GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Gov. Linda Lingle spoke to the crowd of supporters gathered at the Mercury during a fund-raiser Friday for state House candidate Kymberly Pine.
Republicans look to grow
among younger parents
Education is an issue the GOP aims
to press, with new communities
viewed as ripe targets
Democrats in Hawaii dream about the good old days.
It was a time when 69 of the 76 state legislators had a "D" by their name.
Just 11 years ago, Republicans whispered that they might actually have no lawmakers in the state House or Senate.
Today, the 20 GOP members of the Legislature hungrily eye fresh victories in the state House this November and can imagine controlling at least one chamber.
Political scientists and some of Hawaii's top political operatives agree the last decade has opened the door for a shift in political power across the islands.
"The world changed and the Democratic Party didn't," said University of Hawaii political scientist Ira Rohter.
The biggest change was the election of a Republican woman, Linda Lingle, as governor in 2002, but nearly as important have been the changes in the political landscape.
"The shift in the politics is a reflection in the shift in times," said Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua).
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Democrats coming to power in Hawaii and winning control of the Legislature from Republicans dominated by mostly Caucasian businessmen and landowners. The shift was enough of a change to be called a "revolution" by the Democrats. It occurred because union workers and returning World War II veterans agreed on common candidates and issues to push in the political arena.
"What made the party work in the '50s was the collaboration with the unions. It was a focused goal of making life better and creating a sense of appreciation or a sense of sacrifice for what went into it," Hanabusa said.
Today, Republicans are happy to step up and announce that the Democrats have lost their way.
Micah Kane, former GOP chairman, who now heads the Hawaiian Home Lands Department, says the offspring of the Democratic revolution of 1954 are becoming Republicans.
"The big voting block that has helped us is younger families," Kane said. "Younger local families are worried about the education system. There is a disconnect to the Democrat Party."
University of Hawaii political scientist Neal Milner looks at the new Leeward Oahu and Maui communities and says these areas are ripe for GOP growth because the Democrats have not moved in to organize the new communities with the effort of the Republicans.
"What is needed is creating organization in areas where friends and neighbors don't know each other. To do it, you need grass roots; a lot of it is just going door to door," Milner said.
Hanabusa, a self-described strong liberal who has been rumored as a possible candidate for governor in 2006, said part of the Democrats' problem is the perception that the party and the candidates are part of the status quo.
"The problem the Democrats are facing is we have got to define ourselves. The question is whether the party is going to be able to define itself philosophically," Hanabusa said.
Democrats, Hanabusa said, stand for "a leveling of the playing field and to help those who are going to need our help."
Republicans, however, argue that the Democrats have lost their way and that the GOP has picked up the scent.
"The older generation had benefits they realized from the Democrat revolution, whereas my generation has suffered from their complacency," said Kane. "They lost people because they don't know what they stand for."
"Democrats stand for preserving the past," Kane added.
Democratic Party Chairman Brickwood Galuteria disagrees, saying the Democrats offer the philosophical strength that Hawaii voters want.
"When the Republicans come out and say they are the party of opportunity, they are almost using our playbook," Galuteria said.
"This is the party of the working man. It doesn't mean we are anti-business. We are pro-labor and we are pro-fairness," he said.
Hawaii's economy has been in a decade of recession, and voters are upset about it, said Brennon Morioka, the current GOP chairman. "We don't know what a booming economy is like. For most of our life, we have lived in some sort of a recession in Hawaii.
"In Hawaii, I have never known what a great economy is like," Morioka said, adding that he thinks the public will equate the GOP with an improved economy.
Political observers such as Milner and Rohter and pollster Don Clegg agree that this fall's race is not about ideology. Voters are not looking for a liberal or conservative philosophy, and neither party is offering one, he said.
Rohter notes that in many races on the mainland, there is a clear difference between Democrats and Republicans but that Lingle has remade the Hawaii GOP into a moderate-centrist party.
"She maps out as a moderate Democrat. She would be comfortable in the Democratic Leadership Council," Rohter said.
Hawaii, Milner added, is not a state where politicians can afford to draw stark lines between conservative and liberal.
"The idea that you can start up a campaign by labeling someone a liberal, like you can on the mainland, won't work," Milner said.
Clegg, who has spent nearly 30 years doing public opinion polls for local politicians, said today's voters are "of a different philosophy."
"They are less liberal and the more interested in their own environment and their lives. They are looking out for their families, and they don't have a cause.
"They have also shifted to the right of center."
Lingle doubts that philosophical arguments will win. Instead, she is telling GOP candidates to hammer away at Democratic incumbents' voting records.
"So many times, these incumbents vote against the people of their own district. They don't put their people first; they put the party first, or they put the labor union first or some special interest," Lingle said.
Clearly showing an interest in being involved in the elections, Lingle said she will introduce GOP candidates to major political contributors and speak out on behalf of the candidates.
"Voters may not truly know an incumbent candidate's record; it may take me going out and talking about their record," Lingle said.
BACK TO TOP
Both major Hawaii parties
hand operative jobs to men
in their 20s
If a political party is to succeed, it needs new blood. Both the Democrats and Republicans in Hawaii are looking not only for new candidates, but new volunteers.
Part of the job of crafting their respective parties falls to two 20-something, newly hired professionals, Aaron Johanson and Joshua Wisch. Here is a look at these two political operatives:
Aaron Johanson: Republican
Education: Moanalua High School, Yale University
"I believe I have been a lifelong Republican," said Johanson, who was hired as political affairs director for the state GOP eight months ago.
After graduating from Yale in 2002 and working in the Yale development and fund-raising office, Johanson returned to Hawaii to help an ailing family member.
With extra time on his hands, he volunteered to help the Republican Party, and his interest soon turned into a job offer.
"I feel in tune with a lot of the core principals of the Republican Party, such as accountability.
"Yale was a pretty liberal place, and I probably would not believe as strongly as I do about things if people had not challenged me and asked, 'How can this position be consistent with other positions?'" Johanson said.
"Unless you are challenged, you stagnate."
Johanson is in charge of coordinating GOP efforts for the fall election and said he will help candidates and help with voter registration.
Joshua Wisch: Democrat
Education: High school in Ohio, Carnegie Mellon University, Georgetown University Law School
"I met my wife in college, and she is a local girl. We came back here, and I love Hawaii and I will be here until I die," said Wisch, former chairman of the local Howard Dean presidential campaign.
After Dean quit the race, Wisch stayed involved with the local Democratic Party and was offered the position of organizing the state House Democratic campaigns. He left his job as an attorney with Cades Schutte to work full time for the Democrats.
While going to law school, Wisch worked in Congress for the late U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink and worked on her last campaign in 2002.
"She was fantastic. I loved working for her. She got a tremendous amount of work done for her constituents," Wisch said.
Wisch said he hopes to use his skills to elect more Democrats to the state House.
"There really is a big difference between Democrats and Republicans, and you will see that during the campaign. The distinction will become crystal clear," Wisch said.