Hawaii Political Report

In keeping with the “State of the World” diary…

No effort is too arduous for your on the spot reporter. So this morning I was at the annual 4th of July parade in Kailua, Hawaii. It’s a rough assignment but I sucked it up and flew out here for 10 days.

First let’s talk awesome political skills. On the flight out I asked the stewardess to announce it was my oldest daughter’s birthday on the flight. When I gave her name she asked if she was related to Cynthia Thielen. When I told her yes she replied "we love her." I wore one of her shirts for the parade today and had a bunch of people tell me "we love her." I marched with the Obama group for a bit and they said she’s the one Republican who’s shirt I could wear while marching with them. I don’t know all of what she does and how she does it but I think she would win even running against Jesus Christ or Santa Claus.

Ok, back to today’s pre-parade. Hawaii still is pretty small and low-key when it comes to politics. This parade has been around since the end of WWII and Senator Inouye has been in it every year except one. He missed it for the 2nd time today. But hey, he’s newly married so we’ll cut him a break. But we did have the Gov, Lt Gov, Rep Abercrombie, and all the state reps and senators in this area.

I went with my mom to the VIP prep area. I was there 2 years ago and ended up talking to all the big shots for 5 – 10 minutes each, back before I was blogging. So it was discussing politics and other stuff but just for fun and a way to kill the time. This time it was with an eye toward blogging.

First was Representative Neil Abercrombie [D]. Is Abercrombie running for governor in 2 years? Official answer is "he hasn’t decided yet." He’s running. I asked him what he would do as governor and he reminded me he had to get elected first. So I asked what he would do if elected and I got a long discussion. He did throw out the caveat that nothings for sure in the future and so it’s not a done deal that he will run. But unless something major occurs, he will run.

So what would he do if he is elected Governor? His whole discussion was process. That the governor needed to work with the legislature to find consensus and together address the problems Hawaii faces. He did concede that some of what Lingle faced was inter-party obstruction. But he also said part of it was Lingle not being able to work with the legislature to find workable compromises.

I think key to all of this is Abercrombie has been a legislator all of his political life, at the state and federal level. And in that he has looked for compromise that will get a strong majority behind it. In that world, the process is important and the cooperation is important. But as an executive, that is, I think, a secondary issue.

What was lacking is specific things he wants to accomplish. If you enter the office without the 2 or 3 things you want to see change, then not much is going to change. Yes the system runs smoothly, but it doesn’t get much better (nor granted, much worse).

I then talked to him about what the Dems have not done in the U.S. House. Wow! It was a joy to hear him on this. He voted against FISA and was disappointed at the Dems who voted for it – very disappointed. He voted to stop funding Iraq and wanted to continue with that approach.

What was even more impressive is he saw the probably obstruction in the Senate and/or a Bush veto as irrelevant to what they did in the House. That as legislators their job was to craft good legislation and send it to the Senate. Because a bill that is dead today can resurrect tomorrow and suddenly move forward.

He also discussed the problem that there are 435 agendas in the House and that does impact what is possible in the House. If 20 Dems will vote with the Republicans on an issue, then it’s not going to pass. And so there is a need for compromise within the House just to move legislation out of the House. That is needed for step 1.

But it was refreshing to hear a Representative who champions crafting good legislation and moving it forward to the Senate. And to hear a Representative who clearly is passionately voting his conscience even though "moving to the middle" would help him in 2 years if he runs for Gov.

Hawaii – keep this guy in the House – we need him there!

I next talked to Lt. Gov Duke Aiona[R]. He is running for Governor in 2 years. He’s got a tough road as a Republican but Lingle is very popular and he is the Lt. Gov so he’s got a decent chance. He was a bit arrogant about his odds as his reply was to point to Neil Abercrombie and say that Abercrombie was the one that had the hard climb. I guess an essential part of running is to believe that you have the better odds but I think this will be a tough race (for both candidates).

I asked him what he wanted to do and got an immediate answer – renewable energy. And he then shot into the details of what can be done and how jumping from geothermal to wind to solar (and after a reminder from me – wave),

His official approach is a certain percentage from renewables by a certain year but it’s clear his true goal is to have Hawaii 100% on renewables. Keep in mind this is the Republican candidate – politics in Hawaii is upside-down on a lot of issues. I think with Lingle’s strong start on this effort (she has done a number of good things), if Aiona’s efforts can match his intent, we could see Hawaii close to energy independent at the end of his 2 terms.

His second driving issue is helping families. He discussed domestic violence, education, etc – a lot of specifics. But the key to him was helping families. It was a really interesting approach to how he framed a number of issues and, I think, a good way of finding a strong common thread to drive solutions.

We also had the standard discussion of the corruption inherent in a one party state and the financial and policy disaster that is the Democrats here. All true, but his answer is a Republican governor and while that’s great for him, it is not a sustainable solution and the legislature is so Democratic that it makes the veto an empty threat.

One other thing struck me about Aiona – he’s got his official persona and that is what you get. Now all politicians try to stick to their official persona. And the very very good ones have it appear so natural that you think you’re getting the real person. Aiona is like John Edwards – you get what he wants to show you. I think if he gets just a bit better at it, it will appear 100% natural and he will then be a very powerful campaigner – and even at present – I would guess that he is a very very good campaigner.

It was a short discussion but I think he will be a very credible candidate in 2 years. And if the Democrats want to have a chance, they better make sure their candidate can talk from the heart about what they want to accomplish if they are elected.

Next was Fred Hemmings who has been in the State Senate forever. (The Kailua parade may be the one political event in Hawaii where the Republicans outnumbered the Democrats.) Ok, the State House has 7 Republicans out of 51 total and the State Senate has 4 out of 25 total.

Alright, so their totals suck. But the mindset is worse. The blog for the house members is houseminority.wordpress.com – that’s right, their blog url assumes they will be the minority party forever.

So Fred is happy to talk about why the Republicans offer better government here than the Democrats. He’s happy to talk about the corruption inherent in a one party government and the rampant corruption between the unions and the Democratic party here. And he’s right that it’s a major problem.

But when discussing what the Republican party can do and will do to increase the number of seats it has – no interest. We Dems took back Colorado because a large number of very talented people did a boatload of work to find quality candidates, teach them how to campaign, scaring up money, etc. It’s a lot of work and it takes a couple of elections, but it can be done.

I asked Fred about this several times and there is no interest on his part to put in the effort. This is identical to the Republican party in Boulder – lots of talk about why people should vote Republican but no interest in putting in the effort to accomplish the change.

We’re not going to see any real change in the composition of the state legislature until the Republican party gets serious about effecting change. And that’s not going to happen anytime soon – in either Hawaii or Boulder.

Governor Lingle showed up as the cars were about to take off for the parade. So no time to say anything more than hi and ask her what she’s going to do in 2 years when her term is up. I of course got the same answer as everyone else – "no idea." I’m sure she gets tired of being asked this but that is the single biggest question in Hawaii politics and so it will probably continue to be the first question she gets asked in every interview. (Governor, when you do decide, call me first!!!)

First posted at Liberal and Loving It