Every week — it’s almost becoming every day — we are witnessing the growing movement of political unrest.

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The upside-down state flags flying from truck beds. The protests filled with heartfelt words of frustration. People are fed up with the status quo and want real change.

According to a recent Honolulu Star-Advertiser poll, 61% of Hawaii residents say the state is moving in the wrong direction.

But it’s not a new direction, is it? Unfortunately, it’s the same way we’ve been going for the last 60 years. Here’s why.

• Hawaii is run by one political party.

The state’s Democratic Party is too dominant, which leads to a lack of checks and balances. Voter apathy – Hawaii has some of the highest in the nation – increases with the suffocating dominance of one party.

During the 2018 general election, only 38.6% of eligible voters cast votes. Repeatedly lopsided victories by the Democratic Party have left many feeling disenchanted and ultimately ignored.

• Elected officials don’t care what you think.

More than half (56%) of those polled said politicians don’t listen and don’t have high moral standards (51%). Legislative deals are still hammered out in backrooms and elected representatives continue to circumvent the process to pass self-serving agendas.

Capitol seen from Punchbowl area.
Democrats control the Hawaii State Capitol — and that’s a big problem. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“Deals are still done with a wink and a nod,” a community advocate recently told me over coffee. “Let me tell you, we are so over it.”

Healthy democracies rely on open debate and public involvement, but if you’re paying any attention to what happens during the legislative session, you know the majority has perfected the art of Kabuki theater.

• The state is not handling tough issues.

Difficult issues are not being addressed. Instead, pass-the-buck-leaders have made a mess of things by kicking the can down the road, hoping the problems will solve themselves.

• There is a lack of economic opportunity.

Our economy is weak because it remains tethered to tourism and military spending. Despite our many entrepreneurial cultures, Hawaii continues to make the list of the worst states to do business. This unfriendly business climate is due in part to stifling regulations and taxation from state government.

• Turn protesting into voting.

Every ethnic group that migrated to Hawaii has done well except for the host culture. Hawaiians are still on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder and have the lowest rates of homeownership, the highest rates of incarceration, diabetes and homelessness, and yet have the least political muscularity of all ethnic groups in Hawaii.

You’re missing the point if you think Mauna Kea is purely about a telescope.

However, the host culture may hold the key to a future turnaround. There is presently afoot a “Hawaiian awakening” that is increasingly demanding redress for past grievances.

Whether it’s the Thirty Meter Telescope or the windmills, they are showing up and protesting. They are being arrested, not for any single issue, but for a multitude of broken promises over the past 125 years.

You’re missing the point if you think Mauna Kea is purely about a telescope, or Kahuku about windmills, or Waimanalo about a city park. It is not. It’s all about governance and decision-making and being counted as somebody who counts.

Leaders have finally begun to recognize the existing conflicts are a reflection of a much longer, problematic history of Hawaii and in particular how Hawaiians have been mistreated in their own homeland and on their own land.

But it will take dedication and hard work for us to change course. A Hawaiian voting block would significantly alter the political landscape. Voting matters and is the most actionable way to resolve political unrest, and if Hawaiians reach at least 50% voter registration and turnout, the political formula can be forever altered.

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