Hawaii's winds of change blow softly
MORE of the same is what Hawaii political insiders are expecting in the Legislature after the November general elections.
If there is any change, it is likely to benefit the Republicans, who could pick up one or two more members in the House.
When asked how they thought the state's minority Republican Party would fare, many thought the House and Senate would remain with five Republicans out of 25 in the Senate and 10 Republicans out of 51 in the House.
"My mind tells me the fall legislative election will bring more some-o, same-o, but my heart tells me to say it isn't so," said one GOP business lobbyist.
Neal Milner, University of Hawaii political scientist, analyzed the responses and says the suggested lack of change shows how difficult it is for Republicans to tip Hawaii's balance of power.
"The Republican Party is up against well-established historical forces that change very slowly, much more slowly than an election cycle or two," Milnor said.
Despite having a GOP governor, who is likely to win re-election, Milner said, the GOP is "in no better shape going into the election than they were four years ago."
The Star-Bulletin asks 75 Democratic and Republican legislators, lobbyists and Neighborhood Board chairmen for their opinions on a variety of issues every month.
The survey is patterned after the National Journal's Insider Survey. Respondents are promised anonymity, although their names are included with this article. Those surveyed are free to say if they want to be quoted or if their comments will be used anonymously.
Thirty-two of the 75 surveyed responded. Twelve said the state Senate would not change and nine said the state House also would not change.
But six said the GOP would add one member to the House and another six predicted two more GOP House members.
Four insiders suggested that the House Democrats would go up by one, and two thought Democrats would pick up two in the House.
"The House is the place to watch," advised lobbyist Kat Brady.
A state elections office list of people who have taken out papers to run for the available 63 legislative seats shows that half of the available seats have just one candidate showing an interest in the campaign.
With that kind of turnout, it is easy to see why insiders are predicting little change.
"My sense is that House GOP numbers will go up; not because of the GOP but perhaps because of the law of averages. They were really close in some races last time. ... I could see them picking up seats.
"But at the end of the day, Dems will probably stay veto-proof," predicts one Neighborhood Board chairman.
A lobbyist and Democratic Party official said the GOP has had a chance to succeed but it simply has been rejected by the voters.
"This is the third election cycle in which a rejuvenated Republican Party will have put up strong, attractive, intelligent candidates. The novelty of having Republican candidates who are attractive has worn off.
"At first the idea was that if the Republicans offered a real, viable choice, then the voters would opt for the new, improved packages. But they didn't and they haven't," the lobbyist said.
A GOP lobbyist worried that the "usual Hawaii 'inertia' with most local voters will prevail."
"We don't see any major shift in numbers of R's without an energetic effort on the part of Lingle to walk the streets for new faces," the lobbyist said.
The survey question was put to the Insider list after the Democratic and Republican state conventions and both Democrats' and Republicans' excitement for the fall elections was reflected in the answers.
"Republicans should pick up several seats in the House as a result of an excellent recruiting effort that has attracted many new grassroots candidates so far," said GOP Rep. Barbara Marumoto.
Lobbyist Frank Chong, however, said this is not the year for the GOP.
"The Republicans will be lucky if they can hold on to their current number in both the House and the Senate. If by some fluke they are able to gain any seats, it will be because the Democrats lost them and not because the Republicans won them," Chong said.
Milner agrees with that assessment, noting that "the state remains Democratic, and there is nothing to indicate that that is changing right now in any fundamental way."
writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at email@example.com