A Long, Stressful, Costly Campaign
Wednesday - November 08, 2006
By the time you read this, Hawaii and the nation will probably have made their decisions on who will govern and represent them for the next two, four or six years. Somehow, this campaign has seemed longer than most - more stressful, more depressing - and this from a guy who likes politics.
The length of the campaign, for those of us who live in Hawaii, was appalling. U.S. Rep. Ed Case, intent on shaking every hand in the state before election day, started the drama early this year by announcing that he would challenge Sen. Danny Akaka in the Democratic Primary. So all of us who liked and respected either man - or both of them - felt the strain through spring, summer and the start of fall.
That strain was compounded by spirited congressional races in both major political parties. “Who do you like? Mazie or Colleen? Matt or Clayton or Ron? Brian or Gary? Or Quentin or Bob?” The choices in both major primaries were not easy.
And while the primary election results ended much of Hawaii’s political drama, the campaign continued- raucously, ridiculously - in the continental states. We in Hawaii, if we cared, looked on nervously.
Then there was the frightening cost of damned thing - and the realization revisited that we shouldn’t hold elections; we should just let the interested bid on the offices, because the one with the most money almost always wins.
Consider Hawaii’s last three gubernatorial elections. In 1998, then Maui Mayor Linda Lingle took public funds, played by the Campaign Spending Commission’s rules, spent $3.3 million, and lost to Ben Cayetano and his $4.8 million - by 5,000 votes.
The lady Lingle’s no fool (save when it comes to Iraq and the quality of George W. Bush as president). In 2002 she spent $5 million - more than twice the expenditures by Democrat Mazie Hirono - and won handily. This year she dropped $6 million on her campaign - to poor Randy Iwase’s chump change - and, I’m assuming as I write a half a week before the returns come in, will win handily.
In 1998, Cayetano set the Hawaii record for spending on a gubernatorial contest. Lingle set a new one in 2002; then she surpassed herself in 2006. I know victory is sweet, but somehow those are records in which neither Cayetano nor Lingle should take pride.
Then there was the filthiness of this year’s campaigns. Rush Limbaugh reached new depths in his criticism of Michael J. Fox’s advertisement in support of a Missouri Democrat who supported stem cell research - research that could potentially spell cures and treatments for those who, like Fox, suffer from Parkinson’s disease.
But Limbaugh was not alone amidst the swill. A friend back from 10 days traveling through the Midwest said, “You watch an evening of television up there, punctuated by political attack ads every few minutes, and you want to take a shower - and scrub hard.”
I’m also struck by the futility of it all. By a solid 52 percent to 37 percent - or something very similar - polls have said repeatedly that people want Democrats to control Congress. My guess is that nationally far more people will vote for a Democrat for Congress than for a Republican. But as I write, going into election day, there’s still a question whether the Democrats will get the 15 seats they need to win the House of Representatives. And it’s unlikely they’ll take the Senate.
Why? State legislatures have so gerrymandered congressional districts to ensure that incumbents can withstand almost any challenge. In 2004, for example, only one challenger in California’s 53 congressional contests did better than 40 percent of the vote against the incumbent. One. That is gerrymandering.
Finally, I fear that whatever the congressional makeup during the last two years of the Bush presidency, polarization and acrimony will be the order of the day. We’ve gotten ourselves into a terrible political box in this country, one in which civility, compromise and community all but disappeared.
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