Isle GOP Fields Strong Candidates

Susan Page
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Wednesday - May 28, 2008
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I attended last week’s Hawaii Republican convention as a delegate. It was a rousing success because the party came out solidly behind its presumptive nominee, Sen. John McCain, clearly the most qualified presidential candidate to come along in years with the right experience for this perilous time in our nation’s history.

But, in the convention aftermath, the daily papers have taken potshots at Republican Party leadership for an inability to field quality state legislative candidates. After meeting some of the announced candidates, I beg to differ about their quality. They are outstanding.

Though the Republican Party finds good people, few are getting elected. The Republican legislators in the Hawaii state House and Senate, a mere 10 out of 74 offices, is a woefully insufficient number if we’re to call ourselves a two-party state. Even pro-Democrat local pundits are suddenly asking why the minority party is so extremely small, calling for balance.

The Dem-led Legislature has been given so many passes by our local media for so long it’s hard not to interpret these journalistic treatises as limp attempts to deflect blame for the lackluster 2008 session away from the 64 Democrats and onto the 10 Republicans. It’s also quite a stretch to say that because the Republican Party didn’t get more people elected to office we’re in a healthcare, homelessness, over-taxation, education and energy crisis. These same newspapers keep endorsing the same candidates with a D beside their names who fail us cycle after cycle, reminding me of the oft-quoted definition of insanity: doing the same thing hoping for a different result.

Yes, since 2004 the Republicans have dropped from a high of 20 in the Legislature in 2001-2002 down to 10 in 2008, but more significant is that a Republican governor was overwhelmingly elected for the first time in 50 years - twice. And her election underscores what many, including myself, have long believed: A majority of people here are “moderate to conservative” when it comes to these core values: a decentralized school system, lower taxes, less union power in government, strong national defense and a better business climate in which to provide more and better-paying jobs. (Yeegads! You may be a Republican and didn’t know it!)

Republican candidates have a tough row to hoe. It takes courage to come up against a well-honed Democrat political machine and often unsavory tactics by unions during a campaign. The party works hard to attract and recruit good candidates, but sometimes the price of running (a Republican has to spend twice on his/her campaign than the Democrat running) is too high, especially if they have to quit a job in order to run. Democrats are so well-entrenched and connected in state and city offices that their candidates are hired from within and groomed for campaigning. When people talk about the “machine,” this is but one aspect.

Among Republican candidates who have stepped up to run this year are outstanding citizens like Derek Gapol, a retired Army Green Beret with two Iraq tours under his belt, running in District 45, Waianae. He could’ve lived anywhere after his career, but chose to return to Waianae to serve his community. Another is Ted Hong, state Senate District 1, Hilo, former Democrat, former state chief labor negotiator, a UH-Hilo teacher and expert in labor and employee law.

Another standout is Jan Shields, longtime nurse and head of the Association for Improved Health Care on Maui, motivated to hold office by Maui’s hospital crisis and the ‘08 Legislature’s shutdown of Kihei’s proposed Malulani Hospital. And Jack Legal, businessman and president of the Hawaii Filipino Chamber of Commerce, is running for a Waipahu state House seat. These and more deserve a close look before November.

Yes, the Republican Party needs to field more candidates. But if change is to come, individuals need to step up. Embrace the values of energy independence, lower taxes, smaller government, protection of the environment, fewer business regulations to support small businesses, supporting our military, health-care reform to retain doctors and reduce costs. Then, run for office.

The convention ended with my husband Jerry Coffee, fellow MidWeek columnist and Vietnam prisoner of war cellmate of John McCain’s, calling for their POW motto to be embraced by the Republican Party: Unity over Self. Perhaps it should also be a motto for the Legislature as a whole.

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