Under the Sun
So many candidates, yet so few choices
TWO months out from the candidate filing deadline, the number of people who want to take Ed Case's place in the U.S. Capitol now totals nearly enough bodies to field a couple of baseball teams. Taking the advice of employment experts, five of them casting for the new job already have one in politics to fall back on.
Those diving risk-free in hopes of paddling in a bigger pond include four state senators, who, along with Bob Hogue, make up one-fifth of the Senate, as my colleague Richard Borreca noted last week, much to my amusement. City Councilman Nestor Garcia also jumps in the waters without having to vacate Honolulu Hale.
Hogue and state Rep. Brian Schatz take the plunge without water wings since both are surrendering re-election, aspiring to trade up to the federal post. Erstwhile legislator Quentin Kawananakoa and Democratic Party predictables Mazie Hirono and Matt Matsunaga round out the roster of 17 who have taken out papers for candidacy.
With so many in the race, you'd think voters could expect some excitement or intensity. It might be a bit early in the season, but the list of candidates hasn't exactly raised the pulse of the electorate. There's no one with fresh ideas, no one with passion, none who seems like a statesman or stateswoman -- just the usual suspects.
The nature of politics these days almost dictates that candidates be career professionals. For success, a person needs a network of patrons like labor unions, business organizations and special interest groups whose gains ride on a candidate.
Voter inattention results in name recognition being a key factor, rather than smart strategies or shared beliefs for betterment. Most unfortunate is that a person who's not well known can't raise the money that feeds campaigns sorely dependent on 15-second television spots and full-page newspaper ads.
Even after winning, a candidate remains a candidate. The two-year election cycle has shrunk so much that almost as soon as a member of Congress doffs the victory lei, he or she has to haul out the signs and wave in front of Washington Middle School to retain a seat in Washington, D.C.
Some hard-core pundits say the relentless campaigning and fundraising separates the wheat from the chaff, that those who can't stomach the prospect of constant candidacy aren't cut out for the job. That may be, but the process also pares high-minded people from serving in the full sense of the word.
I've no doubt that politics lures those with purely personal ambition who are prone to corruption; a review of ethical and criminal lapses among current House members reflects this. Who is surprised that the FBI appears to have caught a Louisiana congressman red-handed in a bribery case, turning up in his home freezer $90,000 in marked bills?
This is not to say that any of the Hawaii candidates are bad guys or bad gals. But by and large they are uninspiring, and inspiration is badly needed in the current environment where most Americans no longer feel engaged or even relevant to decisions supposedly made on their behalf.
Whoever is elected will be just one voice among the 435 members of the House, but a single vote and a reasoned tone can make the difference between a truculent or compassionate approach to serious issues like immigration reform.
Between now and the July 25 filing deadline, I expect that some of the candidates -- two viable Republicans and eight varietal Democrats -- will drop out in the shakedown of fundraising and horse-trading that usually trims the cast of characters. But I hope others will step up, too, people who will stimulate, who include rather than exclude, who still dream and aspire, who take chances without a safety net to keep themselves in office.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org