Examining Hawaii’s Political Journey

Hawaii politics is a mysterious entity to the rest of the country.  It initially was a state that seemed to lean towards the right but has since lurched and remained on the left.  Hawaii is unique in that it really is the melting pot of the world with the various different ethnic backgrounds of the residents here.  There are not very many places where the minorities in this country are the majority!  Today we discuss the journey of Hawaii politics.  This first installment will focus on the forces that created the idea of Hawaii politics.  The unique collection of ideas and people has helped shaped our political arena in Hawaii.  For better or for worse.

Hawaii become the 50th state in 1959.

Hawaii’s political ambitions began rather earnestly.  Hawaii become the 50th state in 1959 and has had only two Republican governors to four Democrat governors.  In presidential elections, Hawaii has only voted for a Republican candidate twice.  Those were the ’72 Nixon and ’84 Reagan wins.  How did this shift take place?  Why do so many voters identify with Democrats?  The answers can be found in Hawaii’s lead up to statehood.  The people of Hawaii were entrenched in the sugar and pineapple fields found all over the state.  Most of the workers were immigrants that had been brought in from various Pacific countries.  This Asian-Pacific mix featured some very hard workers and some very strong family values.  As the industry grew, more and more of the workers began to move around the islands and settle down.  The ideas of strong families and hard work would spread.  When statehood was adopted many of the immigrant workers, whom now had become citizens, flocked to the polls for their chance to vote.  This was the point of being an American.  Voting was the way for the little guy to make a difference.

It was no surprise that JFK would captivate the people of Hawaii with his youthful enthusiasm and his goals of uniting all people in this country.  It was a time when civil-rights were being fought in much of the country and Hawaii’s citizens witnessed through their televisions and radios how much this meant to the country.  Hawaii would remain an independent voting block during the first few presidential elections.  In 1972, they voted for Richard Nixon to bring an end to the Vietnam War.  Many of the plantation communities had seen the loss of young men to the war and were looking for an end to the conflict.  In 1984, Hawaii voted for Ronald Reagan’s reelection.  The money Reagan was pouring into the military meant more money flowing into Hawaii’s military bases.  That increase cash flow lead to more jobs for the local people.  However, the Republican move towards corporate America during Reagan’s presidency is what may have pushed Hawaii’s voters over to the Democrats.  Many voters looked at the Democrats as fighters for the middle class.  They viewed Republicans as the elite businessmen that were only focused on profits and ignored the hard-working factory worker.

Hawaii's plantation workers would eventually shape Hawaii's voting record.

As Hawaii became a more unionized state, the shift became even more apparent.  Under the Reagan administration, there seemed to be a war between labor unions and corporate bosses.  Many of Hawaii’s residents sided with the labor unions because of their past dealings with the sugar and pineapple plantations.  Hawaii saw the concept of workers banding together to better their wages or working conditions.  Unions became a mainstay in Hawaii politics.  This can be seen by the countless press conferences of union leaders choosing who to endorse in election years.  It has become common to see the candidate with the most union support winning the election.

Hawaii definitely has an interesting political past.  On Friday we will discuss the nuances of Hawaii’s political world and see what changes are in store.  The journey through Hawaii political ambitions is a long and significant one.  Join us on this journey.

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