It was easy for Democrats to be smug when Hawaii Rep. Beth Fukumoto resigned from the Republican Party over her colleagues’ unfriendly response to her criticism of the misogynistic carney huckster and narcissist they supported for president. Clearly, the party had become so closed-minded that talking smack about something so near-and-dear was utterly beyond the pale.

To put that into perspective, Fukumoto had by that time established herself as an articulate and effective representative of her swing district, standing as one of the Hawaii GOP’s bright lights. She had been drawn to the party not based on doctrine, but after envisioning the changes that were possible. It was easy to imagine her as a leader of a reinvigorated party, more Pat Saiki or Linda Lingle than Gene Ward or Bob McDermott.

So how did Democratic Party leadership respond to this promising young politician’s interest in switching over to the majority? Greet her with cupcakes and a welcome mat? Give her the good chair that rolls and doesn’t squeak?

No, they scheduled her for an interview. They needed to examine her, vet her, talk things over and ensure that her views were consistent with party doctrine. To be certain that she wouldn’t do something untoward, like criticize their party’s presidential choice. Despite the fact that anybody else is free to become a Democrat by simply filling out a card. Because an appreciation of irony is not as important in politics as one might think.

Rep. Beth Fukumoto hasn’t exactly been welcomed with open arms by the Democratic Party. And that’s a problem. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat/2017

Fast forward to the final week of the recent legislative session, when the House and Senate found themselves at loggerheads over the sucking slough of despond that is the Honolulu rail system, and how we are going to pay for it.

Without rehashing the details of an argument that a good number of reasonable adults have already had their fill of, the House wanted to raise the Transient Accommodations Tax, while the Senate wanted to continue the increased general excise tax for all eternity. However, Sen. Jill Tokuda, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which controls the purse strings, agreed with the House rather than her Senate colleagues.

But here’s the thing: Any disagreement between the House and Senate at the end of the session means the funding proposal is dead, whatever it is. The Senate could demand that we sit with buckets and wait for coins to fall from heaven and it would be no less effective in actually solving the problem. And, if they disagreed with Tokuda’s opinion on the TAT, the majority could just vote the other way, because a majority is a majority and it still ends in stalemate.

So the Senate opted to do the most pointless and petulant thing possible and booted Tokuda from her position as chair of WAM, a response that appears calculated to salve somebody’s bruised ego. They silenced an articulate and effective voice for fiscal responsibility, because she disagreed.

The Legislature is designed to encourage debate and discussion of difficult questions that affect the greater community, to hash out the hard stuff. The committee structure of both the House and the Senate is intended to let strong voices lead the discussion, not to limit opinions but to ensure that each chamber moves toward solutions. And political parties are supposed to bring some structure to the process.

Instead of benefitting from their monolithic control, the Democrats bicker among themselves.

Except Hawaii no longer has political parties in any real sense. The Republicans have withered to the point of irrelevancy. Their impulse toward opposition, so ineffective in resisting the majority party, is turned on each other. And the Democrats, having achieved unassailable control in the House and absolute partisan purity in the Senate, no longer have anyone to channel their defiance. Instead of benefitting from their monolithic control, they bicker among themselves.

At both ends of the spectrum, the exercise of political will has become so meaningless that those in control accept nothing less than utter obedience to orthodoxy. Under those circumstances, the public loses.

The most important debates take place in caucus, away from public view. Small groups of leaders embrace the power to make deals and bestow benefits, enforcing their decisions with threats of marginalization, if not expulsion. The status quo is king.

It is up to us to preserve the debate. Our best way forward must be to seek out and support the Beth Fukumotos and Jill Tokudas, those who do not obey, but speak out. That is our only means of maintaining our freedom to disagree. If the orthodoxy does not accept them, it does not accept us. In the absence of political parties that speak for voters, voters must speak for themselves.

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