Honolulu Lite


Keep politics out of politics
for Patsy Mink

One of the great truths is that life is short and almost always ends messily.

Sadly, while Congresswoman Patsy Mink might have died with dignity surrounded by family and friends, her death has left a political mess that has otherwise good people snapping and snarling at each other. Her death also has attracted what lawyers calls a "grubby group" of postmortem opportunists seeking to politically exploit the passing of a legendary personality.

It would have been a lot easier on everyone -- except Patsy -- had she died either on Jan. 1, 2003, or several months before the primary election. If she died several months ago, no one would question the need for a special election to fill her congressional seat until the end of the year. Her death then also would have given other Democratic candidates a chance to get on the primary ballot.

If she had died on Jan. 1, 2003, after she had been re-elected, again it would just have been a matter of holding a special election to fill her two-year term.

But death doesn't come knocking, asking everyone when it would be convenient to take someone out. Death seems to like to leave a mess.

It's how the living deal with the mess that defines the character of one's personality. And so far, the living are not looking too good here.

Major Democratic Party figures are urging people to vote for Patsy Mink in the general election as a "tribute" to her memory. Cynics argue this is just a ploy to get more people voting Democrat. Face it, Mink was a true Democrat and anyone likely to vote for her as a tribute is likely to carry that warm, fuzzy feeling over to other Democratic candidates. The push for this tribute comes, perhaps not coincidentally, when the Democratic Party is in the battle of its life for the governor's office.

Voters do vote for dead people; that's a historic fact. In places like Chicago, dead people have miraculously been known to vote themselves. It is rumored that Chicago mob figures dug up quite a few votes from the Cemetery Constituency to help elect John Kennedy president.

When live people vote for dead candidates, they generally do so to send a message that they want someone from the same party as the deceased candidate to ultimately win the office.

But it seems wrong to urge people to vote for a dead candidate as a "tribute" to that person. An election is not a eulogy. An election is a taxpayer-financed process to secure for people a product. And that product is an elected representative. You don't take money from taxpayers to build a bridge and then use it to memorialize a departed public figure, no matter how beloved.

The best tribute to Patsy Mink would be to show that while life may end messily, the cleanup can be accomplished with dignity and class.

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. E-mail

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