By Richard BorrecaSunday, July 8, 2001
About 17 years ago, when Ben Cayetano was still in the state Senate, I was hurrying past his committee table during a legislative hearing when he remarked: "I hear you just had a kid. Good; maybe that will give you some humanity."
Do children contribute to politics?
That embarrassing moment was the beginning of learning all you get with children: Pride, worry, humility and a lot of purpose.
Consider then our Big Three running for governor: Republican Linda Lingle and Democrats Jeremy Harris and Mazie Hirono. None have children.
Lingle, the former mayor of Maui who is now the state GOP chairwoman, is divorced.
Hirono, a veteran state representative who has served as lieutenant governor for the past seven years, is married and has a 27-year-old stepdaughter from her husband's first marriage.
Harris, the former Kauai councilman and two-term mayor of Honolulu, is also married, but has no children.
A Chinese proverb urges "Public before private and country before family," but can a politician run for office without knowing what it is like to raise his or her own children?
"Frankly, there is something called empathy, the ability to put yourself in other's shoes," says Hirono. "As long as you have the ability to empathize, put yourself in others' shoes, I don't think it is necessary to have children in order to care about kids or our schools or parents."
Lingle says she has spent a lot of time thinking about the question.
She says if she had children, she wouldn't be in a leadership role in public office.
"I would not have turned my child-rearing to someone else," she says.
"To me it would have been a clear choice, I would devote myself to my family. My life just didn't turn out that way, so now I devote myself to the people of Hawaii and to making a two-party system."
While a family still eludes Harris, he says he and his wife "are hoping for children. We want very much to have a family."
The city, Harris says, makes a point of focusing on children and youth programs.
"We have increased our parks by 28 percent since I became mayor. We are up to almost 8,000 acres with tremendous new facilities."
A new national survey produced by the Barbara Lee Family Foundation to guide women politicians, especially candidates for governor, says voters want to connect to candidates in a personal way, and that includes having the same life experiences.
If women candidates have a natural advantage in the political arena as voters look for compassion, the survey says, "This advantage is muted when a candidate is childless or unmarried."
Voters questioned prefer a married man to an unmarried man by 32 percentage points, and a married to unmarried woman by 25 percentage points.
Included in the national survey was a series of focus groups asking what voters looked for in a married politician.
"Voters are most comfortable with a man who has teenage kids, while they prefer a woman running for governor to have adult children," the study reports.
Voters assume that male candidates have someone else to care for the family, the study reports, while females candidates are considered the primary caregiver in a family.
The survey doesn't explore the question of whether children should be exposed to a political life.
Lingle is firm in rejecting it.
"I have thought a lot about it, and I have spoken to many women in politics about it. I just think it is not the best environment to kids," she says.
Since statehood, Washington Place has been home to Hawaii's governors and their children. The occupancy plan is likely to change next year.
Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics.
He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org