The Legislature and the Death of Big Ideas
by Charles Djou www.Djou.com
I had the privilege of attending the opening day of the 27th Hawaii Legislature this week. Having participated in numerous opening day ceremonies as an elected official, it was an interesting change to be part of the legislature’s opening as a private citizen. What struck me most was the near complete lack of discussion of any big ideas. Major initiatives, conservative or liberal, to move Hawai‘i forward, were nowhere to be found.
Instead, the biggest event on opening day was a fight over who should hold the House Speaker’s gavel, followed by parliamentary machinations over whether Republicans should hold any vice chairmanships. The most significant discussion on opening day appeared to center on where former House Speaker Calvin Say should sit. State Rep. Sharon Har complained that Say’s new seating position failed to accord him due respect as the former speaker; to which Rep. Scott Saiki argued that the former speaker’s new seating assignment was one of the best locations on the House floor.
Fighting over leadership and seating assignments appeared to be the primary focus. Completely lacking from our legislature were any bold new proposals, and is a sad testament to the lack of creativity in Hawai‘i government today. This is the direct result of one-party rule in our state.
In both percentage and numerical terms, the Hawaii Legislature has fewer Republicans in its ranks than non-communists in communist China’s National People’s Congress. This domination by one party in our government creates a class of officials more interested in maintaining power and preserving the status quo than in pushing the envelope of public policy with bold ideas. After all, why take any chances with creative policy initiatives if there is no real risk with a competition of ideas between the political parties during the election?
States all across America are aggressively confronting the major issues in their communities; from labor reform in Michigan to gun control in New York. But for Hawaii residents, we are left with a class of politicians more interested in who sits where on the House floor and who gets what committee assignment, than leaders interested in discussing and moving big ideas designed to improve the lives of their constituents – whether it be to stimulate the economy, create jobs, reduce homelessness, improve our schools – the list is endless.
Unfortunately, this ‘smallness’ in thinking by our state’s politicians won’t change until we change the dynamic of our elections and build a true two-party democracy in Hawai‘i. The competition of political parties engenders a competition of ideas that results in elected officials competing to demonstrate to their constituents that they can do more to improve the quality of their lives and that of their families. If elections in our state are foregone conclusions, as they often are today, Hawaii will continue to fail to move forward.