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HOOSER: Why have political parties?

There are four political parties active in Hawai‘i — Democratic, Republican, Green, and Aloha ‘Aina. What purpose do they serve? What could they accomplish if they decided to organize and mobilize?

The Democratic Party of Hawai‘i (DPH) dominates our local political and electoral landscape, with Republicans next in line but struggling to just maintain a presence. Greens and Aloha ‘Aina candidates, as well-intended and inspired as they may be, never seem to make it past a primary election.

Today, all four members of the Hawai‘i congressional delegation, 23 of our 25 state senators, and 45 of 51 House members are members of the DPH. County council members and mayors are elected in “nonpartisan” elections and party identification is not listed on the ballot.

The DPH “brand” is established, familiar, and favored by working and middle class residents, and by older retiree “super voters”who together make up the majority of voters in Hawai‘i.

People often cast their votes for candidates based on the political party “brand” — assuming the candidate holds the same values espoused by that particular party.

Unfortunately, rather than basing their decisions on core values, too many candidates choose the DPH brand purely to enhance their electability. To them, the party platform is secondary. They just want to win and need that “D” next to their name to do so.

Over the years DPH branded legislators, who possess a super majority at the state level, have consistently fallen short on key DPH priorities pertaining to economic, social and environmental justice.

Yes, crumbs of incremental change pertaining to DPH priorities are occasionally thrown, but too often it requires a Herculean effort by many, many people over several years.

Ditto for election reform, expanding worker health benefits, the legalization of cannabis, water rights, food self sufficiency, and many other party priorities.

Any candidate regardless of values or ideology can join the party (and it’s free), put a “D” next to their name, run for office, and reap the benefits of brand loyalty from voters.

There is no application, no interview, no issue litmus test, and no charge.

Meanwhile, the party’s credibility shrinks daily as its brand is co-opted by corporate candidates who largely ignore the party mission and platform.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The party could demand that to run with a “D” next to your name, candidates shall support those values described in the foundational party documents — and then monitor and grade their actual performance while in office.

The party itself could and should aggressively advocate for their priorities, and demand that DPH endorsed legislators support DPH legislative priorities.

Yes, there must be room in the big tent to allow for differences of opinion on strategy and tactics, but the core values including economic, environmental and social justice must be held front and center.

Or, if the DPH is not a good fit in terms of values and ideology, the candidate should find and join another party.

A robust party will:

• Actively recruit, train and support new candidates, always seeking to raise up new leadership among the youth;

• Advocate and educate the public about issues, ideas and values important to that party;

• Provide a base of volunteers who work on community projects that reflect party values;

• Organize, train and support grassroots issue advocacy at all levels of government. Have fun, break bread, expand networks and build friendships;

• Monitor, support and hold accountable those officials who were elected utilizing and benefiting from the party brand.

Civics 301 — vote. Testify on issues. Join, participate in and support a political party that reflects your values. It’s easy. Every party has a website with contact info, and none charge a fee to join.

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Gary Hooser served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Counci. He presently writes on Hawaii Policy and Politics at www.garyhooser.blog.
Source: The Garden Island

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