New politics can’t thrive with old faces and old ways
Hawaii is seeing a shift of voter demographics with younger people and newcomers getting into the mix.
POPULATION trends toward younger people and newcomers are expected to reshape the contours of political activity and public affairs in Hawaii.
Still, the influence of long-established power brokers endures. Without fresh infusions into the pool of candidates and participants, a new political paradigm will be slow to emerge. Politics will remain occupied by old faces and viewpoints overly colored by the past.
With labor unions and moneyed interests prevailing, and the lack of a strong opposition party, steadfast traditional voters continue to overwhelm a largely apathetic electorate who do little but grouse about the way things are.
However, the candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama and adaptation of the Internet into an effective tool for communication and persuasion, has aroused voter interest, particularly among younger generations, which is what Hawaii and the nation need to revive public involvement.
In a series of articles, the Star-Bulletin's Capitol Bureau took a look at Hawaii's evolving voter profile that now encompasses a broader spectrum of ethnic groups, an aging generation whose political sensibilities are tenaciously - and understandably - linked to pre- and early statehood conditions and the labor unions adjusting to stay relevant.
Obama's idealistic campaign is typically credited with exciting young people. Mixed with his local-boy creds, he has boosted the public's interest in the islands across generational lines.
The emergence of Filipino-Americans as a courted voting bloc follows the pattern of Japanese-Americans who found a potent political voice through labor unions that help them elect leaders receptive to their concerns.
Though plantation-spawned unions have lost considerable influence, their model for gaining political leverage continues today with the Hawaii Government Employees Association and other organizations that represent public workers.
Unions attract their share of critics, having what some contend is undue standing in the political realm. But with the state and county governments being the largest employers in Hawaii, public worker unions shape compensation standards that benefit private sector workers, too.
Changing demographics mean changing perspectives, and both are essential in a fast-changing world with unfamiliar challenges. While leaders should recognize and respect their predecessors and Hawaii's customs and history, these should not be allowed to inhibit progress.
The state needs new people, young and old, to embrace thoughtful transformation, to generate novel ways to approach the future.