Democrats Disappointing Democrats – The realty of policy and politics in Hawaii

“So are you saying that 90% of the House incumbents basically suck?” Question received in response to a recent blog post – at

“A fair question. Basically, I think that a majority either look at the world through a different lens and/or are too meek to speak out.” I replied.

Readers are invited to grade the State House and Senate themselves. Here are the Democratic Party of Hawaii’s top Legislative Priorities for 2019. Guess how many have been accomplished? Remember, Hawaii’s legislature is composed overwhelmingly of individuals who ran for office and were elected to office under the banner of the Democratic Party. And remember also, this is “pre-COVID-19.”

Tier One – Top Priorities
* Raising the Minimum Wage & Establishing a Living Wage
* Increasing Funding for Public Education
* Legalizing Recreational Cannabis

Tier Two – Important Policies That Need Action
*Establishing Collective Bargaining for Graduate Students
*Investing in Veterans Treatment Court
*Developing Neighbor Island Video Conferencing for Public Hearings
*Establishing Single-Payer Health Care (Medicare for All) in Hawaii

Tier Three – Issues To Begin Working Towards
*Improving Access to Behavioral Health Services
*Reforming our Criminal Justice and Bail System
*Establishing Publicly Funded Elections

The reality is that nothing on this list has been accomplished and barely any meaningful movement at all has occurred. Not in the 2019 session, not in the 2020 regular session and not in the 2020 session now underway. Nada, zip, nothing –

Yes, both the Senate and the House are responsible for the ongoing failure to support the priorities of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, but the House under the leadership of its Speaker, Representative Scott Saiki, has stood out as the #1 culprit in preventing the #1 Party priority from passing into law. In 2019 the Senate was poised to agree to a $15 minimum wage, the Governor had expressed his support for a $15 minimum wage – and House Leadership killed it in conference committee. Meanwhile, the minimum wage sits at $10.10 per hour while the cost to merely subsist, exceeds $17.

So back to the original question: “Do 90% of the House incumbents basically suck?

The answer is clearly no. Are a majority in the House far too timid in their approach to supporting the very basic and straightforward issue priorities put forth by their own political party? The answer here would be yes, and too often that timidity looks and feels like negligence.

Fortunately, there are a handful of champions in the House willing to speak out, who support an actual living wage, who passionately fight for environmental protections, who believe in fully funding education, and that healthcare for all is a human right. And thankfully there are many others who also serve in the legislature that while less bold in their advocacy, would do the right thing and vote the right way IF their leadership actually led the way.

This all begs the question: How do we build a legislative body that has a majority who actually believes in this stuff (economic, environmental and social justice) – and is willing to fight hard for it?

The upcoming Primary Election on August 8th (with ballots being mailed out in less than 3 weeks), is the most urgent and obvious next step toward this goal. Statewide, there are at least 17 candidates running for election to the State House who do believe in this stuff and are willing to fight for it.

The other important part that does not go away regardless of who is elected and who is not – is the ongoing need for basic civic engagement. Each of us must be involved and make paying attention to our government – a permanent requirement of our personal citizenship.

Please take action today, research the candidates running in your district and around the state. Find a candidate or candidates that you like and support them. Get informed, submit testimony, attend the hearings, write letters to the editor and talk to your friends and neighbors about the issues.

We have 3 weeks to meaningfully engage the electoral process statewide, and a lifetime to own our personal civic responsibility.

The choice is ours to make. We can remain complacent and accept the status quo, or fully engage the opportunity before us – and win.

Note: If your values place people and the planet above corporate profits, here is a list of 17 candidates to the Hawaii State House of Representatives you might like. Please support them if you can!

Please consider also subscribing to my regular (sometimes semi-regular, or even irregular) email newsletter: Go to

About garyhooser

This blog represents my thoughts as an individual person and does not represent the official position of any organization I may be affiliated with. I presently serve as volunteer President of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A.) I am the former Vice-Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii. In another past life, I was an elected member of the Kauai County Council, a Hawaii State Senator, and Majority Leader, and the Director of Environmental Quality Control for the State of Hawaii - in an even earlier incarnation I was an entrepreneur and small business owner. Yes, I am one of the luckiest guys on the planet. Please visit my website AND sign up for my newsletter (unlike any email newsletter you have ever gotten, of that I am sure) - “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We’re afraid.” “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We will fall!” “Come to the edge.” And they came. And he pushed them. And they flew. - Christopher Logue (b.1926)
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6 Responses to Democrats Disappointing Democrats – The realty of policy and politics in Hawaii

  1. Barbara Polk says:

    The Democratic Party priorities are very different than the “consensus” priorities announced before the beginning of the 2020 legislative session by the coalition of the leadership of the State House, Senate, Governor–and the business community–and publicized under the heading “Helping Working Families Thrive”. That set of priorities had almost nothing for working families!. Even the things that appeared to be for the “middle class” were not–middle class housing that would not be affordable to anyone below the top 10% of the population; some tax breaks that were a good idea, but would make very little difference; and universal pre-school education–by 2030! For those at the bottom, minimum wage increase to $13/hr.–in four years (probably meaning that Hawaii would have the lowest minimum wage in the country, or perhaps tie with Mississippi!)! The low minimum wage was to be made up for by various tax breaks that equated to about 30 cents an hour for a minimum wage worker. Republicans don’t need to work to build their party–they already own almost all the elected Democrats!. We MUST elect some progressives, whom I hope will energize the quiet legislators who might agree with them.

    • garyhooser says:

      Thank you Barbara. You nail it when you say “We MUST elect some progressives, whom I hope will energize the quiet legislators who might agree with them.” The 2020 Primary that is fast approaching presents a huge opportunity for this to happen, and collectively we must all pull together to make it in fact happen.

  2. Stan Aquino says:

    Mr. Hooser, Thank you for having an open dialogue with issues surrounding island life here in Hawaii. I am a registered Democrat and I have been totally turned around to the politics that are clouding our local issues. I can honestly tell you, the Democratic Party has lost me, primarily because of unfinished business, lack in priorities, and as you put it, “meek” ability to take a stand. I consider myself a centrist if that is a position as I play the fence and support ALL sides of politics that have the people’s interest, but our people are hurting, our people needs relief, and corporate domination may help put food on our tables but it is ruining our culture and respect with political handshakes. Thank you for taking the time to do what you do. Mahalo, Stan

    • garyhooser says:

      Mahalo to you Stan for your thoughtful and heartfelt comment. The Democratic Party essentially has solid values but does not enforce those standards on candidates and legislators who adopt the Democratic Party “brand”.

  3. While I appreciate your efforts in our state legislature, you failed to mentioned the most important issue, opening up our state to visitors August 1.
    While it is helpful for travelers to be tested 48-72 hours before their flight, this falls way short of protecting us against a Covid 19 spread in the islands.
    What should be implemented is another test after they get here and a definite way to reach them when the results are in. Also our state shoul initiate designated hotels or parts of hotels where visitors can quarantine either until the results are in or to stay if they test positive.
    Mahalo for considering and replying about this issue.
    Raphiell Nolin
    Pukalani Maui

    • garyhooser says:

      Thank you Raphiell for taking the time to share your thoughts. This post was to demonstrate the fact the Democratic Party members and legislators were not supporting Democratic Party legislative priorities. The issue of COVID and the process and timing for which to reopen Hawaii to tourism is, of course, a very important topic but not one addressed here…as you point out. To make real change happen in Hawaii, including the change needed to better lead us through the COVID-19 pandemic – we must elect new leaders to the Hawaii legislature and for the coming month, that will be my focus. I agree the existing proposed screening for incoming travelers is insufficient.

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