Democrats have been dominant in Hawaii for decades because they have been best at representing the state’s “marketplace of ideas.”
This can be interpreted as unfortunate or an opportunity, or both, but the overwhelming presence of the Democratic Party of Hawaii nevertheless is proof that ideas are a major component of determining the political direction of the state, and if anyone wants to change that direction, they will have to successfully offer alternative ideas.
If those ideas lead to greater political competition, as in more political parties participating in the legislative process, that would be fine, but the higher goal, for those who care about improving the quality of life in Hawaii, should be to win in the marketplace of ideas, so their preferred ideas can be implemented by whichever political parties take them to heart.
Dissing the Democrats
Hawaii is often derogatorily called a one-party state, and if you look at the composition of the 25-member Hawaii state Senate, that certainly would appear to be true: It consists of only Democrats.
Of the state’s representatives, 45 of the 51 are Democrats, and the governor is a Democrat, too. So clearly the Democratic Party of Hawaii is top dog in Hawaii politics.
Some people think that’s a bad thing.
Sam Slom, the last Republican to be shown the door at the Hawaii Senate, in 2016, is definitely not happy about the state of political competition in Hawaii.
“My point,” he told me in February, “has been for a very long time now: The Democrats have been in almost absolute and total control for 50 years. Why haven’t they fixed the schools? Why haven’t they fixed the roads? Why haven’t they given us good health care? Why haven’t they changed the cost of living? Instead, they want more and more big new government, more taxes and more regulations. That’s their choice.”
But whose choice has it been, really?
Monopolies, alleged and real
The Democratic Party of Hawaii, after all, does not have a true legal monopoly, one that prevents competition, like a so-called public utility does in the business world. If anything, it has something close to what attorneys call an “innocent monopoly,” supposedly reflecting the bang-up job it’s been doing for its various constituencies, without supposed “coercive” intent.
In other words, the policies Democrats have been implementing for the many past decades comport well with what most Hawaii voters think about how the world works, and how they want it to work in the future. So the more Democrats promote those ideas, the better they do politically — even if those ideas might not always pan out as a practical matter.
Of course, Democratic candidates in Hawaii also usually have the power of incumbency, which gives an edge to already-elected politicians familiar with how to secure favors for their constituents. This is something that possibly could be addressed by a procedural tweak such as term limits.
But the fact remains that the Democrats in Hawaii are dominant not because they are cheating, but because people are voting for them. Moreover, potential competitors with different policy ideas are not excluded from running against them, as long as they can jump over a few relatively low bars.
Let’s have a party!
Specifically, all it takes to form a political party in Hawaii is to collect valid signatures from “not less than one-tenth of one per cent of the total registered voters of the State as of the last preceding general election.” In 2016 that total was 749,917 meaning for the 2018 election about 750 valid signatures.
To stay on the ballot after an election, a party must have fielded candidates to begin with, then received at least:
>> 10 percent of all votes cast for any of the offices voted upon by all the voters in the state;
>> 50 percent of the congressional districts;
>> 4 percent of all the votes cast for all the offices of state senator statewide;
>> 4 percent of all the votes cast for all the offices of state representative statewide; or
>> 2 percent of all the votes cast for all the offices of state senate and state representative combined statewide.
As a bonus for parties not meeting any of those thresholds, the law also says that if they successfully petitioned to gain ballot status three elections in a row, they will be good to go for the next 10 years.
That’s not so bad, is it?
Well, maybe. After all, Hawaii in 2016 did have an embarrassingly high number of its 51 House seats whose “major party” candidates in the general election were uncontested by anybody — 18 Democrats and two Republicans. In the Senate, Democrats faced no general election competition in five of the 14 races.
Then in February the state’s chief election officer, Scott Nago, barred three of the seven political parties that were on the ballot in 2016 from returning in 2018, for failing to meet any of the requalifying ballot thresholds. The Hawaii Independent Party, the Constitution Party of Hawaii and the American Shopping Party now must go through the petition process again if they wish to regain ballot status.
Hawaii Independent Party
The Hawaii Independent Party was formed in 2014 to support the gubernatorial campaign of former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann. Its chairperson, Maui resident Michelle Del Rosario, said it did not field any candidates in the last election cycle, and is unlikely to attempt a comeback any time soon.
“There are no future plans for the party,” said Del Rosario. “We tried to get momentum. There was interest, but it was fragmented among a variety of groups. We might reassemble in the future, but that’s it for this time.”
Upshot? The Hawaii Independent Party apparently lacked any ideas that excited potential voters and supporters. So it died.
The chances are better, however, that we might again see the American Shopping Party or the Constitution Party of Hawaii on the ballot.
American Shopping Party
“The real reason I started the American Shopping Party is that we have a simple solution to every major economic issue, and there’s no room in the political parties to do it,” said Raghu J. Giuffre, a Big Islander who ran twice for U.S. House as a Republican and has written a half-dozen or so books elaborating on his grand idea.
And what would be that “simple solution”? That Americans should devote one day a month to buying only American-made goods (or if in Hawaii, just Hawaii-made products), to help generate jobs and produce revenues that would be applied to pressing issues such as employment, education, health care and the environment.
That’s quite an idea. But will it find any adherents besides Giuffre?
So far his American Shopping Party has been pretty much a one-man, one-state show; it was on just one state ballot in 2016, Hawaii, and he was its candidate, running for U.S. Senate and earning just 0.3 percent of votes.
But Giuffre has high hopes for the future, especially if he can get back on the Hawaii ballot and start fielding candidates for other offices as well.
“I will be starting again from scratch,” he said, “but the difference is … we have our written materials and pamphlets and a lot of history to show.”
Constitution Party of Hawaii
The Constitution Party of Hawaii is an affiliate of the national Constitution Party, whose presidential candidate in 2016 was on the ballot in 25 states.
In Hawaii, the party also fielded two local candidates. One of those was Moke Stephens, a Big Island resident and chairman of the party, who said he will resume petitioning soon to get back on the ballot. If he is successful, that would be two times in a row, with one more successful drive needed in 2020 for the party to qualify for 10 years.
Stephens, who also ran for state House in 2012 but as a nonpartisan candidate, said he has toiled on behalf of the Constitution Party because he strongly believes in returning both the state and federal governments to their “constitutional foundations.”
He said he knows he could probably fare better politically if he ran as a Democrat — “I know people who are Democrats simply because the Democratic Party is dominant”— but he can’t bring himself to do that because the Democratic Party’s platform supports “a lot of things I am absolutely opposed to.”
Stephens said that if elected, he would focus on education, partly by trying to improve the content of textbooks in the schools.
“If people don’t know how it’s supposed to work (constitutional government), then how can they know how to fix it?” he said. “And that applies to everybody from the voters up to the president of the United States, whom we can plainly see doesn’t have a clear understanding of the Constitution.”
Stephens’s plan to improve textbooks might be problematic, but his emphasis on education overall is well-placed, since ideas can’t “win” if people don’t know about them.
The remaining four parties
The four parties that definitely will be on the Hawaii ballot in 2018 are the Green Party of Hawaii, the Libertarian Party of Hawaii, the Hawaii Republican Party and, of course, the Democratic Party of Hawaii. Each has its own ideological motivations as well, ranging from strictly principled to relatively amorphous, as the case may be.
The Hawaii Republican Party, the other supposed “major party” in Hawaii, has seen its political fortunes severely dwindle in recent times, and now has just five office holders left in the Legislature; they are among the six in the state House who aren’t Democrats.
At the same time, there has been a raging, often acrimonious debate within the Hawaii GOP itself as to whether those representatives are “real” Republicans or just RINOs: Republicans in Name Only.
One casualty of that debate has been Beth Fukumoto, the one “Independent” in the House who was a Republican until late March when she quit to become a Democrat, though so far the Democrats aren’t sure they want her.
Considering the state of its current political competition — the Republicans and the rest — it would be surprising if the Democratic Party of Hawaii were to lose its political dominance any time soon. But the good news for idea entrepreneurs is that the seemingly monolithic party has factions within it — often shifting depending on the issues — leaving open opportunities for good ideas and constructive public policy proposals to make headway.
That’s where groups like the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii can help, as a developer and provider of sound ideas that can help make a positive difference in the lives of all Hawaii citizens.
Such groups can help nurture Hawaii’s marketplace of ideas through policy reports, political seminars and other educational activities. And to the extent that their ideas permeate into the voter mainstream, savvy politicians from whatever party could find success by letting voters know they will take those ideas and run with them. In other words, it’s possible to “win” in the marketplace of ideas, and thus eventually in the public policy realm, if you’re not too particular about which party is carrying the flag.
Local media a hindrance?
Tracy Ryan, chairperson of the Libertarian Party of Hawaii, said a main reason Hawaii’s smaller political parties haven’t been able to carry any flags has been the local media.
“The media (needs to) start treating our candidates like legitimate alternatives instead of decrying that there’s no Republican,” Ryan said after a local television station broadcast a post-election program featuring Slom, former GOP Sen. Fred Hemmings and other local “Republican luminaries” who talked solely about the decline of the Hawaii Republican Party.
“The idea I had pitched to the … producer a couple months before was to have all four parties on a forum discussing the status of the political parties,” Ryan recalled. “But instead of doing that, they did not invite us; they did not invite the Greens. They just talked about how awful it was the Republican Party was in decline. ‘Oh no! What are we going to do about this?’ I think the media has to stop doing this. That’s a problem. They need to start understanding that a Green or a Constitution or Libertarian Party deserves their attention instead of whining that there’s no alternative to the Democrats.”
The Libertarian Party of Hawaii is an affiliate of the national Libertarian Party, which was founded in 1972. In 2016 its presidential candidate was on the ballot in all 50 states, while in Hawaii it also fielded more than a dozen local candidates.
Ryan acknowledged that neither the Libertarians nor Republicans have been faring well with the Hawaii electorate, but for different reasons.
“The Republicans aren’t succeeding because people don’t like them,” Ryan said. “They’re not voting for them. The media has promoted them; they have millions of dollars; they’re not getting votes. The reason the Libertarians are not getting anywhere is because we’re being ignored by the media, and people aren’t donating money. So our problem is logistics, not policy. We feel we can move forward if we have the logistics on our side.”
Ryan echoed a comment by Stephens that one reason Democrats in Hawaii are so strong is support from the state’s government employee unions, whose members total about 80,000.
But union members, of course, are motivated by ideas, too, in this case ones that exalt the value of unions. And the Democrats play up to that.
“You’ll notice,” Ryan said, “that Democrats who run afoul of the public employee unions generally will have a well-funded opponent in the Democratic primary the next time they run for office.”
Ryan noted that ideas are what motivated the formation of the Libertarian Party, and are what have been ensuring its continued existence.
“We have a philosophy that resonates with people,” she said, “and these people don’t give up. These other parties come and go because there’s just not enough of an agenda or policies there that keep people willing to do all the endless hard work at keeping a small party on the ballot.”
Also small is the Green Party of Hawaii, which got off to a strong start in 1992 by electing Keiko Bonk to the Hawaii County Council. Her seat later went to party member Julie Jacobson, elected in 1998, then to Bob Jacobson, Julie’s husband, who took over in 2002. Bob lost re-election in 2008, and no Greens have held elective office in Hawaii since.
In 2016, the party fielded just two candidates for the state Legislature. Having greater success through the years have been Green Party members who ultimately ditched the party to get elected as Democrats. Nevertheless, the party has added to political competition in Hawaii, while its motivating ideas have helped keep the Democratic Party, at least, on its ideological toes.
Riding the wave of ideas
The state of political competition in Hawaii might not be satisfactory to everyone these days, but as a reflection of the state’s marketplace of ideas, it goes a long way toward explaining why the Democratic Party of Hawaii is the dominant political force.
- Thomas J. DiLorenzo, “The Myth of Natural Monopoly,” originally published in The Review of Austrian Economics 9 (2), 1996, available online at mises.org/library/myth-natural-monopoly
- Parkman White, LLP, “Innocent Monopoly,” antitrustcriminalattorney.com/antitrust-defenses/absence-of-agreement/innocent-monopoly
- Hawaii Office of Elections, “Registration and Turnout Statistics: General Elections (1959-2016),” elections.hawaii.gov/resources/registration-voter-turnout-statistics
- Hawaii Office of Elections, “2016 Candidate Filing Report” http://files.hawaii.gov/elections/files/candidates/reports/candidate_report.pdf; and Ballotpedia, “Hawaii House of Representative elections, 2016,” ballotpedia.org/Hawaii_House_of_Representatives_elections,_2016
- Lulu.com, “Author Spotlight — Raghunomics: Author Raghu Giuffre,” lulu.com/spotlight/ohraghu
- Colin M. Stewart, “Green Party certified,” Hawaii Tribune-Herald, April 22, 2012, hawaiitribune-herald.com/sections/news/local-news/green-party-certified.html