Too often we are tasked on election day to choose between the lesser of two evils. I believe early on, before we get to that point, we should strive to find and elect those people who actually meet our highest standards.
This begs the question: So, what might that look like?
Character, track record and platform are primary factors in the decision-making. What are the basic and essential character traits necessary for me to support a candidate? Does their “issue platform” align with my own core values and world view? Is the candidate’s history and track record one that reinforces those same essential character traits and core values?
For me, the number-one character trait that applies to all candidates, at all levels of government and regardless of ideology, is honesty. Will they rob from the public till, steer contracts to their friends and campaign donors, or otherwise abuse the public trust?
Next comes transparency, openness and responsiveness. Is the person more comfortable making decisions in the back room, or are they willing to work in the bright-but-sometimes-harsh sunshine of public scrutiny?
Will they primarily listen to those friends and institutions who have the inside track via campaign support, or with whom they have prior business relationships? Will the key jobs and appointments to boards and commissions be awarded on the basis of friendships and obligations, or based on experience, skill sets and competence?
Will they be an advocate and actively champion the policies and actions needed to move Hawaii forward? Or will they be passive in their policy agenda, preferring to simply await the decisions and actions of the Legislature?
Are they willing to challenge the status quo and the institutions that control land and power in Hawaii?
Do they possess the courage and political will to require those in positions of wealth and influence (big business and the very wealthy) to help pay for the many needs of the other 95 percent of the population?
Do they seek creative solutions to the challenges? Or is their default position “We can’t do that?”
Are they able to articulate a vision that inspires the community at large? Do they have the ability to manage, motivate, or at the minimum garner the trust of state employees and their representatives?
In addition to these basic character traits, they must espouse a platform of values that to a great extent mirror what most would consider a solid, progressive agenda.
They must support equality for all people. They must support the full funding needed to place a highly qualified teacher in every public-school classroom. They must support an aggressive effort to increase truly affordable housing, a minimum wage in Hawaii of at least $15 per hour, and the right for workers to organize into unions.
They must support a woman’s right to choose. They must recognize the threat of climate change and make carbon-generating businesses pay their fair share. They must oppose the further privatization of our prison system.
They must believe in and support a progressive tax system where those who have more pay more. They must aggressively pursue environmental protection ahead of corporate profits. They must support increasing regulations of industrial-scale pesticide use. And, of course, they must oppose the statements, actions and policies of Trump that threaten all of the preceding.
A tall order? Perhaps. But this is the basic criteria upon which I believe we should evaluate all candidates for state office.
For me to be willing to carry a flag of support up the hill for any candidate, to campaign for them, to tell my friends to vote for them, or to even put a bumper sticker on my car for them — they have to be able to fill that order, tall as it might appear to be.
At the end of the day, I may indeed vote for someone as the “lesser of evils,” who is not my ideal choice but better than the other candidate. Until that time, however, my hope is that the candidates now running will consider these issues as their priorities as well, and/or other candidates who better represent the characteristics and values that I hold dear, will soon step up.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.