At the risk of entering the volatile realm of so-called “identity politics,” below is a male/female breakdown of those holding elected office at the state and county levels in Hawai‘i. The gender identification is drawn from references contained within the official county and state websites.
What percentage of lawmakers at the state and county level are women? The below information details the gender equity or inequity that currently exists among lawmakers currently serving in public office at the state and county levels.
• 36% state Senate: nine women, 16 men – 25 total;
• 31% state House of Representatives: 16 women, 35 men – 51 total;
• 66% Maui Council: six women, three men – nine total;
• 55% Hawai‘i Council: five women, four men – nine total;
• 55% Honolulu Council: five women, four men – nine total;
• 14% Kaua‘i Council: one woman, six men – seven total.
Kudo’s to Maui, Hawai‘i County and Honolulu!
What’s up with Kaua‘i? While two of three state House seats are held by women, representation at the Kaua‘i County Council level is woefully inadequate.
In the 2020 primary election, seven out of 21, or 33%, of Kaua‘i Council candidates were women. In the general election the field was narrowed to three women in a field of 14 total candidates, or 21.5%.
To her great credit, Councilmember Felicia Cowden emerged on Nov. 3, 2020, as the sole female serving on the Kaua‘i County Council.
Because each county council has different circumstances (districts, modified districts, no districts) — it is impossible to do a similar analysis of other counties within the island chain.
At the risk of stating the obvious, we need to elect more women to the Kaua‘i County Council. Statewide, we need to elect more women to the state House and Senate.
Throughout history, it has mostly been men in charge. It’s well past time that those in power move over to make room for those whose voices are needed now more than ever.
To ensure the most-equitable and the highest0-quality decision-making possible, every governing body, whether elected or appointed, needs to reflect the community it is responsible to represent. Whether that be gender, ethnicity, class, geography, sexual orientation or other, the best decision-making for the whole will come about only when a community’s diversity is represented in its governing institutions.
Women represent 50% or more of our population. Trust me on this one, the planet would be much better off if more women were elected to public office.
“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made,” said the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
The 2022 elections are right around the corner. Ballots will be placed in the mail for early primary election voting approximately one year from now.
All seven seats on the Kaua‘i County Council are up for election. Two incumbents, Chair Arryl Kaneshiro and Councilmember Mason Chock, are “termed out” and will not be eligible to run for re-election. This would seem to be a perfect opportunity for Kaua‘i voters to join the modern, civilized world embraced already by Maui, Hawai‘i County and Honolulu, and elect at least three or four women to the Kaua‘i County Council.
There is certainly no shortage of highly-qualified women already in leadership positions within the public, nonprofit and private sectors. But clearly we need more serving in public office.
Making that first step into the political arena can be a daunting bridge to cross. Support from friends and family is hugely important. Money must be raised, and countless doors knocked on.
But in my experience, the work and sacrifice is well worth the opportunity to sit at the table where decisions impacting our community are made. Some will say that it’s a thankless job. But I have not found that to be the case. To the contrary, in my experience, the positive has far, far outweighed the negative.
Anyone who knows my wife Claudette knows that she is well-equipped to take charge, make sure things get done and done in a way that is pono. I write this today thinking about her, my mother, daughter, granddaughter and all of the strong women I have been blessed to know and work with. I think about their immense talent both present and future, and I think about how much better off the world would be if they were in charge.
As to those who might not feel they are ready.
“As the prevailing voices in the public spotlight are predominantly men, stepping into the spotlight with the truth of who you are as a woman is political change,” said Tabby Biddle in “Find Your Voice: A Woman’s Call to Action.”
If you can answer yes to the below, you are as ready as anyone.
• Have roots in the community;
• Have held other leadership positions (public, nonprofit or private);
• Are able to relate to and communicate with the diverse demographics in our community;
• Are willing to work very hard;
• Are able to ask others for help;
• Are able to listen.
The next move is yours, and you have 12 months to get it together.
Gary Hooser is the former vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i, 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.