author On Politics

Richard Borreca

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Democrats stumble across
new political landscape

If today's observations hold true, Republicans, who control the U.S. House and Senate, plus the White House, appear to be in position to establish a national political dynasty not seen since Franklin Roosevelt and the Democrats' New Deal majority.

One of the strongest currents in political analysis sweeping the country has President Bush leading an ascendant GOP not just to marginal majorities, but to strong control from the nation's state houses to Congress for the next decade.

The trend is of vital importance to Hawaii, where Demo-crats run the Legislature and constitute 100 percent of the state's U.S. House and Senate delegation. But the GOP controls the governorship and 75 percent of the mayorships, and seems more energized, organized and better funded than the Democrats.

Nationally, Democrats have failed to win more than half of the vote in U.S. House races since 1992 and, as Michael Barone notes in the National Journal's 2004 Almanac, "Democrats no longer have most of the incumbents."

There are more GOP legislators than Democrats in state houses across the country. There are also more Republican than Democratic governors.

In Hawaii, Democrats may still control the Legislature, but there are signs of serious fractures as they try to grasp the new politics. The biggest divide concerns taxes, with Democratic Senate leaders willing to raise them, while House Democrats refuse even to consider a tax hike.

Education policy has been a moving target for Democrats, too. While Governor Lingle has remained on message with a call to break up the statewide school district, neither chamber's Democratic leadership has been able to sustain from one year to the next a coherent approach to educational reform. Last year the House approved a plan almost identical to Lingle's independent school district formula. This year Lingle vetoed the Democrats' latest flavor-of-the-month school reform, a complicated plan to divide the school system into 15 complexes.

Shortly after endorsing the plan, House Democrats seized on education design as espoused by management guru William Ouchi, which gives schools money based on the hurdles their students face.

Democrats banking on being re-elected by virtue of their membership in the "party of compassion" may find that by appealing to social service groups and stressing more money for social programs, they actually appear to be supporting welfare; while Lingle, who spent the legislative session stressing the economy and jobs, moves forward a much more politically viable platform.

Barone has noted that "there are no obviously good strategies for a party in opposition to a popular president." Hawaii Democrats must come to their own conclusions about how to fit into a government led by a popular governor.

Republicans lost past elections because they attacked popular Democrats. In contrast, Lingle kept her message positive.

Today the Democrats should remember that their supporters also voted for Lingle in 2002 and will be deciding on their job performance in 2004.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at


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