know about advocating for social justice issues from working with A.Q. including healthcare, affordable housing, aging and the highly-charged issue of self-determination at life’s end; Death With Dignity. Scott went on to found the Hawaii Death With Dignity Society which continues to advocate for the issue in Hawai`i and nationally.
To Scott, his most gratifying work with A.Q. was organizing the Hawaii arts community to successfully lobby the Hawai`i State Legislature to secure a total of $4,350,000 from the state to bolster the struggling Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. Read more about the effort HERE
In Managing Public Opinion: Principles & Practice, Scott writes, “Good organizational communications is like good sex. If one’s never had it, one may be satisfied with what they’re getting. Sadly, I see golden opportunities lost and scarce resources underutilized every day by business, by government, and by non-profit organizations both large and small when the need arises to influence public opinion to advance their goals.”
“The failure to effectively manage public opinion is particularly unfortunate when critical social issues or public policy initiatives are at stake. The failure of most organizations to actively engage the public in a meaningful way usually falls into one of two categories: They either engage communication staff with a traditional PR background but with little-or-no understanding of the current technology, or they bring on people who may be proficient with the technology but with little-or-no traditional PR experience. A combination of the two is unique and, given the right circumstances, can greatly change the odds; sometimes the world.
There is a third category; when organizations engage communications people with absolutely no real-world PR experience. I see that a lot in government and this sad fact, to me, explains the growing public angst and cry for reform.”
Scott’s often revolutionary application of communications technology has not gone without notice. As the quote at the top of this page suggests, one of Scott’s fans is Hawaii’s young tech guru Kevin Hughes. In 1999, “Kev” created a foundation which engaged and funded Scott to successfully save Oahu’s sacred Waimea Valley, “the Valley of The Priests” and “a Hawaiian cultural resource of the highest possible order” from a developer’s bulldozers.
The 1875-acre valley contains many historic cultural sites and a world-renown botanical garden which was being neglected to the point of ruin by the rapacious mainland developer. Enlisting Hawaiians and other supporters from literally around the globe, Scott created The Stewards of Waimea Valley. Learn more about the four-year campaign to save Waimea Valley including a rare video with many kupuna speaking HERE
In 2000, Kevin Hughes’ Forward Foundation funded a multi-million dollar endowment for a physical facility with a curriculum dedicated to teaching Scott’s advanced technology-based communications, marketing, and political organizing techniques to social-justice advocates. Photos of the magnificent downtown Honolulu space and the floor plan may be seen HERE. Sadly, the 2001 “dot-com meltdown” ended this ambitious undertaking midstream. Scott has worked since to teach his much-admired communications techniques to clients and students — both young and old.
Usually behind the scenes, when it will benefit his client or an issue he personally advocates, Scott’s TV, radio, and print news appearances and independent media productions are, “… always strategic and effective”. His op-eds on major public policy issues “… literally jump off the page because of his compelling narrative writing style.” A staunch proponent of Harm Reduction, during the early years of the American AIDS Pandemic, Scott collaborated with a newly created Hawai`i state agency. The Governor’s Committee on AIDS. Advocating for the creation of what became the nation’s first Syringe Exchange Program (SEP). Scott performed the state-wide community organizing and managed the media and communications to pass the then very-controversial issue. Hawaii’s model program has since been implemented in a majority of states — but not everywhere. Scott notes, “I was saddened to learn of the the March, 2015, announcement that Indiana’s governor had declared a public health emergency because of a dramatic spike in HIV infections in IV drug users. One need only look to Hawaii’s statistics to prove the efficacy of SEPs but it’s still illegal in Indiana and in 22 other states.” A recent national evaluation by the American Foundation For Aids Research (AMFAR) noted that because of Hawai’i’s early implementation, today “Only 18 percent of the AIDS cases reported in Hawai’i were related to drug injection. Hawaii’s statistics contrast with the rest of the U.S., where overall 33 percent of the AIDS cases are attributed to drug injection.” What else do people need to know” Scott lamented.
Scott’s work to achieve the 1995-96 auto insurance reform effort helped produce legislation that continues to save Hawai`i drivers millions of dollars in annual premiums. Confronted by the powerful State Farm Insurance Corporation’s $500,000 PR & lobbying campaign and a formidable corporate management team sent in from San Francisco, Scott’s state-wide community organizing, public opinion management and damning research helped win the battle — with a modest budget of $36,000. The contentious political battle at the Hawai`i State Legislature lasted for over two years, encompassing a state election cycle where the two arguably most-powerful state senators who were blocking reform were soundly defeated at the polls. The resulting law became the model for California and ultimately set the bar for car insurance regulation and reform across the nation. State Farm’s so-called “Pure No Fault” legislation would have taken Consumer Lawyers completely out of the system and left the consumer without legal recourse to seek fair compensation for their injuries. Scott attributes the campaign’s success to Hawaii’s Governor Benjamin J. Cayetano who introduced the reform legislation and to America’s preeminent consumer advocate, Ralph Nader. He and his protege Harvey Rosenfield traveled to Hawai`i to help identify the leadership team needed to create a consumer rights organization in Hawai`i to stop State Farm’s “Pure No Fault” legislation.
Guided by Nader and Rosenfield, Scott took the lead in seeing the organization launched and his enduring relationship with “Ralph” began. Governor Cayetano’s bill was later bolstered by an official resolution from the Democratic Party of Hawai`i. Scott had authored and lobbied the document through both the arduous Oahu County and State Democratic Party Convention processes.
Scott later reflected, “Getting that important resolution passed was a difficult proposition because we were challenged by several powerful Democratic Party members — including several sitting state legislators employed by the insurance industry. It was all very ugly but we stayed the course and ultimately prevailed.” Ralph Nader’s 1995 letter congratulating Scott and his board of directors is HERE. Over two decades later, Hawai`i Advocates For Consumer Rights remains a stalwart champion for Hawai`i consumers on a myriad of social justice and economic issues. Scott continues to be the pro bono Communications Director and media spokesperson for the respected organization.
In 2000, retained by the Drug Policy Forum of Hawai`i, Scott performed the state-wide community organizing and public-opinion media campaign, and devised the legislative lobbying strategy which resulted in Hawaii’s legalization of Medical Marijuana — the first state in the nation to achieve this via the arduous legislative process. Several of Scott’s media releases created international headlines, as did his media work advocating for Governor Ben Cayetano’s landmark Gas Cap law.
Governor Cayetano retained Foster’s services three times; as Communications Director for his successful 1994 gubernatorial campaign, in 1997 as a member of the Governor’s Executive Office staff, and in 1998 when Scott’s research, writing, communications and community-organizing skills were again employed during the Governor’s difficult reelection campaign. Read the Honolulu Star-Bulletin headline article HERE and what the Governor had to say about Scott’s work HERE.
Foster managed two critical election cycles as the staff Communications Director for the Democratic Party of Hawai`i (DPH) during his 1994-98 term as the elected Assistant State Party Secretary — the first openly Gay Democratic Party officer in the nation. In 1993, Foster had again joined with Hawaii’s Rainbow Coalition to successfully organize and literally seize control of the moribund Democratic Party of Hawai`i whose reputation had been badly sullied by a long-series of political-corruption scandals. At the time, Foster noted: “We’ll have four years to accomplish our agenda because we took the old political machine completely by surprise. They will regroup and we will again be outside looking in.”
That’s indeed what came to pass, but while they were in power, the reform group had helped elect Governor Ben Cayetano and later passed landmark ethics reforms into law at the State Legislature, the rapacious and powerful state insurance industry was far-better regulated and perhaps most important, many new young progressives had become active in the political process.
Sadly, the DPH immediately returned to it’s “good ole’ boy” ways and Scott “dropped out.” In fact, legions of Democrats ceased their active participation in the Democratic Party of Hawai`i. The full ramifications of the old guard returning to power would not be fully appreciated until 2002 when the first Republican governor in over 40 years was elected. The legions of disenchanted Democrats had simply “… stayed home.”
By 2000, Scott was known as “Ralph Nader’s ‘guy’ in Hawai`i” and a phone call from Mr. Nader convinced him to manage the Green Candidate’s Hawai`i Presidential Campaign. View the video of Mr. Nader’s campaign address to the SRO crowd at this event, co-hosted by Honolulu’s respected Kokua Council of Seniors HERE. Scott’s support of a Green Party candidate did not sit well with the re-re-entrenched DPH political machine and Scott was, without due process, unceremoniously removed from the DPH roster. As Scott related: “Given the blatant corruption, nepotism and cronyism I encountered, I could have cared less. In my heart I’m a Democrat — but not that kind of Democrat.”
Incidentally, with a budget of only $6000, Scott delivered 6% of the Hawai`i vote for Mr. Nader — one of only three states producing such a strong showing for the Green candidate. Invited to rejoin the Democratic Party of Hawai`i in 2004 by two politically-influential Oahu County DPH officials, Scott became active with a new O`ahu-based DPH reform effort. As one of the DPH officials put it: “I don’t know exactly what Scott does, but he does it very well and we need him.” Scott indeed played a key role in the Democrat’s successful state-wide legislative campaigns and in US Senator John Kerry’s Hawai`i Presidential victory. Scott collaborated with another DPH “techie” to create a state-of-the-art on line database and email communications management system. The beta system was much-admired by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and they later adopted a version of the model for the entire US. Coincidentally, Democratic Presidential candidate Howard Dean and later Barack Obama’s winning campaigns employed similar, albeit by then more-advanced technology.
In late October of 2003, Hawai`i was unexpectedly perceived to be a swing state during the heated national presidential campaign. With the world’s media watching, using the new DPH communications system, in only three days Scott was able to organize and promote The Dick Cheney Halloween Party which turned out over 1000 Democrats to protest the controversial Vice-President’s last-minute Hawai`i visit to bolster President George Bush’s failing Hawai`i Campaign. The throng of costumed Democrats with their hand-made protest signs brought out the entire Honolulu Swat Team in reflective riot gear and the major thoroughfare was closed for the duration.
Scott Foster has been integral to the planning and execution of winning political strategies for dozens of Hawai`i union contract negotiations and labor actions. In 2000, Scott was retained by the Hawai`i Nurses’ Association (union) to manage their “Big Five” hospital contract negotiations. The talks soon deadlocked over patient safety and management’s desire to reduce the number of Registered Nurses at the bedside by replacing them with less-qualified “nursing assistants.”
Five strike actions with 24-hour picket lines ensued. Over the course of the next three months, massive local, national and indeed international media coverage was generated. An entertaining 4-minute “old time movie” compilation of the more than 200 local and national TV news broadcasts was produced as a Christmas gift to the Hawai`i Nurses by Scott Foster & Associates and is viewable HERE.
And then came “The Hawai`i PR Story” — a full chapter devoted to Scott’s work for the nurses in “From Silence To Voice: What Nurses Know and Must Communicate to the Public” by Boston-based investigative journalist Suzanne Gordon and former Newsweek Bureau Chief Bernice Buresh.
In 2003, the Hawaii Nurses Association (union) again retained Scott for their “Big Five” hospital contract negotiations which again resulted in five more contentious and long strikes. One of Foster’s no-nonsense media releases “… was published in three out of seven american newspapers.” The positive nursing story with national implications caught the attention of National Public Radio and was rebroadcast internationally. Listen HERE.
HNA Executive Director, Sue Scheider esq. later wrote, “There was not a single day during that three-month period when we did not have media coverage — in fact, we believe our strikes at three hospitals received just as much coverage (and not just local coverage) as any strike in the world in the last decade.” The full text of this rather extraordinary letter is HERE
In 2002, Scott organized his fellow North Shore (O`ahu) residents, The Stewards of Waimea Valley and the Hawai`i Nurses’ Association to support the first major UniteHere Local 5 labor action against the Turtle Bay Resort Hotel.
In 2004, Hawaii’s Pacific Business News described Foster’s results for the Inland Boatmen’s Union (IBU) as, “… a surgical strike — in and out in four days.”
Scott’s long association with Local 677, the Hawai`i Musicians Association, began during yet another crisis in management of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. Scott notes: “I was brought in rather late in the game by my long-time friend, then Local #677 President Michael Largarticha. The HSO management and marketing were in a real mess and dramatic changes were obviously needed.
Forced to accept a draconian 20% cut in wages and retirement benefits to save the orchestra, the HSO Musicians were understandably angry and dispirited.” “My first challenge was to convince the distraught Musicians that their initial media release should set a conciliatory tone that would be outwardly supportive of the truly-inept board of directors and management staff of the Honolulu Symphony Society and at least give management the opportunity to improve the organization’s dire circumstances — without compromising the Orchestra’s renowned ensemble sound.” The media release may be read HERE.
Among the many international stories that resulted, the musician’s positive message of unity, hope and sacrifice was picked up and broadcast to 90% of the world by the late Paul Harvey during his October 25, 2003, internationally-syndicated ABC radio news broadcast. Hear the archived MP3 story HERE. The union’s President, Michael Largarticha later wrote: “If you’re looking for an affordable, effective public relations and political resource, look no further. Hire Scott Foster.”
In early 2006, the venerable Pew Charitable Trusts retained Scott to help advise local political and media strategy to advance the goal of establishing a National Marine Sanctuary in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. To everyone’s great surprise, on June 15th, 2006, employing the U.S. Antiquities Act, President George Bush instead declared the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a National Marine Monument, now officially the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument.
Scott recalls: “This was a really tricky political situation to negotiate. Hawai`i had a super majority Democratic House and Senate and a Republican Governor (Linda Lingle) and they didn’t agree on much of anything.
“President Bush was of course a Republican but the Democrats had captured both the U.S. House and Senate that year — and Hawaii’s powerful Democratic Senator, the late Dan Inouye was openly against the planned sanctuary designation because of his close association with the Hawai`i commercial fishing industry.”
Scott later said, “We did the grass roots and political organizing and then executed the challenging political strategy with our fingers crossed — right up until the very moment President Bush actually signed the official proclomation. In our wildest dreams we could never have imagined the “National Monument” designation.” In 2008, Scott was again retained by the Pew Charitable Trusts — this time to help achieve the National Monument designation for the Marianas Trench in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. After achieving the Monument status, Scott said, “This was a very exciting project which found us working literally across half the planet with one of the greatest natural wonders of the world.”
“I laid awake nights trying to envision a logo that would graphically represent the grandeur and majesty of ‘the deepest, darkest place on the planet’. Of the hundreds of logos I’ve designed during the last 40 years, this is my absolute favorite. Seeing it in the hands of the First Lady on TV after the ceremony was the cherry on the top!”
A strong supporter of the Kanaka Maoli (the indigenous people of the Hawaiian Islands), in 1993 Scott assisted Ka Lahui Hawai’i in turning out over 10,000 participants and managing the media for a march commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai`i. Scott assisted again in 1998 with yet another seminal event — seeing the raising of the Hawaiian flag over ‘Iolani Palace for the first time in 100 years which again brought the issue of Hawaiian sovereignty to international attention.
Scott later created and then donated the original communications databases for the fledgling Hawaiian Environmental Network – now the respected organization known as Kahea. In 1997, Scott performed the pro bono promotion for the republication of The Kumulipo, “An Account of the Creation of the World” by Queen Liliuokalani; the English translation of her brother’s (King David Kalakaua) original Hawaiian language manuscript. Collaborating with many kupuna and other long-time Hawaiian friends and advisors,
In addition to his client work, Scott continues to teach his communications model and techniques to advocates and organizations “working to achieve equality in social justice issues” and those who are somehow “challenging the corruption in local government which has placed our ecologically-fragile Islands squarely in an over-developed and under-enforced regulation crisis.” To that end, Scott’s current pro bono project is to see the organization he helped create with Ralph Nader, Hawai`i Advocates For Consumer Rights, prosper and grow. His goal is to hand it over to younger advocates and leadership.
Scott’s “greatest disappointment” to date is the failure to pass Clean Elections — publicly funded political campaigns in Hawaii. He was one of the original founders of the Hawaii Clean Elections Project, since merged with Common Cause Hawai`i. As a former board member of Common Cause Hawai`i, Scott believes, “public funding of political campaigns is the one reform that would make all other political reforms possible.” Scott’s original logo design (below) says it all.