Progressives across the island chain made it clear on primary-election night that, as Nina Turner of Our Revolution says, “any ole blue will not do,” vigorously challenging incumbents, and targeting open seats at all levels — county, state and federal.
The progressive movement made solid net gains in the Hawaii House and the Senate, picking up at least two House seats and three YUGE Senate seats. In addition, several candidates running on an unabashedly progressive agenda lost by only a handful of votes. Two striking examples are Maui progressive challenger Terez Amato who finished only 106 votes behind incumbent Sen. Rosalyn Baker, and Sonny Ganaden who landed just 51 votes short of defeating veteran politician, Romy Cachola for House District 30.
Two chemical-company-endorsed candidates — one running for the state Senate, one running for state House — were soundly defeated by candidates who supported increased pesticide regulation. Voters had clearly noted the grassroots effort that culminated in Hawaii’s pioneering legislation banning brain-harming chlorpyrifos and requiring greater transparency from the chemical companies. And they said NO to giving corporate ag companies more clout in our Legislature.
Qualified progressive candidates ran strong credible campaigns in over 20 state legislative races, giving status quo establishment candidates a run for their money. Consider this: the entire Republican Party was only able to field candidates for 25 legislative races.
You can be assured that if the Republican Party picked up two House seats and three Senate seats, they would be doing backflips right now. But no, that is not going to happen anytime soon.
The message sent on Aug. 11 by the progressive base in the Democratic Party was loud and strong. We are greatly disappointed in the glacial pace of change toward increasing economic, environmental and social justice.
Progressive candidates are willing and fully able to aggressively challenge those who are deliberate impediments to change.
One hopes that those who survived the challenge can read the writing on the wall. That alone should help move the needle significantly toward policy initiatives that put people and the environment first. They have been given notice that people must come before corporate profits and “good ole boy, business-as-usual” politics.
While it may seem like adding two new House members and three new senators may not make much of a difference, these small numbers matter. A handful of new legislators can, and will change the leadership dynamics, particularly in the Senate.
In addition to adding five strong progressive voices to the mix, there is now a veritable army of new battle-tested candidates who are already planning their 2020 campaigns. Incumbents in the House and Senate know that these candidates will be waiting for an opening. That should make incumbents more receptive to a bold economic, environmental and social justice policy agenda.
This should mean a 2019 Hawaii Legislature that passes a $15 minimum wage bill, a paid family leave initiative, stream-flow restoration legislation, and renews the emphasis on building truly affordable housing.
It is worth noting that the progressive and environmental community were key players in ensuring David Ige’s primary-election win. He has shown through his actions and public statements that he welcomes a change agenda that advances justice on many fronts.
The progressive candidates who fell short in their quest for election should take pride in knowing they helped to move us all forward. Because of them, the momentum of our collective movement for change grows stronger.
It is time now to turn our attention toward the general election and encourage greater voter turnout in support of those who will deliver on the change that is desperately needed. And we must begin immediately developing a bold agenda to move forward during the 2019 legislative session. Imua!
First published on August 19th, 2018 in the Honolulu StarAdvertiser.
Gary Hooser is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.