Hawai‘i is a blue state dominated by Democrats and the Democratic Party. Conventional wisdom though this may be, it’s only half true. And even the half that’s true is not really true. Dwell on that for a moment.
All too often we hear variations of, “As long as the one party-political mafia gate-holders have a stranglehold on who gets to be a candidate, you will only see more of the same.”
As the former vice chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i, I will share with you some not-so-secret secrets.
The DPH does not pick and choose candidates. Any individual who is a member of the party can place a “D” next to their name and run in any election as a Democrat. The party has no say in the matter whatsoever.
The DPH does not actively nor officially help any candidate running in the primary election, where Democrats will challenge Democrats.
The truth is the party mostly has nothing to do with deciding who runs and who doesn’t. These decisions are made by the individual candidates.
Yes, there are a variety of players who encourage various individuals to run and who offer support to both new and incumbent candidates. And, yes, these individuals are sometimes but not always affiliated with the party.
More often the core allegiance of the various players and political operatives is based on the needs and goals of special-interest groups — labor, business, environment, agriculture, construction, etc.
Interest groups pleased with their preferred legislator’s performance will continue to support them, and those not pleased will seek to find a challenger to “take out” an incumbent.
The DPH has a strong social, environmental and economic-justice platform. Those serving in public office are expected to support the platform, but there is no mechanism to ensure this happens — none, zero, nada.
Anyone doubting this need only look at the failures of leadership in the state House. Year after year they simply ignore DPH priorities, focusing instead on pleasing various business and tourism-industry organizations.
Think of the party as a brand. The politically preferable brand for a majority of voters in Hawai‘i is the “D.” Consequently, most candidates choose to run as Democrats.
Because of the hard work and relentless commitment by rank-and-file party members over the years, the DPH brand is a stellar one.
Unfortunately, in recent years the brand has been tarnished by incumbent legislators who are essentially corporatists. Working people struggle daily just to survive, our stream waters have been taken over by big business, the houseless have been criminalized, and our economy remains dominated by military spending and tourism.
If real Democrats were truly in charge, the minimum wage in Hawai‘i would be $15 now and headed without question toward a true living wage. If Democrats who actually believed in the Democratic platform and values were really at the helm, luxury second homes and real-estate speculators would be paying the highest taxes in the nation, not the lowest, AND the lack of affordable housing would have been declared an emergency a long time ago.
So the not-so-secret secret is that the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i is not in charge; it’s the corporatists who have hijacked the “D” brand who are actually running the show.
We can change this, of course. It starts with finding and supporting new candidates who truly believe in the principles and values upon which the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i is based. We need to find real “Ds” to run against the faux “Ds” and those who carry water for their enablers.
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 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.