A Lesson In Political Mandates

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - January 11, 2012
| Del.icio.us

Will Ben run again? Leah Friel photo .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Back in the day, when I was a mere stripling studying political science, my professors talked endlessly about mandates.

“Franklin Roosevelt’s massive victory over Herbert Hoover in 1932 gave him a mandate to try almost anything, and he did,” said Professor X. “Four years later, after an electoral landslide, FDR thought he had a mandate to expand the Supreme Court. He didn’t, and thus the New Deal ended.”

In the 2010 elections, Hawaii’s voters received a lesson in political mandates.

Neil Abercrombie said from day one of his candidacy that, if elected governor, he would sign HB444, legislation establishing civil unions. His Democratic primary opponent, his general election Republican opponent and the Republican Party in its legislative races opposed HB444.

Abercrombie won the Democratic primary by a 21 percent margin, the general by 17 percent. Republicans lost one of the two seats they held in the state Senate and won but one seat in state House. Gov. Abercrombie, mandate firmly in hand, signed the civil unions bill into law.

Now the opponents of the city’s proposed elevated rail mass transit system, while attempting to stop the project in the courts, are looking to a back-plan:

A mandate to stop rail through the election of fervently anti-rail mayoral candidate in 2012.

They had such a candidate in 2010, University of Hawaii professor Panos Prevedouros.

I thought he would do well in the four-person contest in which Prevedouros was the only anti-rail candidate.

He didn’t, finishing third. On Dec. 30, Prevedouros emailed his campaign volunteers that he would not run for mayor in 2012. Two days later, the StarAdvertiser ran a story saying that former governor and fervent rail opponent Ben Cayetano was considering a run for the Honolulu mayoralty.

Does he have a chance? Of course. From state House to governor’s office, Cayetano has never lost an election. He knows how to win, and he offers the voter both legislative and executive experience.

Like Prevedouros, Cayetano would face a split pro-rail field.

Former city manager Kirk Caldwell has been preparing for months for a mayoral rematch with Peter Carlisle.

Both he and the mayor support rail. That would make Cayetano the only anti-rail candidate in the race, a Prevedouros without a Greek accent.

Ethnicity also would favor Cayetano, for perhaps the first time in his political career. When Cayetano entered politics, Filipinos constituted the state’s fourth largest ethnic group; today, they make up its second. As a gubernatorial candidate, Cayetano ran poorly in haole neighborhoods. In 2012, the haoles of East Honolulu and Kailua will vote for the anti-rail candidate, no matter his ethnicity.

Then there’s Cayetano’s larger political profile, one that goes beyond the single issue of rail. As governor, he gained credentials as a fiscal conservative in a tough economy and a builder of elementary schools in rapidly expanding Leeward Oahu. In retirement, he’s burnished his resume as the author of one of the best books we have on Hawaii politics.

Before I leave the subject of mandates, a word on the Iowa Republican caucuses.

Did Mitt Romney leave Iowa with a mandate?

Nope, not with 25 percent of the vote. Did Rick Santorum, with 25 percent of the vote?

Perhaps, as the conservative Republican candidate of the moment. But the largest mandate goes to anonymous Romney Super PAC money that practically wiped Newt Gingrich off the Republican political map.


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