With the stroke of a pen, the power of a majority

The power of a single legislator, whether on the council, at the state Legislature, or in the U.S. Congress, is limited to that of being one voice and one vote. They may introduce bills (proposed laws), they may cast a vote on those bills, and they may use their voices to inform and educate. As an individual legislator, they may also convene meetings and “shine a light” into the often-dark recesses of government operations and the decision-making processes.

But the true power of a single legislator comes with their ability to form alliances with others. We are taught in school that majority rules — and this is the single-most important truism of a democratic government.

On Kauai, we don’t need seven councilmembers to agree, we actually only need four. In the state Senate, the magic number is 13 out of 25, and in the State House, it’s 26 out of 51. In the U.S. Senate, the critical number is 51 of the 100, and in the U.S. House, it is 218 of 435.

Alone, a legislator can be a strong voice and sometimes a strong vote — but when part of a majority they can move mountains (assuming, of course, that majority wants to move mountains).

With the stroke of a pen a majority in the state Legislature could:

1) Solve the problem of Hawaii’s dependence on importing 90% or more of our food, by requiring all public schools, prisons and hospitals to only purchase locally grown food. Think about what a boon this would be to the local farming and ranching industries. Instantly farming for many would “make sense” and, more importantly, it would make money — and, of course, that money and that food would stay in our local economy;

2) Improve the lives of all low-income working people in Hawaii by gradually increasing the minimum wage to a living wage, mandating a paid family leave policy and aggressively funding a local “earned income tax credit;”

3) Expand and diversify our economy by providing aggressive support and tax credits to small, locally owned businesses. Increase taxes on big-box stores, banks, insurance companies, luxury resorts and other large businesses with off-shore ownership. These businesses export profits, often avoid the payment of local state taxes, and have a bad history of paying substandard wages to local workers. They need to pay more, and those funds used to support genuine, small, local, family-owned businesses;

4) Require all rental car companies to utilize only electric or ultra-high-mileage vehicles. This would decrease Hawaii’s carbon footprint and dramatically increase the market and support for electric vehicles statewide. This would also increase the demand for home roof-top photovoltaic (PV) and cause the proliferation of charging stations — making electric vehicles even more attractive and affordable;

5) Increase visitor/air-travel fees/taxes to offset the greenhouse gases generated by the travel industry, and utilize those funds to create “green jobs” focused on watershed restoration and natural resource protection.

And, of course, a majority could also completely restructure the management of Mauna Kea, increase teacher pay, reform our criminal justice system, legalize cannabis, create affordable housing by increasing density in our urban centers while upgrading infrastructure AND reform lobbying and campaign-spending regulations.

The naysayers will say: “Where are you going to get the money to do all of this?”

There is, of course, money, though it will have to be pried from the cold, very-live hands of the uber-rich, foreign pension funds and the multinational corporations that are currently making billions off the exploitation of our natural resources, our indigenous host culture, and local families. There is no shortage of people, businesses, products, and practices — that do not pay their fair share of the societal and environmental costs they put upon the planet.

Too much too soon? The answer is creating public policy that both phases in the change incrementally but also ultimately achieves the goal. A majority could pass laws today that mandate 100% local foods served in schools, 100% of rental cars being electric and 100% of Hawaii’s workers earning a living wage, but are achieved over the next decade — 10% increase per year over 10 years. To be clear, we need a mandate — not simply goals and aspirations.

This is the power of the majority, and this, of course, should be our goal as citizens — to elect and support a majority of legislators at the county, state and federal level who put people and the planet first, who recognize the urgency of the moment AND who are willing to act accordingly.


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 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.

  1. Ginger Doll October 9, 2019 2:46 am Reply

    In 2018, the 400 richest families, all multi-billionaires, paid an effective average tax rate of 23 percent, below the 24.2 percent paid by the bottom half of American households. Back in the 1960s, the richest were paying close to 60 percent and the bottom half just over 20 percent.

  2. Everythingisawesome October 9, 2019 5:10 am Reply

    Yes, Gary, with the stroke of a pen we could do all the things your communist utopia mind can dream of…how many auto mechanics and gas station attendants will lose their jobs? Where does all the lithium from the batteries go when the life of the vehicle is over? Same place most of the ICE vehicles go? The side of the road? Who will pay for all these charging stations and the electrons that they distribute? The KOC? Do we all get the same number of electrons “free” from the government? What happens when it’s cloudy for a week? Or at night? Who gets to decide which farms get water and who doesn’t in periods of drought? What will these school/restaurant places you speak of serve after a natural disaster? What will the food selection be like? Last time I checked, some basic things like wheat aren’t grown here. Ask the patrons of these school/restaurants if they would rather eat poi or pizza. I guess we’ll just eat only things that have been approved by your impartial pen stroke. How many in the tourist industry will lose jobs due to reduced tourism? Will you raise the minimum wage enough so that everyone can afford a $50k golf cart? Where will business owners get the money to pay higher wages? I guess the cost gets passed on to their customers; your increase in minimum wage improves nothing for anyone…the consumer ALWAYS pays! Then let’s levy unequal taxes on business to make it unprofitable for big box stores, that employ thousands and give us access to a variety of inexpensive products 7 days a week, to have a presence on the island.

    Gary, thank Spirit the word “former” is in your title. We do not live in a democracy. We live in a republic. Majority does not always make the rules. This protects us from being ruled by mob mentality and poorly thought through proposals like every one you suggest. Sounds like it’s your ideas that are simply goals and aspirations that would have disasterous consequences if implemented, even if money wasn’t an issue. I trust the market to keep society together way more than I trust your pen.

  3. WestsideResident October 9, 2019 6:43 am Reply

    1). Require all public cafeterias to use only imported lowest cost food, for cost reduction. Locally grown foods to be available at a premium ensuring a boon for local producers.

    2) Allow the market to deliver the greatest diversity of quality goods and services by removing all wage restrictions and reducing individual income taxes to a minimum. Unpaid family leave to be allowable per employee’s request up to 2 weeks.

    3) Flat tax all transactions in the state equitably.

    4) Allow diversity of choice by not precluding the most economical and efficient drive technologies.

    5) Limit the development on the island to preserve the quality of environment for both residents and visitors. Allowing prices to rise according to demand for the limited supply which increases income and property tax without expanding government services.

    The proposals offered above only enslave us to our politicians who continue to contend their superhuman abilities to deliver fair weather.

  4. Chamundi Sabanathan October 9, 2019 7:28 am Reply

    To alleviate the housing crunch we need to gradually increase the tax on the land itself, meanwhile reducing the proportion of property tax that falls on homes and other improvements. Where huge tracts of land (including one entire island) are owned by individuals or corporations, unavailable for use by anyone else except by paying tribute (rent), the majority of the population is squeezed out.

    1. RG DeSoto October 9, 2019 2:22 pm Reply

      Brilliant…levy huge taxes on large tracts of undeveloped land which is most often used for ag or ranching which are low return uses. All you’ll have accomplished is incentivizing owners of these excessively taxed lands to develop them.
      This is the very system–the highest and best use tax program (starting in the 1950s & 60s)–that was used by governments to coax large landowners into subdividing or otherwise developing and selling their lands.
      Learn some BASIC economics; it will save you from making a fool of yourself. While you’re at it…have Gary join you in hopes of staving off such economically irrational & ignorant proscriptions that plague the progressive mindset.
      RG DeSoto

  5. RG DeSoto October 9, 2019 2:35 pm Reply

    Hey Gary…perhaps this will help you with your irrational, unfounded climate/CO2 hysteria:
    RG DeSoto

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