Who is Really to Blame for Voter Apathy and Growing Rebellion Against Hawaii’s Political Leaders?

Sorry for the Inconvenience

On the day before Thanksgiving this year, Civil Beat published a Community Voice piece by Representative Gene Ward (House District 17). The article, entitled “Hawaii’s Status Quo Government Isn’t Cutting It,” takes to task Hawaii’s Democratic Party-dominated political establishment for contributing to voter apathy, for perpetuating wink-and-nod dealmaking, and for not handling the tough issues.

The Democratic Party of Hawaii is Not to Blame. Neither is More Republican Elected Officials the Solution.

As an active member of the Democratic Party of Hawaii who has served on the State Central Committee (SCC) for nearly a decade, I can say with a good deal of confidence that it isn’t the Democratic Party that’s running Hawaii’s state government. Rather, it’s elected officials and appointees who pass themselves off as Democrats.

There are undeniably good politicians who do stand by and up for the Party’s platform and guiding principles. Sadly though, far too many merely drape themselves in the Democratic banner for the purposes of getting (re)elected.

Ask any engaged member about how the Party’s legislative agenda has faired in the last several cycles and you’ll quickly learn that the (Democratic) Majority Caucuses of the House and Senate do not represent the will of the Democratic Party of Hawaii.

(Read: My Speech to the Maui County Convention)

That Hawaii’s Government is dominated by a supermajority of too many who simply call themselves “Democrats” is a problem. But Representative Ward would have you believe that part of the solution to our State’s woes is to elect more Republicans. This wouldn’t solve the problem so much as remove the cloak from some who are not truly Democrats. Hawaii’s Republican Party just clings to life not because the Democratic Party is dominant. But because they have wholly failed to prove themselves a reasonable alternative.

That the Hawaii GOP nominated Trump in their 2016 Presidential Primary should be evidence enough they are out of touch with most voters in Hawaii. There is no easy path for them to regain even some modest power without acknowledging this obvious shortcoming. Blaming Democrats for that won’t solve their problems (just as blaming immigrants for social and economic woes has done nothing to improve the lives of Americans).

But Gene Ward Does Raise Some Points Worthy of a Closer Look

The “Democratic” majorities in the House and Senate believe they have support for their neoliberal and small incremental approach to our most challenging problems because they keep getting reelected. Forget the fact that far too many of them have gone unchallenged for far too many election cycles.

Rep Ward rightly points out that “more than half (56%) of those polled said politicians don’t listen and don’t have high moral standards (51%)”. And why should they listen when they believe they can whatever they want and continue to get reelected?

When push comes to shove, the Hawaii State Legislature will work hard to the benefit of special interests. They bent over backward to support (illegally) the Hawaii Superferry. And they went to extraordinary lengths to see Honolulu’s rail project is sufficiently funded. Or support the illegal taking of water by Alexander & Baldwin.

But when it comes to the highest cost of living, the highest rate of homelessness, the lowest teach pay or helping struggling working-class families, they do nothing. They obfuscate and deflect. They kick the can down the road. Maybe they think if they put off dealing with these problems long enough they’ll solve themselves.

When voters don’t think politicians are responsive to their needs, they do one of two things. Either they disengage (don’t vote, don’t write testimony, etc.) crying, “what’s the point”. Or they go the other direction, as we’ve seen in the case of the TMT, the Kahuku wind farm, or the Sherwoods development. They rise up and fight back in dramatic fashion.

Gene Ward is spot on when he says, “you’re missing the point if you think Mauna Kea is purely about a telescope”. It’s about a people who feel they’ve been ignored, are tired of it, and are taking action.

Turning “Protesting Into Voting” is Part One of the Solution

Voting matters. In state and local elections, it matters even more. Winning margins can be incredibly small; as little as a couple of hundred votes, or less, can be the difference between an incumbent winning re-election or not.

Next year Hawaii will conduct its elections entirely by mail-in ballot. This will make it easier than ever to vote. No requesting an absentee ballot. No having to remember when Election Day is or where you’re supposed to go to vote. Ballots will be delivered by mail directly to voters, who can complete them and simply put them back in the mail. No muss. No Fuss.

Even if you are discouraged by the current state of affairs in Hawaii, you should vote. I’d say this goes double for Native Hawaiians who feel like second-class citizens in their own homeland. Voting won’t magically set right old wrongs. But it will send a strong signal that sitting on the sidelines is no longer a viable strategy. Whether you’re camping on Mauna Kea, or standing in front of trucks in Kahuku, or supportive of those efforts, it’s time to make your voice heard in a meaningful way. Register and vote.

Run For Office Yourself. Or Encourage and Support Others to do so.

Of course, if incumbents have no challengers then there’s no choice to be made. The same-old politician goes back to their cushy seat for another term, comfortable in the knowledge they’ve been given a blank check to do what they like.

What we need in addition to better voter turnout is more candidates. We need more good, smart, passionate, people who care about their communities running for public office. Without a real choice during elections, it’s easy to feel like casting a ballot is a waste of time.

Much to the chagrin of Gene Ward (and many Democratic electeds), there is an ongoing and growing effort to identify, recruit, train, and support progressive candidates to run for public office. These candidates, frankly, align much more closely to the platform of the Democratic Party of Hawaii than many of those currently serving.

It’s not hard to see a political shift is coming. A revolution from the left supported and encouraged by those who are tired of being told: “maybe next year”. Or, “be thankful for what you have.” Cracks are forming in the political establishment’s grasp on our systems of government. Let’s work together to turn those cracks into chasms.

The tide is turning. Come join the effort. If you’re not sure how I’d be happy to talk to you about it. Or if you have friends or family that are engaged reach out and ask them how to get involved.

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