By Andrew Walden (Originally published Saturday, October 24, 2009)
An article in the October, 2009 edition of Hawaii Business--“Good News: A Small Elite No Longer Runs Hawaii—Bad News Nobody Does” --takes on the lack of leadership in Hawaii. Pointing to the failure of the Superferry and other recent projects, former Theo Davies CEO David Heenan says “people are somewhat burned out by all this consensus seeking. It ends up being just meeting after meeting, and all of a sudden, the window of opportunity closes.” His views are front and center in an article which could have been titled: “The case for Mufi Hannemann’s candidacy.”
Heenan is not alone. Senate President Colleen Hanabusa (D-Ko`olina), now a candidate for Congress, wistfully remembers, “In the old days if you didn’t follow what the leadership wanted, you didn’t get CIP—Community Improvement Projects. The way we operate as a legislative body now, it’s much more of a shared decision-making concept. If there’s anything new, it’s the sense that, unless we have consensus whatever we do is not going to sustain.”
Hawaii’s one-party system has not fallen apart—but the old boy system has. The contradiction between these two facts is at the root of Hawaii’s failure to break out of the consensus politics which give a heckler’s veto to any small group of self-appointed activists with a phony “environmental” or “cultural” gripe and an OHA--or environmental--lawyer. Democrats’ inability to resolve this internal conflict is a key argument for “adult supervision” by a Republican governor.
“Consensus” is surrender to a heckler’s veto—or in the case of Hawaii, surrender to the heckler’s lawsuit. The need for consensus is the inherent flaw in a one-party system which is no longer able to force internal discipline.
For instance, both pro-and-anti-Superferry forces are loyal to continuing the power and maintaining the unity of the Democratic Party. In spite of broad public revulsion and contempt for the arrogant outsiders of the anti-Superferry micro minority, the pro-Superferry forces in the legislature failed to propose, much less enact, a simple legislative fix necessitated by the Hawaii Supreme Court’s ruling requiring an EIS to tie a barge to a dock.
Former Hawaii Attorney General, Michael Lilly was shocked by the legislature’s unwillingness to force a solution on the minority. In a July, 2009 article in Building Industry Hawaii he writes of his effort to get the Legislature to act:
Hanabusa told me to talk with Atty. Gen. Mark Bennett. When I did, Bennett agreed that my proposal was one of five or more solutions to the Superferry dilemma that would solve the problem. However, as Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona sadly told me, the 2009 Legislature was not going to do anything about it. Except, I might add, raise taxes.
Also, as a consequence, the Supreme Court’s decision became an environmental lawyer’s full-employment act, guaranteeing successful environmental challenges against future government projects based on the failure to consider "secondary" impacts of otherwise minor government projects.
So, who is responsible for the demise of the Superferry?
Senate President Hanabusa, House Speaker Calvin Say and all the other legislators who did nothing to solve the mess.
Hanabusa and Say both worked to preserve party unity. Visualize Hawaii with a two-party legislature and pro-Superferry forces concentrated in one political party and anti-Superferry forces in the other. The Supreme Court ruling would have led the pro-Superferry party to joyfully romp to the floor of the House and the Senate, drag its “Save the Superferry” bill out of committee and force a roll-call floor vote. The result would be defections from the anti-Superferry party on that vote and gains for the pro-Superferry party in the next election.
That is the beauty of partisanship.
Hawaii only became fully democratic with Statehood. For 59 years under the Territory, Governors and Judges were appointed by the Federal Government. Only the Legislature was elected. Before that, the Hawaii Republic had a very restricted franchise which excluded the majority of the adult population. And of course the Hawaiian Kingdom was a monarchy.
As used to be the case in the Philippines and South Korea, Hawaii has yet to attain the competitive multi-party political system necessary to the success of a democratic society. For forty-seven years, the Legislature has been under the control of the Democratic Party*. From 1962 to 2002 the Governor was also a Democrat.
The Superferry is hardly the only political-economic project strangled by the exigencies of “consensus politics”. Perhaps the most extraordinary example is the Akaka Bill. In the year when Democrats have captured control of everything in Washington, the Akaka Bill is again stalled—this year it hasn’t even made it out of the House and Senate Committees. Why?
To form the Akaka Tribe, “cultural” greenmailers would have to abandon several of the legal levers they use to extort “settlements” from development projects. OHA—and the entirety of Hawaii’s elected officialdom-- have been unable to convince the extortionists that tribal pork is worth abandoning the opportunity to shake down the next Hokulia—or TMT.
The Akaka Bill would bring the most fundamental changes to Hawaii since Statehood, yet public discussion is limited and open public debate among the political class is nearly non-existent. Because both factions are within the Democratic Party it is more important to maintain consensus—in this case, inaction-- than it is to debate the issues.
As with the Superferry, if one party’s representatives were pro-Akaka Bill and the other was anti-Akaka Bill each would be seeking to use the issue to gain partisan advantage against the other. In spite of the well-known failings of partisan politics, the result would be a public debate which could lead to a re-shaping of the Akaka Bill or to its abandonment. Instead Hawaii’s body politic is silently being marched around in circles while its leaders hope that “consensus” is just around the corner.
The existing levers of eco-extortionist power sometimes serve “conservative” causes such as stopping the Akaka Bill or stopping rail. Sometimes the eco-extortionists serve “liberal” causes such as stopping the Superferry. Because both wings of the ideological spectrum rely upon the same pseudo-environmental laws, neither is likely to seek their overturn. This points to a basic cause of “consensus” politics—both parties contain elements which rely upon the same levers of power.
Heenan describes efforts to resurrect the old-boy system in desperate terms--as “trying to put humpty dumpty back together again.” And he has just the man for the job—Honolulu Mayor and all-but-declared Democrat gubernatorial candidate Mufi Hannemann.
Hawaii Business explains:
“As much as anything, it’s been (Mufi’s) ability to keep rail moving forward that makes the mayor a touchstone in any discussion of power in Hawaii. And the ultimate success of failure of rail will likely affect Hawaii’s map of power for decades to come.”
While rail is certainly the most prominent of several major projects under consideration in Hawaii, It is perhaps a sign of desperation that old-boy revanchists would point to rail as their “touchstone.” The Star-Bulletin’s Richard Borreca points out, "Hannemann's dream could become nightmare." And he’s right.
The anti-rail HonoluluTraffic.com website confirms that lawsuits are in the offing and helpfully points out that courts will consider Mufi’s rail scheme “ripe” to face court challenges beginning “about five weeks after the FTA publishes the Final EIS….”
Unless the environmentalists are all winking and pinching each other, rail is about to meet the same fate as the Superferry, Hokulia, Molokai Ranch, and the rest.
Hawaii Business ignores the coming train wreck, but it does devote several key paragraphs to “The power of lawsuits.”
Pointing to “the fragmentation of power” Hawaii Business writes:
“Perhaps the most obvious change in Hawaii’s power landscape has been the growing clout of environmental, Native Hawaiian and related interest groups….the Sierra Club, Kahea and Life of the Land have become gatekeepers for almost every major project in the islands.”
A one-party system requires consensus within that one party—or it will inevitably evolve into a two-party system. These shakedown gangs are within the same Democratic Party as the business they target. As with the Superferry, whoever plays “chicken” harder forces the so-called “consensus” to form around his position. This change from Hanabusa’s halcyon days of “no CIP” signifies the decay of Hawaii’s version of Minben—a Confucian concept of ruler-ship for the people, but not by the people—a “consensus” imposed from above by an allegedly benevolent despot.
The beginnings of the fragmentation of power in Hawaii—and within the Democratic Party—dates to Lt Governor Tom Gill’s 1970 Democratic primary challenge to then-sitting Governor Jack Burns. Gill’s challenge reflected the rise of the social democratic new left at UH Manoa—which manufactured the so-called “sovereignty movement”--and the beginning of the decline in Hawaii of the ex-Stalinist old-line leaders who led the “revolution of 1954.” The New Left acquired institutional power when the 1978 Constitutional Convention disastrously proposed creation of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs—not mentioned once in the Hawaii Business article.
Hawaii Business explains: “A generation ago, developers scarcely gave them a thought….” But the Gramscian New Left “Long March Through The Institutions” has now resulted in the spawn of the 1960s and 1970s placing themselves in the judiciary, legislature, journalism, academia, the Bar, and many other positions of cultural authority throughout the state. They have created an entire revisionist history of Hawaii to justify their greenmail operations, a department of the State (OHA) to finance themselves, and an entire ethnic studies department at UH Manoa to construct more justifications.
Hawaii Business describes the rise of the “environmentalists” as “part of the democratization of power as control over change had broadened from an elite to more people.” It is not. They are just a new elite group based on eco-extortion elbowing its way into the precincts of the old landowning elite based on mercantilism and corporatism.
If rail is not demonstrative of “the ability to get things done” what is? Richard Harris, executive director of the Sierra Club, points to the First Wind Kaheawa wind farm on Maui.
“That was a company that really went out and engaged the community. And it’s a project that, when they went for their permits, actually had significant environmental issues. It was on conservation land; there were endangered species issues; there were water issues. But they actually had strong community support.”
Harris doesn’t mention the fact that First Wind was offering $50 million in financial backing to Walter Ritte’s scheme to seize Molokai Ranch from its legal and rightful owners. As a result, Molokai Ranch shut down operations and laid off 120 employees—a blow from which Molokai still suffers. Could First Wind’s support for one of the worst “environmental” shake down operations in recent history have had something to do with environmentalists choosing not to attack Kaheawa? Is this an acceptable model for “the new reality of power in Hawaii?” There may be “support” for First Wind in Richard Harris’ “community” but on Molokai, they have not forgotten what First Wind and its allies did.
There are other examples:
- Grove Farm—40,000 Kauai acres owned by AOL founder Steve Case--doesn’t get hammered by protesters when it proposes a development scheme. Suzanne Case is Executive Director of the Hawaii Nature Conservancy. These facts of course are unrelated. Really.
- Developments proposed by Alexander and Baldwin also seem to evade the protesters’ attention. Of course this has absolutely nothing to do with the substantial funds donated to the Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Lands, Environment Hawaii, Protect Kahoolawe Fund and others by the Wallace Alexander Gerbode foundation. The Chair of the Board of Directors of the Gerbode Foundation, Maryanna G. Stockholm-Shaw, also sits on the Board of Directors of A&B and Matson. These facts of course are unrelated. Really.
Some people could even get the idea that eco-extortion is merely the latest tool used by Hawaii’s dwindling landed aristocracy to drive away outside competition thus reserving development profits for themselves. Recent targets: Hokulia, Molokai Ranch, Superferry—all were operations by outside companies.
Eco-extortion is empowered by the presence of environmental shakedown artists within the party leadership and among the elected officials of the Democratic Party. As long as other Democratic Party leaders are unwilling to risk driving the extortionists out—and there is not even a hint of this--there can be no road back to a unified autocratic old boy system. If anything it is the leftist extremists who are seeking to drive out more moderate or conservative Democrats. The attacks on Mike Gabbard by gay activists are just the latest example.
“Consensus” is just a sweet-sounding word which translates as “accepting the terms demanded by the shake-down artists”.
In a state where politics is described by affiliation to the “old boy” or “environmental” power blocs, the only alternative left is to create a third source of power—one which for the first time in Hawaii’s history comes from the people. Political leaders can tap into this untapped political resource by embracing “middleclassness.”
Hawaii Business points to the number of Hawaii businesses which are owned from outside the state and complains:
If they were local companies, their owners would be major power brokers in the state….the local managers of companies headquartered elsewhere rarely have the authority or personal wealth to serve as community leaders. The result is more anemic civil society.
No. What this proves is that the conditions no longer exist for re-creation of the old boy system. Moreover this demonstrates the existence of a large social group artificially kept outside the existing structures of political power—seen as competitors by the old boys and as targets by the eco-extortionists.
Hawaii needs middle class members of the general public to step up and form new leadership committed to fulfilling the civic responsibilities previously carried out in smoke-filled rooms. The result of such a “people power” revolution would be the strengthening of civil society, not its weakening. In globalized Hawaii, leadership and progress can only come from the middle class.
Power today in Hawaii must mean leadership by thousands of individuals across the state solving the problems created by Hawaii’s elites. The DoE and HSTA cynically manipulate political debate--balancing the DoE’s so-called budget by cutting instructional days in the most inconvenient way possible. But it is parents and individual teachers who are taking the initiative to try to keep their schools open over the objections of the DoE and the HSTA. Individual groups of parents can go further to solve the problem by converting their children’s schools to charter schools.
The Governor’s proposal to make the DoE into a cabinet department will face hurdles created by special interests such as DoE contractors, DoE bureaucrats, and HSTA officials. If these parents embrace charter conversion statewide, they could dramatically improve education in the state and solve the DoE budget crisis without any legislative, judicial or gubernatorial action what so ever. That is why Hawaii Democrats and the HSTA are working overtime to steer parents into demanding tax increases.
The question of power in Hawaii is the question of how the body politic can create a competitive and aggressively partisan two party system in order to reject the false choices –such as “tax increase-or-layoffs”--created within by the ugly logic which elevates consensus within the Democratic Party over all other values.
Hawaii has one of the lowest rates of voter participation in the nation. Even with a native son on the presidential ballot, Hawaii voter turnout dropped by 0.7% between the 2004 and 2008 Presidential elections. This shows that Democrats have maxed-out their electoral base. Democrats inside and outside the media are pushing various schemes to make voting easier, but the problem is not laziness—it is lack of choices. Increases in voter participation can come only from outside the Democratic Party.
So how can the middle class enter Hawaii politics as a force unto itself? There are some current examples which only hint at the potential:
Statewide, evangelical and Catholic churches are working to register thousands of new voters in their churches—a move which must be good because it has caused unmitigated panic on the Editorial Board of the Star-Bulletin. The Churches’ objective is to bring into the process voters who will not accept the need for consensus with the tiny minority of gay marriage advocates. Whether by electing Republicans or by electing pro-traditional-marriage Democrats, another noisy minority will can be blocked from using “consensus politics” to impose its will on the rest of society.
Only the minority party can make itself into an effective election challenger. So another part of the solution must come from within the Republican Party. The Star-Bulletin once editorialized:
The sad state of the Republican Party in Hawaii provokes mourning and puzzlement….
In the 1950s a bunch of ambitions young men who wanted to improve Hawaii decided to do it by infiltrating and re-directing the then-moribund Democratic Party. They are Hawaii political leaders today and many of them are excellent public servants.
They would be improved, not harmed, however, by more vigorous political opposition. So would the State.
Perhaps what we need today is a bunch of ambitious young men eager to improve the State who will decide to infiltrate and re-direct the Republican Party.
This was written by a very different Star-Bulletin editorial board August 21, 1970—not coincidentally the year of Tom Gill’s challenge to Jack Burns and the point at which political debate began to be contained within the one-party system.
Today Hawaii Republicans under newly elected chair Jonah Kaauwai have leadership committed to building party membership, rebuilding the party from the precinct level up, and contesting every seat that is up for election. As with charter schools and voter registration, the success or failure of the effort to transform the GOP into an effective challenger depends not on the actions of any elite group but on the willingness of thousands of individuals to stand up and step up.
It is time for Hawaii’s leaders to abandon the dead system of the past and embrace the potential of the people. Just as the Philippines and South Korea have had their own versions of “people power” revolutions, Hawaii must have hers.
* Little-known fact. After Democrats swept the Legislative elections in 1954, Republicans re-took control of the Senate in 1959--then lost it in the 1962 election.
They have not controlled either house since.