by Andrew Walden
"There's a lot going on behind the scenes. People are jockeying for position. You are talking about in the first post-Inouye world, the first battle for the control of the Democratic Party" -- HPU Professor John Hart.
The fight between Hanabusa and Hirono over Inouye’s seat is the latest flare-up of the battle between old-boys and progressives within the Democratic Party—a battle which began with Tom Gill’s 1970 Democratic Primary challenge to Jack Burns. Even before his death, Inouye’s old boys were losing ground. Abercrombie now has the chance now to push them back further by rejecting Hanabusa and appointing Schatz. Will he do it?
After the 2008 Obama wave brought 40,000 progressives into Democratic Party membership, Abercrombie beat old boy Hannemann for Governor in 2010. Then Abercrombie backed longshot Tulsi Gabbard—bizarrely painting the longtime anti-gay marriage activist as a progressive--and again beat Hannemann in the 2012 CD2 race. Progressives control the Judiciary, the Hawaii State Senate, and now have the votes to oust old boy House Speaker Calvin Say. Breaking the sweep—old boy Caldwell beat progressive Cayetano for Honolulu Mayor, saving Inouye’s last big pork project—rail—and cementing the old-boy control of all four County governments.
If he names Schatz, Abercrombie gives progressives control of both Senate seats while elevating Senate President Shan Tsutsui to the Lieutenant Governor’s chair, thus setting the stage for years of unbroken progressive control of the Congressional delegation, Judiciary, both houses, and the Executive. But to do this, Abercrombie must say no to Inouye’s corporatist business-labor alliance—the very one which elected Caldwell.
Attempting to control Hawaii even from the grave, Inouye’s last act was to send Abercrombie a letter nominating Hanabusa as his replacement. According to the Star-Advertiser: “The letter was hand-delivered to Abercrombie by Walter Dods, former First Hawaiian Bank chairman and chief executive, and Jeffrey Watanabe, a retired attorney and chairman of Hawaiian Electric Industries, two of Inouye’s closest confidants, who are among the state’s most politically powerful business leaders.”
Rejecting Hanabusa would send the signal that Inouye’s corporatist cronies are no longer anywhere near the driver’s seat. Accepting her might save Abercrombie some trouble in the 2014 Gubernatorial election. It would also bring a special election for CD1 in which the frontrunners might include Hannemann, Ed Case, and Charles Djou.
Business offers labor jobs in exchange for electing politicians who hand out contracts to businesses which then hire more union members. Progressives offer absolution from the sins of racism and pollution in exchange for electing politicians who vote for legalized marijuana and gay marriage, thus creating more progressives.
Tsutsui launched his Senate Presidency by abolishing prayer--for the first time in any legislative chamber in the USA. This marks him as a progressive. Hanabusa launched her Senate career by conspiring with Larry Mehau to oust Cayetano’s Attorney General Margery Bronster and protect the corrupt Broken Trustees of Kamehameha Schools. This marks her as old-boy.
Jack Burns was a police spy assigned to determine the loyalty of Japanese in pre-WW2 Hawaii. Those who didn’t meet his standards ended up in Roosevelt's Internment Camps. Dan Inouye led AJA soldiers fighting in WW2 to prove their loyalty. Their combined effect welded a generation of political leaders. But decades later, Hawaii Democrat ranks are full but decimated. A system based on loyalty to Inouye has “wiped out an entire generation of leadership” in favor of weak-willed placeholders. Inouye exemplified the ‘greatest generation’. So almost naturally, the system he created produced the coddled, self-absorbed generation that followed. Even the President spent his youth searching Manoa for choom, not hunting Italy for Nazis.
Without Inouye, Hawaii will lose hundreds of millions of dollars in federal pork. Senators didn’t even wait until Inouye was dead to start fighting over his Appropriations Chairmanship. It eventually went to Maryland.
Most pork beneficiaries were Inouye insiders profiting in exchange for campaign contributions—and many of their projects had no value other than the cushy salaries the insiders provided for themselves. To be rid of these useless people is a blessing. Watching them starve will be sport for the next few years. But Hawaii will also lose military and scientific funding. Money for Mauna Kea and Haleakala telescopes will not be so forthcoming. Military installations will be less likely to come to Hawaii—without Inouye’s influence, many will go to California, Washington, Alaska, and Guam. This will in turn harm the progressives who made a living by pretending to protest against old-boy projects until they were inevitably paid off.
Hawaii’s Congressional delegation consists of progressives Hirono and Gabbard, old-boy Hanabusa, and a question mark. Hawaii’s combined Congressional seniority is down from 78 years to 2 years. For a one party system to maintain power, it must be inclusive enough that no power structure is created on the outside. But with less ‘silver’ on offer, ‘lead’ is counterproductive.
Republicans once controlled Hawaii politics, but they were not open to a new generation of political leadership. Dan Boylan and Michael Holmes describe the result:
Tom Gill came very close to becoming a Republican when he returned to Hawaii after the war in 1946….he and some of his like-minded fellow veterans made an appointment to meet with Republican Party Chairman Roy Vitousek to explore the possibilities within Hawaii’s GOP. “We must have hit him on a bad day,” Gill recalled. “He made it very clear that the Republican party didn’t need anybody; that they had all the votes anyway….” Gill was not the only promising young veteran to receive the cold shoulder from Republicans when he returned from Hawaii…. The Revolution of 1954 was not simply a victory by the Democrats, it was also a self-inflicted defeat on the part of the Republicans. – John A Burns, The man and his Times pg 119
Hawaii politics is a tinder box. Hawaii has the lowest voter participation in the nation. The losers in Hawaii’s system include Christians, tax payers, rate payers, consumers, young families, and small business. But none of them have been able to congeal as a political force via the Republican Party.
The question for Abercrombie and the progressives is whether they want to keep Inouye’s old-boys—Hawaii’s business class--influential within the Democratic Party by picking Hanabusa, or weaken them further by picking Schatz.
Is Abercrombie Vitousek?