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Incumbency, stagnation is recipe for stale politics


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POSTED: Sunday, May 24, 2009

Here it is, the day before Memorial Day, less than a month away from the summer solstice, a mere 18 months from the general election and the stew pots of political campaigns don't seem to have been even set down on the burners.

It is an illusion, of course. They have all been simmering, the ingredients sought, bought, sold and reconstituted as recipes are constantly adjusted to fit the changing tastes of the times.

Some, like that of James “;Duke”; Aiona, have been marinating for years. The lieutenant governor has been stocking his pantry since 2002 when he signed on to be Linda Lingle's second. In that role, Aiona has been able to sprinkle a few spices into Lingle's tureen, but escape burns of blame when her sauces spilled disapproval.

Aiona, because of party affiliation, has been largely seen as an underdog in a state where factional and fractional Democrats own the store. That is also an illusion.

While Democrats have battered and fried Lingle, Aiona has been cooking up his bills of fare in smaller kitchens across the islands. He regularly tours schools promoting literacy, health and drug- and alcohol-abuse education programs at scores of out-of-the way rural communities, combining bits and slices of a constituency.

He gets the occasional high-profile venues, too, making speeches before large business groups in big Waikiki ballrooms and resorts, talking story on radio and TV. Because it's his job, he invests a lot of time, but little of his own money, flying from Maui to Hawaii and back again, and will keep this up until he officially becomes a candidate for governor.

That's how election rules work. Candidates get to take full advantage of their incumbencies while they try to win another and it would be imprudent politically and financially — for the declared, like Congressman Neil Abercrombie and the mulling, like Mufi Hannemann — not to.

It is also why so few people outside the already-in club attempt to seek public office and why there is a scarcity of new blood, new ideas, new policies in governing.

Legislative decisions at the state and municipal levels are, for the most part, made with an eye toward what would be defensible or boast-worthy in the next election.

Hawaii is experiencing what experts describe as the worst economy since statehood because of reliance on tourism. In parallel, every governor since statehood has said the economy cannot stand on the industry alone and every one of them has come up with unsuccessful alternatives.

High-tech initiatives got Hawaii “;Lost”;; an East-West medical research concept never geared up; and renewable energy enterprise, though still the most promising, has yet to power up because of lack of strong, coordinated stewardship.

It's no wonder voters are disenchanted and take little interest in elections with same-old, same-old being the pattern of their leaders.

How refreshing it would be if the next governor doesn't pound the same paths toward the cliche of “;innovation,”; hoping for a different outcome, for someone who would instead examine Hawaii's problems and assets from a different perspective, who would consider population and economic growth, land development and tourism with a recognition of the limits of the islands' physical and spiritual resources.

I'm all for visionaries, but we can't have everything and should curb our appetites, accept that there is enough and that maybe less is more if the quality of life here is to be maintained.

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Cynthia Oi can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)