I remember when then-State Representative Brian Schatz, was wondering out loud in 2006 whether the Democratic Party really had to win every election contest that year. The implied corollary was whether it was actually good for Hawaii. Well, at the risk of being called, "the Ralph Nader blogger of 2014", by the Democrats, I am going out on a limb here and saying, this could be, "The Year of the Multi-Party Government". I will risk being called "part of the Lamestream Media" by my Republican friends and say right here and now that there is currently, only one major party in Hawaii -- the Democratic Party. There's one Republican in the State Senate and 7 in the State House, but I guess by default they are technically the second party, but only technically.
I am not really prognosticating as much as I am pointing out an early trend both here and nationally. The Millennial Generation has been noted to be the most cynical of all currently living generations in the U.S. and my humble opinion is that they are only slightly more cynical than the GenXers. The good news for incumbent politicians in Hawaii is that these generations really don't vote here. However, the other generations that do vote (Hello Baby Boomers!) are getting feisty in their old age -- electorally speaking. It appears that the cynicism in government will likely increase over time. That means people will be more likely to embrace third parties and anti-establishment candidates.
So, I'd like to do the unthinkable and cover all the parties. Not just to cover them, but because they are so freakin' interesting that I'm shocked to be the first to focus on them in the mainstream press.
The Independent Governor?
After the dust has settled from Hawaii's Eric Cantor moment where the incumbent governor Neil Abercrombie lost in a landslide of historic proportions in his primary, what the Democrats are left with is a guy, State Senator David Ige, who has never run a statewide campaign, who much is not known, who is lite on the fundraising ability, and can't debate to save his life. He's running against two guys who previously ran multiple big races, including statewide gubernatorial ones. The Republican challenger, former Lieutenant Governor Duke Aiona, will be getting buckets of outside money to ravage Ige, who will have difficulty distinguishing himself politically from his predecessor on the issues.
Former Honolulu Mayor, and former Democrat, Mufi Hannemann, has the name recognition, and could provide the narrative and the vision that may be more attractive to the voters, even if he is running on the newly formed Hawaii Independent Party ticket. Especially if the Republicans manage to tie Ige to the highly unpopular Abercrombie. Not a single person anywhere that I can find calls this race as anything other than a toss up. If Hannemann stays positive, rolls out a seriously good position on education issues -- that includes actual money, not just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic -- allow me to be the first to predict the first Hawaii Independent Party win. For the naysayers who don't think a third party can win a governorship, I have six names pulled from modern history for you: Chafee, Crist, Ventura, King, Weicker, and Hickel.
The First Green Elected to a State Legislature Anywhere Ever?
Green Party candidate Keiko Bonk is a trailblazer. She was the first Green in the US elected to a partisan seat way back in 1992. She served as Hawaii County Council chairperson, and later narrowly lost her first bid for Mayor of Hawaii County. She is running for State Representative against former House Speaker Calvin Say. This is interesting for two reasons. First off, last election she got 30 percent of the vote in a race against this longtime, well funded, well known, incumbent Democrat. The second reason is that Say may get removed from the race by court order. Dude just does not live in his district. The State Attorney General is now helping to defend him in court, and doing what all good lawyers, who neither have the facts, nor the law, on their side do: stall for time. If they can get past the election Say may finally give in and move to the district. If they are unsuccessful he'll have to sit out for two years and try to return like Napoleon from exile on Elba to retake his seat and his long lost House Speakership, or he could just retire.
Let's not forget the theme of this year's election so far though, which is "kick out incumbents mired in scandal". With some more money and volunteers Bonk could just win it outright. Ironically, Say could save face by losing in court and improve his chances for a comeback, but this guy is stubborn. He's had multiple challenges to his residency over the years and dude just will not go legit and move back.
The Only Libertarian in a State Legislature?
An incumbent Democrat, Representative Rida Cabanilla was under a cloud of scandal for sending money to her nonprofit and was beaten by Hawaii Pacific University philosophy professor Matt LoPresti in this year's Democratic primary race. Enter Libertarian and former Honolulu Councilmember Tom Berg. In what is a district that is heavy in older Pilapino voters, you have two haoles from the mainland in what is essentially an open seat of a former incumbent Pilipino. Both ran against Cabanilla before and lost, but the Libertarian Berg has slightly higher name recognition in one of the districts with the historically lowest turnouts in the state. This one is a toss up for sure. If Berg wins he will be the only Libertarian elected to a state legislature anywhere in the country, and he has the Chutzpah to do it.
Can We Have Our Seat Back Please?
Four of the Seven Republicans in the State House are facing difficult re-election challenges, which may result in the party actually experiencing a net loss in seats. However, there is a potential upset way out in the Wild West district that covers Honokai Hale, Ko Olina, Nanakuli, Lualualei, and Maili. It is also a district with some of the lowest voter turnout in the state. Incumbent Democrat State Representative Karen Awana who first got elected as a Republican faces off against newcomer Republican Andria Tupola.
Why is this interesting? Awana won the seat as a Republican in 2006 and switched to the Democrats in 2007, and has since had a whole bunch of fines for a variety of violations of state campaign spending laws. This is noteworthy because, of the before mentioned trend this year, of Democratic incumbents losing in the primaries due to being mired in controversy.
Tupola is a full-time music professor at Leeward Community College. More important to her chances of getting elected in that district is that she is a Morman who organized community protests against holding a special session to vote to pass gay marriage. Also for what it's worth she was unanimously endorsed by the state police union, who's leader is also opposed gay marriage. The churches are strong in this district and the votes needed to win is relatively small. The difference can be 50 to 100 votes.
So, if you've been dreaming the impossible dream, that your favorite under represented party could win, this could be your year!