Note: This column represents my personal and individual viewpoint only, and does not represent the position or viewpoint of the Democratic Party or any organization I am affiliated with.
It’s not an exaggeration to say 2020 will be, and in fact, must be — a pivotal year of change.
The Amazon burns, we keep children in cages along our borders, mass shootings are commonplace, the rich keep getting richer and the poor, poorer — all while we allow a dangerous, divisive and mentally unstable individual to occupy the White House.
Locally, we have the highest rate of houseless per capita of any state in the U.S..
Nearly half of local families live on the edge, with less than one paycheck in the bank. Working two or more jobs at substandard wages, while sharing a home with family or friends is the norm for local residents.
When factoring in the high cost of living, our public school teachers are the lowest paid in the country.
Hawaii’s natural environment is degraded daily as corporate interests divert our mountain streams and agrochemical companies pollute our coastal reefs and groundwaters.
Our criminal justice system seems based on the principle of mass incarceration in private for-profit prisons with barely even lip service given to rehabilitation and re-entry.
While thankfully our local state government is not overtly unhinged, it is increasingly tone-deaf to the urgency presented by our most pressing problems. Yes, the Hawaii State Legislature deserves credit for the many positive pieces of legislation it passes each year, but they inevitably fall short when it comes to accomplishing the bold systemic changes needed to get out in front of the critical and entrenched challenges facing our community.
The start of each and every legislative session begins always with words of promise and hope, the subsequent action in support of the nice words also inevitably fade into baby steps of incremental change, or more often than not evaporate entirely into a promise of “maybe next year”, or “let’s study this issue yet again”.
While the legislature and/or the governor could convene a special session to deal with these issues, each of which on their own should rightfully be considered an emergency, that is unlikely to happen given the track record of leadership, or the lack thereof. If the need was to support a large construction project or other priority of the Chamber of Commerce and Hawaii’s business elite, the answer of course, would be yes. But for low income working people, the incarcerated, our public schools, or the environment, it is clear such a bold action is not likely.
The legislature could also attempt to resolve the Maunakea/TMT issue which is inarguably the most “here and now” challenge facing Hawaii. A handful of individual legislators have spoken out on this issue, yet the Hawaii State Legislature as a body remains silent.
With literally the stroke of a pen the legislature could grant low income working men and women in Hawaii a much-needed increase in the minimum wage, mandate that excessive stream diversions stop immediately, and require that corporations be prosecuted when their deadly chemicals pollute nearshore waters and aquifers that host our drinking water. They could also deal proactively with the challenges facing our prisons and implement funding mechanisms to ensure our public school teachers are paid what they deserve.
The legislature could also if a call to such leadership moved them — support an immediate moratorium on all new development on Maunakea until the existing obsolete telescopes are removed and issues pertaining to the long term management of the ceded lands are resolved.
But of course, we know there will be no special session. Individual legislators statewide are almost unanimous in professing support for a minimum wage increase to at least $15 per hour, but those in a position of actually making it happen — will find ways to not deliver on their professed commitment and as has happened in the past, will continue to delay the actual passage of any such legislation.
Ditto on the other issues. Either the legislature refuses to act, acts only timidly in baby steps after years of community pressure, or in the case of the corporate water theft bill of 2019 the State House of Representatives actually attempted to give away the store.
It seems clear from a close and sustained look at their words and actions, that a majority of state legislators are in fact Corporatists masquerading as Democrats, attempting to cloak themselves as Centrists.
The keyword here is “majority”. Obviously, there are many legislators now serving that do in fact believe in putting people and the planet first, but a look at outcomes shows that without question, they do not constitute a majority.
Fortunately, we can change this in 2020. Because of the threat posed by the mad King now running the U.S., and because of the new political awareness that has been created by front and center local and national issues — it is possible and perhaps even likely that people from across all Hawaii, will, in fact, show up in 2020 to demand change.
To win in 2020, both at the legislature and at the ballot box, showing up in large numbers will be essential. New candidates from across Hawaii who share the belief that people and the planet must come first, will soon be entering the political arena, and yes more are needed.
The stars are aligning for a win/win in 2020. If the legislature passes a strong progressive and environmentally friendly agenda we win, and if they don’t it actually increases the likelihood of winning for those candidates who campaign on issues pertaining to economic, environmental and social justice.
Bottom line: 2020 starts now.
Now is the time to contact legislators and let them know where you stand on the issues. Waiting means your voice risks being drowned in the clutter and confusion that comes with a new legislative session.
Now is also the time to seek out and support those candidates who support your values, and are willing to fight for them.
And finally, if you are one of those who are on the cusp of deciding whether or not to run — know that your community needs you. If you have roots in your community, if you truly believe in putting people and the planet first, AND if you are willing to work very, very hard — your community needs you now more than ever. If you are going to run, NOW is when you start.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the Hawaii 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.