Many elected Democrats don’t toe party line

In response to last week’s column, “Confessions of a centrist and a call for civility,” I received this reply:

“I also support these core values, however I left the Democratic Party and became an independent because I could not see Democrats fervently supporting the items on your list. If Democrats ever get back to being Democrats, I’ll consider rejoining their party.”

My response is that I also am extremely disappointed that at both the state and federal levels, too many candidates will run under the Democratic Party brand, then when elected will do little to nothing to move forward policy in support of those core values listed on the party platform.

I can only think that a majority are either liars or wimps. Either they do not really believe and support the values or they are too timid to take action. Yes, there are strong and bold legislators who truly believe and support these values but, unfortunately, they are not in the majority.

The term “majority” is used intentionally here because that is who drives all policy-making at all levels. At the state level the majority of legislators have chosen Kaua‘i Sen. Ronald Kouchi as senate president, and Rep. Scott Saiki as speaker of the House.

If these two men and the respective majority of legislators who back them believed that workers in Hawai‘i deserved to earn a living wage or at least $15 per hour, it would happen. Ditto to a long list of policy initiatives that include food self-sufficiency and much more. By virtue of running under the Democratic Party banner, both have pledged their support of these issues, AND they control a majority of the votes.

The American Conservative Union Foundation conducts an annual, in-depth analysis to rate all 8,000 lawmakers in America, revealing their positions on a wide variety of issues:

O‘ahu Rep. Sam Kong and Kaua‘i Rep. James Tokioka, both Democrats, are rated at the top of the ACUF scale, matching that of House Minority Leader Republican Gene Ward.

In the state Senate, O‘ahu North Shore Sen. Democrat Gil Riviere actually has a more-conservative voting record than the lone Senate Republican, Kurt Fevella. Tied for second place with Fevella is Democrat Sen. Mike Gabbard.

We have a state Legislature dominated by members of the Democratic Party who refuse to assertively move forward a policy agenda in support of their own party values.

So what can and should we do? How do we motivate Democrats to be Democrats?

While nearly every political organization requires a questionnaire and an interview as part of their endorsement process, the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i requires only membership in the party. Anyone can join the party, regardless of ideology or values, or a lack thereof. And it’s free.

When proposing to tighten up membership criteria or hold policy-makers accountable, the argument pushing back is always based on the concept of having a “big tent” and wanting to be a party that everyone can be part of.

It’s all a bit surreal. The big-tent concept is appealing, but at the same time both counterintuitive and self-sabotaging. If the goal is to have a values-driven organization supported by values-driven candidates and officeholders, then it would seem that membership would also be values-driven.

Otherwise, what is the point? Why even have a party when no candidate or officeholder is required to support its core values? The current state Senate president voted “no” on marriage equality. The current state House speaker has consistently failed to support increasing the minimum wage. Both of these issues represent core party values.

While some will argue to leave the Democratic Party and join a third-party effort, I am not there yet. I think about it sometimes, but am not there yet.

My hope and goal would be to see the Hawai‘i Democratic Party recognize and confront the challenges presented by incumbent officeholders who are essentially conservatives and corporatists masquerading as Democrats.

My further hope at the moment is that those in leadership positions in the Hawai‘i Legislature, even if they are not true believers, would see the pragmatic value of reaching out to frontline advocates working on social-, economic- and environmental-justice issues. Engaging in a meaningful conversation and establishing a meaningful 2021 policy agenda is the first step.

The results of the 2021 legislative session will set the stage for the 2022 elections. Every seat in the state House and Senate will be up for election in 2022. New candidates and their campaign teams will no doubt begin mobilizing in May of next year, as every candidate prepares for the following 15-month sprint to the August 2022, all-important primary election.

Unfortunately, Hawai‘i is a one-party state. While I am a Democrat and believe wholeheartedly in the core values upon which the party is based, I believe the lack of a viable second or third party in Hawai‘i is inherently unhealthy — from a basic civics perspective.

So until the Republican Party or the Green Party or the Aloha ‘Aina Party is able to grow their own base of credibility, we must count on the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party to provide the necessary competition at the ballot box.


Gary Hooser is the former vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii and served eight years in the state Senate where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i 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 Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.

  1. Ken Conklin November 11, 2020 3:31 am Reply

    Here’s a fundamental principle from our U.S. Constitution, which both the Democrat Party and Gary Hooser violate in both their rhetoric and their legislative record:

    Equality under the law: Government should treat all people equally under the law regardless of race.

    Equal treatment under the law means there should be no special rights or government entitlement programs for one race preferentially or exclusively. Hawaii has many hundreds of such programs. They are illegal under the 14th Amendment equal protection clause, and morally repugnant.  They are the very definition of “systemic racism” or “institutional racism” comparable to Jim Crow laws in the old South, where race determines legal rights and political power.

    Hooser and the Democrat Party have repeatedly enacted racial entitlement programs in Hawaii under the euphemism “indigenous rights” which is merely a false label for a highly favored group some of whose leaders repeatedly demand racial supremacy in land-use policy and political power. Hooser and the Dems have worked long and hard to divide Hawaii’s land and people along racial lines through such devices as the Akaka bill to give federal recognition to a wannabe Hawaiian tribe, despite the fact that the Kingdom of Hawaii was multi-racial with voting rights and property rights for Caucasians and Asians in full equality with native Hawaiians.

    1. Get it right November 12, 2020 11:20 am Reply

      First, it’s “Democratic Party”. That you continue to get it wrong says something.

      Second, you might think you have a grasp of what equality is, but let me present this to you for conversation:

      1. Ken Conklin November 13, 2020 3:01 pm Reply

        1. Regarding the name of the political party: They may call themselves whatever they want; but they are led by leftwing ideological thugs who engage in viewpoint censorship (as we have seen with Facebook and Twitter) and do not deserve the high-sounding adjective “democratic” as part of their name. I refuse to let you muzzle me or censor my speech by trying to force me to use the label you would prefer.

        2. Regarding equality vs. equity: Your concept of “equity” is clearly focused on a socialist opinion that people should have equality of results or outcomes. Take from the rich and give to the poor until all are equal, or at least until all have been provided a pleasant lifestyle. But equality under the law is about equal opportunity without government interference, and does not guarantee equality of outcome. People who have different abilities or different levels of energy or motivation will, of course, have different levels of success when all are treated equally under the law by their government. It is not my responsibility to make up for someone else’s deficiencies, although I am free to give charity if I voluntarily choose to do so.

        1. Get it right November 15, 2020 6:32 am Reply

          1. Hey, you do you, Ben Bonklin. But if you think the leaders and founders of Facebook or Twitter are leftists, you are so far extremely right you don’t live in reality. Further, no one has censored anyone. Calling a lie a lie is not censorship. Defending the USA from pilfering fascists is honorable and patriotic. Right, Kennie Konkie?

          2. Equity of opportunity is what this nation was founded on. If you interpret it differently, so be it. I don’t begrudge people becoming wealthy, but I believe the system is pretty inequitable if some few people become staggeringly wealthy beyond comprehension of most.

  2. Rich Belmont November 11, 2020 5:53 am Reply

    ”So what can and should we do? How do we motivate Democrats to be Democrats?’ Never mind “we,” the better question is: What should I do? This article doesn’t really answer that question.

  3. Imua44 November 11, 2020 6:50 am Reply

    Am I the only one who gets nauseous at Gary’s whiny drivel?
    When Gary was in office, he did nothing for the people. A puka nui.
    The Democrat Tent is big. It is adjusted by the voters.

    1. Yes November 12, 2020 11:21 am Reply

      Nauseated, perhaps? Still, not really.

  4. manawai November 11, 2020 8:17 am Reply

    Apparently, Gary’s desperate need to respond to his critics reveals their truth; not his.

  5. WestKauai November 11, 2020 10:58 am Reply


    For as long as I can remember Hawaii has supported a Democrat party with both liberal and conservative factions. This is due to the shift to the Democrat party by the unions and the fact that one pretty well must be a Democrat to be elected…

  6. Patrick H Flores November 11, 2020 10:59 am Reply

    The “Party” doesn’t elect the candidate, the citizens do, that is is who the candidates should vow to represent.
    Patrick Flores, Wailua Houselots

    1. James Z November 12, 2020 9:18 am Reply

      This short post by Mr. Flores is spot-on, unlike the above posts of whining and complaining.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, send us an email.