Monday, August 31, 2009
The undemocratic Democrats of Hawaii
by Larry Geller
Update: check out the comments on this article. They disagree with me, and make several worthwhile points.
Dave Shapiro blogged today on the Democratic Party hypocrisy in reprimanding Sen. Mike Gabbard over his actions opposing civil unions in this past legislative session. I can’t improve over what Dave said, please check it out.
As Dave pointed out, Gabbard did exactly what he said he would do, at the time the Dems welcomed him into the party and rewarded him with a committee chairmanship.
Dave has more, but I want to point out that the shenanigans that resulted in the defeat of the bill were not engineered by Gabbard, but by Sen. President Colleen Hanabusa. The maneuvering over whether or not to pull the bill from committee and the gambit over the poison amendment that closed the session were a product of Senate leadership. When Hanabusa makes her run for governor might be a good time to remember her role in the defeat of HB444.
If defeating civil unions goes against the party platform, then there is a list of senators who should be pilloried along with Gabbard.
Even worse is expecting every Senator to vote the party line instead of representing their constituents. A party platform ought to be limited to guidance only. For all practical purposes we have a single political party in Hawaii, but the electorate is not at all monolithic, any more than it is anywhere else in the country.
The Democratic Party should be reprimanded for reprimanding an elected representative because of how he voted. It’s simply undemocratic of the Democrats.
Then why have a platform, (or have a party system at all, for that matter) if "members" are completely free to act as they wish? Is a party label just a brand name now? Gabbard's switch was nakedly opportunistic (both for him and for Hanabusa). And still people wonder why I don't join? Yuck.
It's about getting elected, about gathering power. I would say that yes, a party label is a brand. But it's not just politics. Religion, ivy league colleges, etc. are brands and about power, too, and they have platforms that individuals may not agree with as individuals.
Larry, I think that you and David Shapiro totally miss the point of the censuring. I also think David misstates history as I remember it. Hanabusa and certain figures in the party coddled Gabbard and welcomed him into the party. The group that spear headed his admonition opposed it then and brought this issue up precisely in this manner: what happens if he goes against the platform and rallies against civil unions. Well, it happened. A majority of party rank and file have spoken. That is the purpose of parties, idealogical discipline. Its not undemocratic. What should be considered is whether party leaders coddling Gabbard should resign from their party positions over the whole thing since their desires conflict with a majority of the party membership.
Also, regardless of the party involved, simply because rank and file party members cannot organize to admonish every politician for going against the platform -- that does not give a pass to those that get admonished. The same disorienting logic has been routinely argued and denied with respect to the limited resources of prosecutors around the world. It is not a defense to being prosecuted simply because the prosecutor could not prosecute everyone.
The prosecuter wasn't even trying to prosecute others, just Gabbard, for an act that a bunch of others shared in. Your logic is good, line, as usual, and perhaps I haven't expressed myself clearly. I thought David did, though.
It seems to me to be odd not to apply the discipline to the perpetrators. Gabbard was not alone. In fact, his view prevailed.
I think there are many factors that were glided over by you and David on this issue to make your point. Prosecutors routinely do not even try to prosecute many people for many things. Gabbard, however, stands alone in actively and publicly rallying people to oppose civil unions. Hanabusa did things behind the scenes and not for ideological reasons -- purely legislative horse-trading reasons. Sakamoto got into office opposing same sex marriage in 98 and voted against the civil unions bill. However, he did not get censured, probably because he kept his mouth more or less shut, didn't actively rally troops to oppose the bill, and simply voted against it. There are many factors that contributed to Gabbard's censure and I don't think most of the relevant ones were treated.
I don't doubt at all that you are right, but let's just disagree on Hanabusa. For whatever reason, and I don't claim inside knowledge or have a way to substantiate intent, she carried out the plan against passage of that bill. Gabbard could not have done it without her, and his actions would be convenient should she one day be looking to squeak out of her responsibility for it.
I am in general agreement with lineofflight's arguments here. You know I am am very unhappy with Colleen Hanabusa's behind the scenes machinations to stall the bill. But she has plausible deniability protecting her. Mike makes no effort to hide his misconduct--he advertises it and defies the Party to do anything about it.
Gabbard's political wet dream is to re-create the divisive political climate of the 1996 and 1998 election cycles. He has been playing a leading role in helping develop and carry out this strategy. The Religious Right will be pouring money into a major effort to lobby the 2010 Legislature. They hope follow up with the defeat of pro-CU candidates in the fall.
Gabbard is playing a major and very conscious role in developing and implementing this strategy.
Your conclusion that the Party expects every Democratic senator "to vote the party line instead of representing their constituents" is buys into Gabbard's "framing" of the matter. It is inaccurate. Let me refer you to Tony Gill's letter to Gabbard explaining the rationale behind the OCC's reprimand:
"The Democratic Party does not insist on uniformity of conscience. Nor does the Democratic Party insist on uniformity of vote. However, the party does expect that persons who hold office under our banner shall NOT actively organize against our platform."
"It is consistent with Democratic Party tradition that candidates and elected officials may hold views in variance with one or more of the points advanced in the platform. Indeed, Governors elected as Democrats have held such views. The party will in most cases defer to a legislator's choices based on reason or personal conscience. However, a line is crossed when a legislator--or any party member--undertakes to actively mobilize opposition to the platform, and most clearly when the platform point is one of core belief. I trust this reprimand will be understood in that light."
Please don't buy into the stereotype being promoted by some that any effort by a political party to hold its elected officials to account on the platform is the result of overzealous, "activist" "thought police." We are neither mindless cogs in a "political machine" nor ideological zealots, hellbent on accomplishing through control of the Party apparatus what we cannot accomplish at the ballot box. We are sincerely trying to balance our obligations to the members who wrote both our Rules and our platform, along with our core mission of electing candidates who can advance our principles.
Full disclosure: we DO have members who are "clogs" of the machine. And we DO have hotheaded ideologues in the Party as well. But "the commanding heights" of the Party leadership are trying to use the advantages of the party organization in a good faith fashion to advance the progressive vision spelled out in the current platform and, frankly, in most Democratic Platforms of the past.
Oh, and how the heck are we "undemocratic" for trying to hold elected officials accountable to a platform developed democratically, following rules which have been written and amended democratically?
The view that candidates who run as Democrats should be free to disregard the rules or platform of the party's membership might be termed "laissez faire" or "individualistic," but there is nothing "democratic" about such a lack of accountability to a party's membership.