Predictable Path For Isle Elections

Larry Price
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Wednesday - June 16, 2010
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I’ve been observing Hawaii gubernatorial campaigns since 1959, and they have a consistent and predictable cycle and trajectory.

In the beginning, potential candidates form a circle of friends and call it an “exploratory committee” to discern if there is support for the candidate to make a run for the top elective office in the state. Of course, the main reason for the committee is to collect campaign funds or promises of support - the unions are consistently bombarded with requests for support and an eventual endorsement.

The potential candidates must fill out questionnaires and write short essays about their beliefs on “key issues.” Once the candidate is convinced by his constituency that he or she must seek the governor’s seat, then a crisis must be claimed to exist -one that can be related to the larger social system like a war or global recession - whether there is one or not. In almost every election in the past 40 years, education has been the most consistent crisis demanding attention, suggesting that past operating assumptions may no long apply.


 

The candidates will propose the adoption of a new set of management techniques that are guaranteed to solve our major problem. It is supported by advocates, often paid consultants whose livelihood depends on creating and disseminating new management techniques. This rhetoric is accompanied by dramatic, universal, anecdotal evidence that the new technique is widely successful, bolstered by the idea that it is a proven concept and anyone with any brains would agree. The technique is initially presented in simplified terms that appear to be so consistent with common sense and other myths related to organizational efficiency, it is designed to make counter arguments difficult. Simply put, the campaign rhetoric is presented as a winning strategy that is the answer to all our managerial and governmental problems. This part of the rhetoric is referred to as a “breakthrough” that will significantly improve our core organizational processes and governmental functions among all stages of government - federal, state and local.

After the election, there’s a time lag between what was promised and what has happened. The media likes the headline, “The First Hundred Days.” Actually, it takes about two years for the “honeymoon” period to vanish.

As champions and adopters see the demise of the innovation that they had recently vigorously advocated, there comes a need to account for the new management technique’s failure in ways that protect both their status and their credibility. They usually do this by blaming their failures on the last person or party to hold the office.


The probable truth is that initial decisions to adopt a new, brilliant management technique appear to be based on subjective judgment disseminated by peers within a social system rather than empirical data and the momentum of the innovations. Then, the new management techniques are in the hands of a group of early adopters, or as they are commonly called, the “early majority.” In local politics, the party in charge may have claimed to adopt the new management techniques without truly doing so. This happens regularly over the years, because public education, for one, is buffered from administrative procedures and permits subgroups in education to operate with significant autonomy. This makes it easier for education to adopt but not implement new techniques in a way that will affect core institutional processes. The result is you end up with the same system, usually with a new management name.

Even when these new techniques fail election after election, that is not to say they are not important. It is when you understand what is going on in a campaign that one can recognize their potential for institutional improvements and decrease their potential for institutional disruption.

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