Hawaii’s political arena vastly differs from many states around the country. There are also many similarities. Opening the political climate for the world to see, it is apparent that the state is without a doubt, a Democratic stronghold. We have already taken a brief look at Hawaii’s political past and have seen how things have evolved. Today we look at how people will vote in the coming years and what may sway voter sentiment in either direction.
Hawaii currently is run by Gov. Linda Lingle. She initially ran for the office in 1998. At the time she was a fresh face, upstart mayor from Maui. She put up a valiant effort but came up short against then-Gov. Ben Cayetano. In 2002, she again ran a great campaign, this time winning against Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono. The win marked the first female governor of Hawaii and the first time a Republican had held the office since statehood. Gov. Lingle won reelection in 2006 and is nearing an end of her time as governor due to term limits. She has held the office while working with a legislature that is almost entirely made up of Democrats.
The Democratic controlled legislature has been a mainstay of Hawaii for years. Over the last few elections, Republicans have struggled to retain their already small numbers and have had difficulties competing in Democrat strongholds. One popular theory is that many voters in Hawaii still hold the view that Republicans are businessmen out to make more money and that Democrats are primarily concerned with helping the middle-class. Hawaii Republicans have found it difficult to kick this old view of the party. Republicans have been hard pressed to find winnable candidates within the community. They have usually been left with local businessmen. This only acts to strengthen the belief held by older voters. One thing that can’t be denied in Hawaii, a politician with a D next to his/her name, is almost always at an advantage than one with an R next to it.
One way for Republicans to pull more seats from Democrats is to actively work in the districts with a handful of possible candidates. It is wise to take an inventory of neighborhood leaders and activists and to build upon the work they are currently doing within the community. Take for instance, the 2008 race for D.42(Ewa, Lower Waipahu) between incumbent Rida Cabanilla(D) and challenger Tom Berg(R). Cabanilla has never been a popular choice for the district’s voters. Berg had a history in the community as an aide to Cabanilla and serving on the Ewa Neighborhood Board. Berg went to the homes of the voters and spoke to them about what they were looking for. He created a platform of infrastructure improvements and modernizations, increased funding for schools in the district, and an increased dialogue between the office and the constituents. The Republican leadership did not feel that Berg was a solid candidate in a heavy Democrat district. However, the party failed to note that Cabanilla had struggled to initially win the office over an incumbent that was leaving for military deployment. They also neglected to realize that Rep. Cabanilla had a reputation of missing the most votes of anyone in the Hawaii House of Representatives. Berg did not receive much financial help from the party and was not able to increase his presence on radio and print ads. He lost the election by less than 120 votes.
Hopefully the Hawaii Republican Party learned from their lesson from that race. The party needs to be more active in recruiting candidates that are willing to work had in the community to gain the trust of the voters. Democrats will continue to dominate the state unless the Republican Party steps up its efforts to make their candidates known to voters. There is no magic bullet that will create a balanced governing body in Hawaii.
Hawaii needs a more balanced approach to politics. There needs to be a strong push from both parties to earn the votes from Hawaii’s residents. A healthy political climate needs to have strong voices from all sides of the political spectrum. The future of this wonderful state depends on quality ideas, regardless of where they may come from. If voters are tired of what is being offered, then stand up and get involved. The parties won’t change unless the electorate mobilizes and forces the change. If Hawaii’s voters continue to take an apathetic approach, there won’t be much of a future for the keiki.
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