Wednesday, November 05, 2008


How to be “non partisan” in Hawaii?

by Larry Geller

Dead Elephant

I found this graphic on Democracy Now’s web page (hope they won’t mind my borrowing it), just as I was thinking of what the loss of more Republican seats in the Hawaii legislature might mean.

With Senator Trimble’s loss to Democrat Brickwood Galuteria, only two Republicans are left in the senate.Two out of 25. Republicans frequently complain about the Democratic machine, or the old-boy network, or the Democrat-controlled legislature, but bottom line is that they can’t get themselves elected.

In the House, it looks like a loss of one seat as well, though I don’t know if the race between Denny Coffman and Andy Smith has been resolved on the Big Island. So that means that only six Republicans remain in the House out of a total of 51.

There is no Green or Libertarian or any other party represented.

Let me think out loud for a moment, if I may. There’s no conclusion to this. Joan Conrow might call it a “musing” I guess.

I was surprised by Gordon Trimble’s loss. He often voted with the majority on veto overrides and has a clear, logical and empathetic approach to measures that come before him. Voters have spoken, though, and so the Republicans are down one more seat. What power, as an opposition party, can they have left?

One-party rule (and rule is the right word, I think) is not in our best interests as citizens. It means that pretty much whatever Speaker Calvin Say directs his minions to do will come about. Same in the Senate. If the Senate President dictates, it most likely happens.  There is seldom meaningful debate and no loyal opposition. What happens in the darkened conference committee rooms is easily controlled by leadership and makes a mockery of the democratic process earlier in the session. If Say or Hanabusa don’t want something passed, it can sail through committee after committee, eating up hundreds of hours of personal time for individual testimony, only to meet its fate at conference time, a fate ordered by House or Senate leadership.

In the Senate, Senators Slom and Hemmings can make some noise, but with only two votes, they might as well be squeaking into a dead mike. They do make waves in the newspapers. The Star-Bulletin, bless their right-wing hearts, needs their letters or op-eds, who else is there for them? The Advertiser, under NRA conservative Lee Webber, seeks out one of the two for a quote any time they can, usually Fred Hemmings. To read our newspapers you’d think that Senate Republican voices still matter. They should, perhaps, but they don’t, IMHO. Being “fair and balanced” by checking with Hemmings distorts the facts on the ground and gives Hemmings more significance than he actually has as a legislator. That’s not a character judgment, just recognition that he has only one Republican vote in a Democratic Senate.

Over on the House side, Republican numbers have not shrunk to the same extent. I don’t think many are in particular danger. Cynthia Theilen, for example, would be a leader in any party she chooses to belong to. Regardless, the same dynamics play out—it takes numbers, and instead of gaining, they are falling back. There are six of them left, only six. Are any in danger? Is constituent loyalty to their party or to them as individuals, keeping them on for their own good qualities?

Despite the dwindling Republican numbers, when the legislature talks about forming committees, for example an ethics committee, they place equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats on the committee (I haven’t actually researched the committees, though).. Why equal numbers? That gives Republicans unearned power. Nor is it written anywhere that our legislature is composed of only two parties. One day there could be a Green Party legislator. Would that person be on an ethics committee? Would that person be excluded from an ethics committee? If there were two Greens and only one Republican left, who exactly would/should be appointed to committees?

I feel, anyway, that an opposition to the dominant Democrats is necessary, even though I am a Democrat. One-party rule is just not good government. Opposition could come from anywhere, and could be a party that reflects the unique values of Hawaii and is not so influenced by Washington politics.

For there to be an opposition, there must of course be candidates of stature willing to run. Those seem to be a bit short in any party. Unpopular governor Linda Lingle could have been elected, you know, not because she was so popular (which could be a myth constructed by her PR friends), but because the opposition was simply too weak. Mazie Hirono could not compete with the Lingle PR machine. Randy Who? couldn’t compete either. So Lingle was elected.

Third parties have even a harder time producing viable candidates. Who would want to campaign as a Green and be creamed by the Dems? Power leads to more power. But who knows. I’ll bet it could happen one day in Hawaii.

Expect more Fred Hemmings quotes in the Advertiser, they’re trying, for some reason, to go out of business, it seems. Being a square peg newspaper politically in a round hole town hasn’t made the Star-Bulletin successful and won’t work for the Advertiser either. More on that later.

Next election, will the Republican slide continue,or has it hit bottom?

So this is just a musing.


What often happens is that factions develop within the one party, which provides the desirable if not essential political competition. For example, we had the Fasi-Ariyoshi factions in the 70s. And the Burns-Gill factions before that. Absent any realistic Republican opposition, the development of competitive forces within the Democratic Party is almost inevitable.

Nice musing, Larry.

Now that the Republicans have been beaten back so soundly, it seems the time is ripe for some Greens to emerge and challenge the Dems.

Then we'd see just how progressive Hawaii really is.

I think the notion that we are in one Party rule is a conservative distraction to mislead confused voters into voting for right-wing extremists. There is nothing monolithic about the Democratic Party of Hawai'i. In our council races, we had environmental Democrats against labor-development Democrats in all but 1 contested council race. To flatten this out as "one part rule" misses the stark differences between the people running. Nonpartisan council races have allowed, on Maui, the two opposing idealogies run against each other in the general instead of having progressive Democratic candidates lose to conservative Democratic candidates in the primary then have the conservative Democrat sweep in the general against right wing extremists -- something that seems to be still happening on the state level here on Maui.

We don't need two party governance. We need voter education and less generic labeling to distract voters with false senses of comfort and/or proportional styled representation.

The Democratic Party is indeed not monolithic as you say, but at the Legislature, when Calvin Say gives orders, they are generally followed.

It's sad when a bill has been pre-ordained to sail through the process, with people investing hundreds of hours preparing and waiting to deliver testimony, only to have it die in conference, which is where the unitary command is exercised.

I have seen conference committee members pulled and replaced on critical measures. I think one was the repeal of the gas cap. I'd have to look up my notes on that one. But you see what I mean, I hope.

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