Those Union-powered Democrats

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - September 20, 2006

I know many point to the election of Gov. Linda Lingle, the first Republican governor in generations, as the signal that Democratic reign in Hawaii is ending.

Not so.

In 2000, the GOP enjoyed 19 members in the state House of Representatives, the midst of Lingle’s chairmanship of the Republican Party of Hawaii. In 2002, the year she was elected, the GOP lost four House seats. In 2004, gubernatorial mid-term elections, the GOP lost another five seats, leaving 10 GOP representatives. Clearly, although Hawaii voters approve of Lingle’s personal qualities, this support is not translating to local districts.

The rational explanation is voter affection for Lingle. She is not a left-wing Democrat, yet she is far from a right-wing Republican. She does not deliver fiery rhetoric, rather she is celebrated (and eviscerated) for her communication skills. She is a Caucasian, yet she enjoys tremendous support from all ethnicities. She is Jewish, yet the majority of residents are (at least nominally) Christians and Buddhists. She is unlike any politician we have seen in the past, and that is her allure.

Now with four years under her belt, she has a record to run on this year. Her performance, despite challenges posed by a Democratic Legislature, seems impervious to criticism by Democrats.

The race for governor aside, the GOP has a lot of work to do to improve on its Capitol representation.

Of 25 state senators, only five are GOP members. So of the 76 senators and representatives, only 15 are Republicans. The primary responsibility of state GOP chair Sam Aiona is to elect as many Republicans as possible. Lingle, assuming success in November, must have partisan support, especially in the House. If the GOP does not deliver dramatically more seats in the House (nine, at least), Lingle will be facing another two to four years of resistance and obstruction to legislation she will be reelected to deliver. This is a daunting challenge.

The perpetuation of Democratic power in Hawaii politics will forever be dictated by organized labor. The number of union members must fall precipitously before Democrats will lose their election-year trump card. According to 2005 federal Department of Labor statistics, Hawaii is second only to New York in percentage of unionized employees: 26.1 percent of employees in New York are unionized compared to 25.8 percent in Hawaii. This translates to about 141,000 voters (of approximately 625,000 eligible Hawaii voters) as of 2004. However, in 2004, only 248,683 people actually voted in Hawaii.

Although I do not have the voter turnout percentage of union members, it’s obvious unions have the greatest organized voting bloc in the state. As long as the other 400,000 or so eligible voters stay home, unions will be the dominant force in Hawaii politics.

Those who decry the perpetuation of Democratic politics must do one thing and one thing only. The private sector must emulate the voting participation strategies and execution at which unions are so successful.

Short of that, look for Democratic domination for years to come.

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