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As his fellow Democrats across the nation reclaimed a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell stood on a stage with Hawaii’s newly re-elected Democratic Gov. David Ige and newly elected Lt. Gov. Josh Green and promised that taking back the U.S. House was just the first step.
“We’re building that foundation to make a difference,” Caldwell said, his voice and hand rising triumphantly before the packed ballroom at Honolulu’s Dole Cannery.
“We’re going to take the Senate back,” he said. “And we’re going to take the country back.”
Caldwell’s theme of taking back the country was a recurring motif among Hawaii Democrats on Tuesday. It wasn’t simply that the candidates from the nation’s bluest state had swept the statewide elections, as predicted. Equally energizing was the news that voters on the mainland had rebuked Republican President Donald Trump and won the House.
It was a celebration of one of the fundamental tenets of U.S. democracy, a three-branch government designed to provide checks and balances against one another.
“At least there is a check on our runaway president,” said U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, who handily beat Republican Ron Curtis to reclaim her seat.
Newly elected U.S. Rep. Ed Case echoed the idea, saying, “the first order is realistic checks and balances on the president.”
It was hardly a complete win for the Democrats. The GOP expanded its majority in the Senate, and in doing so assured the party can continue to initiate legislation and push through Trump’s judicial nominations.
But by taking the House, the Democrats are now positioned to block high-profile Republican initiatives, like President Donald Trump’s promise to overturn the Affordable Care Act and build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
House committees also will be able to conduct investigations, call for Trump’s tax returns and potentially even impeach Trump, although the Senate still would have the power to convict or acquit the president if the House did impeach him.
Case said the he hopes he and his fellow House freshmen will bring a new tone to governing, providing checks and balances but not simply obstructing for the sake of obstructing.
“Let’s find a better way forward,” Case said. “We have an opportunity to take some baby steps that will get us back to the habit of leading. And I hope we don’t waste that opportunity.”
Even with a Republican majority in the Senate, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, another Tuesday winner, said there’s a chance to push through legislation. She pointed to criminal justice reform as a case in point.
“On some issues there are opportunities,” she said. “On others it will be more challenging.”
Republicans, meanwhile, applauded their continued control of the Senate.
“We never believed wholly in the ‘blue wave,’ because the Republican National Committee had an intense ground game for this election,” said Miriam Hellreich, the national committeewoman for the Republican Party of Hawaii, speaking at her party’s headquarters at 725 Kapiolani Blvd on Tuesday evening.
“I would have been surprised if the tsunami happened that the Democrats predicted.”
About 50 Republican Party supporters gathered inside the room, noshing on potluck food and watching a mounted television screen for election results as a life-size cutout of President Trump stood to the side.
The mood was convivial but not too rowdy as Republican party members — mostly skewing on the middle-aged to older side, with several donning red “Make America Great Again” baseball caps — discussed their continued support for Trump’s policies, including tax cuts, a tougher immigration stance and directions on national security.
They spoke with enthusiasm about the state of the country over the last two years, and didn’t seem perturbed by the Democrats capturing the House majority on the national front.
“We were promised a blue wave, and I think it’s a blue splash, so we’re feeling good,” said Nick Ochs, 32, director of the Young Republicans of Hawaii.
“I don’t think (either party) is incredibly stunned tonight,” he added. “This is more or less what conventional wisdom said would happen.”
A handful of Republican candidates mingled in the crowd, including Cam Cavasso, who lost the U.S. House 1st Congressional District race to Ed Case; Marissa Kerns, Republican candidate for lieutenant governor; and Diamond Garcia, who at age 21, tried to defeat Maile Shimabukuro for state Senate District 21.
Shirlene Ostrov, Hawaii Republican Party chairwoman, said she was encouraged by the turnout at the watch party, adding that her goal is to continue to unify the Republican Party in Hawaii — the country’s bluest state – something that is “not going to happen overnight,” she said.
“What I’m excited about is this excitement,” she said, gesturing at those in the room. “People I’ve never seen before are volunteering.”
After his stirring speech to the Democrats, Caldwell came down from the stage to pose for pictures with supporters and talk to the media.
The mayor echoed Case and others about the new balance of power. Caldwell said the House was unlikely to impeach Trump, even if the move proved warranted, simply because the Republican Senate would likely acquit him.
But back at the Democratic gathering, Caldwell said the very presence of a Democratic-controlled House changes things.
“I do think the president does have to have one eye on the House,” he said. “That’s a moderating influence.”
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