Hawaii GOP needs to broaden its base
Hawaii Republicans are holding their annual state convention in Maui this weekend.
REPUBLICANS convening in Maui this weekend face the reality of shrinking membership in the Legislature. Their habit of clinging to the national GOP's conservative core has failed and they need to rethink their strategy.
Rep. Gene Ward of Hawaii Kai recently asked wistfully whether "coattails" would benefit state Republicans in 2008. That expression usually refers to momentum from the top of the ticket. But when Gov. Linda Lingle won re-election by record numbers last year, her party lost two seats in the Legislature.
The party reached abysmally low numbers of eight legislators in the House -- down from 19 in 2000 -- and five in the Senate. And one of the eight Republican representatives is rumored to be ready to abandon the party, according to GOP Sen. Sam Slom's Small Business Hawaii.
Lingle's ballot coattails will not be available next year, and Slom asks "whether we have the political will to become the majority." The better question is whether the GOP has the wherewithal to become relevant.
Unlike in most other state legislatures and Congress, Hawaii's legislative aisle does not signify an ideological divide. Instead, party affiliation reflects the overwhelming influence of the state's public employee unions. Liberal measures are not necessarily enacted if they fail to directly benefit organized labor.
Outgoing Republican Chairman Sam Aiona says that Lingle's stature has made it "easier to raise money and attract new people." The dividends are not likely to occur until Republicans broaden their base.
Lingle is a Hawaii anomaly, a Republican moderate whose appeal crosses party lines. Other GOP candidates will be destined for irrelevancy until they understand her success and replicate it.
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