Hawaii needs a competitive, thriving, multiparty system to preserve balance. Though Democrats seek to promote diversity, paradoxically, the long-running hegemony of the Democratic Party of Hawaii has suppressed the diversity of political innovation with their near single-party rule.

Ideological conservatives and progressives alike are left behind by Hawaii’s political system, because whenever one party takes absolute majority of government, that party ceases to operate as a revolutionary driver for change and becomes an establishment machine.

The slippery slope of a single partisan interest that inhabits public employment, public education, and the distribution of public benefits is that the party-state will always act to preserve itself, rather than the people it represents.

Yin must have its yang; to have proper balance in our islands, more Republicans need to be in office.

For now, Election 2018 was a mixed bag of results. Hawaii Republicans got walloped in the gubernatorial contest, and Rep. Andria Tupola’s safe seat flipped blue because the lone Republican running to replace her was invalidated by the attorney general.

Despite this, while holding their usual incumbents, the GOP also took two purple districts: a Mililani house seat formerly represented by Republican-turned-Democrat, Beth Fukumoto; and an Ewa senate seat vacated by Democrat Sen. Will Espero, who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor.

The 2018 Hawaii political skirmish was allegorically reminiscent of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz’s infamous Battle of the Coral Sea, in that local Republicans suffered a stinging tactical defeat while simultaneously eking out a strategic victory.

Nevertheless, the battle of attrition is still against Republicans, who are vastly outgunned in local fundraising, volunteer manpower, and an ideological appeal to younger, more progressive Asian American voters who favor Democratic policies.

In spite of formidable challenges, Hawaii Republicans should not retreat into obscurity. An untapped factor that may help Republicans in elections is the fact that Hawaii cultural values have a point of parity with a few conservative positions, especially when it comes to social responsibility, children, the elderly, spirituality, and the institution of family.

Though locals employ Hawaiian concepts to characterize their belief systems – pono, aloha, kuleana, ohana– their values are essentially compatible with conservative heartland “home style” virtues.

Said another way: Hawaii is conservative; it just isn’t Republican.

‘Hill’ Versus ‘Home’ Style

Because Hawaii Democrats feel untouchable in their districts, local officeholders employ what political scientists term “Hill style” versus “home style” (district constituent) representation. “Hill style” — alluding to Capitol Hill in Washington — is policy inclination and campaign narrative meant to appeal to national interests, specifically those who hold the power to shine spotlights or rain money on those seeking higher office.

A couple of key examples of “Hill style” in action include the previous legislature’s attempts to implement United Nations Development Goals at the state level; Sen. Mazie Hirono’s renaissance as a feminist “badass” in Congress; and Gov. David Ige’s boast opposite Rep. Andria Tupola in a televised debate that he had been endorsed by Planned Parenthood.

Because of this abundance of “Hill style” among Hawaii Democrats, observers assume that Hawaii voters hold identical preferences.  In reality, many of them are just as stunned by incumbent positions as Republican partisans are.

Nevertheless, a number of Republicans are working “home style” to make their message and candidates resonate with local voters in a way that wins seats. Brett Kulbis, chair of the Honolulu County Republican Party, credits an effective grassroots campaign and candidate differentiation for their two recent victories in the State House and Senate.

“The success of these candidates was due to their own hard work of going door to door, talking to voters, then getting those voters to polls to vote for them,” Kulbis says. “Both candidates distinguished themselves from their opponents, giving voters a clear choice, a much better choice.”

Brett Kulbis, chairman of the Honolulu County Republican Party. Chad Blair/Civil Beat

“We will be working closer than ever with our minority caucus to push for legislation that will benefit all Hawaii residents,” Kulbis went on to say.

“Some things that come to mind include auditing and downsizing the mega-bureaucracy at the DOE to free up funds for the schools; increased implementation of privatization to reduce long-term retirement obligations for state employees; modifying the impact of the (general excise tax) to eliminate food, rent, and medical; move monopoly HECO to a nonprofit model; mandate that counties accelerate building permits as well as permit more types of housing structures than are presently allowed in return for TAT funds; and implement Referendum, Recall and Initiative.”

Kulbis, a retired nuclear navy sailor who brings his exacting, attention-to-detail to political management, acknowledges the disparity in election outcomes and is working to close the gap.

“Going forward,” he says, “we still need to work on the large margin by which our losing candidates for county, state and federal races fall short. This is our messaging and organizing challenge between now and 2020.”

Kulbis has overhauled the Honolulu County Republican Party since his term began, and says Republicans need to be “engaged with voters 730 days between elections in all the imaginable and practical ways, canvassing districts, talking with voters, continuous messaging on the issues and failed policies that are destroying our state, and promoting our solutions.”

If Republicans leverage conservative “home style” both in the Legislature and in party messaging starting now, it’s very possible that 2020 might bring a bumper crop of new victories – and more balance to Hawaii government.

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About the Author

  • Danny de Gracia

    Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister.

    Danny holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and minor in Public Administration from UT San Antonio, 2001; a Master of Arts in  Political Science (concentration International Organizations) and minor in Humanities from Texas State University, 2002.

    He received his Doctor of Theology from Andersonville Theological Seminary in 2013 and Doctor of Ministry in 2014.

    Danny received his Ordination from United Fellowship of Christ Ministries International, (Non-Denominational Christian), in 2002.