On Tuesday, Nov. 8, a night in which a Republican was elected to the White House and the GOP retained control of the U.S. House and Senate, the story  in Hawaii was Democratic Party dominance across the board.

In other words, business as usual.

Consider the results of a few races as evidence of the depth of dominance of the Democratic Party in Hawaii:

Hawaii GOP headquarters on caucus night.
The state Republican Party has a branding problem. Anthony Quintano/ Civil Beat/2016

• Honolulu mayor: Technically is was a nonpartisan race, but Democratic incumbent Kirk Caldwell not only beat his Republican challenger, Charles Djou, but beat him by several percentage points.

• State Senate District 13: In what was formerly long-time incumbent Suzanne Chun-Oakland’s seat, former Democratic Rep. Karl Rhoads defeated Republican Rod Tam 9,554 votes to 3,288. Tam, a former Democrat, was an experienced politician who had served for years in the Legislature and on the City Council, but ran into legal trouble when he was convicted of pilfering municipal funds and for campaign finance law violations in 2011.

• State House District: Despite having his standing as a Democrat challenged because of previously running for office as a Green Party candidate in 2014, Cedric Gates won election to the Legislature as a Democrat by beating Republican Marc Pa’aluhi 3,184 to 1,876.

• State Senate Distsrict 9: Perhaps the election story of the night in Hawaii, former City Councilman and Democrat Stanley Chang defeated long-time incumbent Republican Sam Slom 12,600 to 11,319. Chang’s victory means the Hawaii State Senate is entirely and wholly filled by Democratic Party lawmakers.

Democrat dominance has been the fait accompli here in the islands for more than 50 years.Having covered a few primary and general local elections for small newspapers over the years, you come to expect the Democratic “brand” will continue to sell electorally here.

However, what rarely if ever gets discussed after these local elections is just why Republicans not only fail but fail spectacularly in the Islands. What most local media outlets discuss, if anything, are just the bare bones — Republicans don’t do well with Hawaii voters.

Well let us start with the idea of branding. In the business world, a brand identifies a company as well as its products. More important, a brand makes a corporation stand out from the rest, often to retain a certain unique status. This is why anything negative or destructive can harm a brand.

The brand of the Hawaii Republican Party has long been associated with its history tied up with its political dominance during the territorial years of Hawaii, largely from 1900 until the 1950s. The GOP in the islands was allied with the planter and local corporate hegemony of the Big Five. This combination of social, economic and political dominance — that largely excluded local people of color such as Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and even many Hawaiians — became the preponderant brand of the local GOP. Republican meant the party of the haole elite.

The rise of the Democratic Party was based on a different model — a multiracial, multicultural paradigm. Most ethnic and racial groups would never  fit into the Republican Party here, which was exclusionary because it did not need the support of Hawaii’s different ethnic groups in order to win election and maintain power.

Democrats were able to build racial and ethnic coalitions electorally, here which allowed them to finally wrest the Legislature away from Republicans in 1954 and the governor’s office in 1962. For the most party, the Democratic Party has been able to take this blueprint and continue to build from it election year after election year.

In this respect then, the brand of the Hawaii’s GOP has always been viewed with suspicion by a number of local voters who psychologically associate the Republican Party with economic exclusion, racial prejudice and extremist positions. Even if a number of local Republicans are quite reasonable in their views and policies, their brand has been tainted by the reality of history.

Hawaii also boasts a larger number of Democratic voters as opposed to Republican voters. In addition, Republicans lack the ability to field candidates in every legislative race and seem to offer up a number of disturbing people to vie for office — the bizarre antics of congressional candidate Angela Kaaihue were the most noticeable this election year.

Republicans don’t seem to have any issues that appeal to local voters. Their perennial call to get rid of the excise tax makes no sense in a state where the biggest issues for local residents are high rents and mortgages, high cost of living and low to middling wages. Their excise tax position seems to make them aloof and out of touch with the average working class person in Hawaii.

Finally, the local party had a disaster of a convention this year in which Rep. Beth Fukumoto Chang, who admitted she was not supporting Donald Trump, got booed by her fellow party members in what became an outright political circus.

Taking all these factors into consideration, it is no wonder that the Republican Party has been a minority party for decades in Hawaii.

Djou, a Republican who has lost several congressional races, is a poster child for the inadequacies and failures of the Hawaii Republican Party. Even in a non-partisan race where he had the support of several prominent Democrats and some union backing against a very unpopular candidate in Kirk Caldwell, Djou still came up short.

Is there any way for the GOP to change its status in the islands? Unlikely. There is a comfort factor that many local people have in voting Democrat. It is almost a way of life in many respects. Switching to the Republican Party would entail too much change for many local voters.

Also, trust is key. Democrats apparently have earned a great deal of trust but that doesn’t appear to be the case with Republicans. Part of this is branding, but also it’s following the trends and positions of Republicans nationally and their tactics and positions, which do not resonate with many local voters.

In the end, it comes down to the distinctions of living in Hawaii embodied through values. The local values of inclusion, respect and to some extent support for others differ from those of many from the mainland — exclusion, disrespect and unbridled individuality. Apparently, Republicans prefer the latter and it helps explain why they come up short politically in Hawaii again and again.

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