Danny De Gracia: Hawaii's Broken Political System Is The Real Emergency - Honolulu Civil Beat

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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. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.


Opinion article badgeAs prospective local candidates emerge for the upcoming 2022 election cycle, most political observers are currently focused on the personality dynamics and the intrigue of ambition surrounding those who may or may not run for office.

Maybe that’s just the entertainment of politics, but we should all be concerned about the fact that Hawaii has been under a literal state of emergency now for more than a year with no end in sight. The urgent question we need to consider is not who will run for office and win, but who will restore normalcy and legitimacy of government in the Aloha State.

I can already imagine in my mind several declared and still undeclared candidates reading this column and standing up like school children enthusiastically volunteering for a class project as they declare themselves the ones to end our emergency. I have three words for this lot: Sit back down.

As the Filipino philosopher José Rizal famously said, “The glory of saving one’s country is not for him who has contributed to its ruin.” Hawaii is such an unstable, chaotic, ungovernable place right now that almost anything local government does is met with mass protests, and people have such low trust in their elected officials that conspiracy theories are now the norm rather than the fringe.

There is a serious problem when all it takes is a single Honolulu Star-Advertiser article with a spicy, yet ultimately misleading headline to turn everything willy-nilly in the community and have people suddenly questioning reality.

That says to me that there is a powerful underlying current of public resentment where people don’t actually take the government seriously, and the minute so much as a single feather of doubt tickles their fear instincts, they won’t comply and won’t believe our leaders.

We really can’t blame people for responding this way, when we see how much corruption, incompetence, and lack of attention to detail is rife in both our elected government and the permanent bureaucracy that is in charge here. Hawaii is both in an emergency of existence and living under a rule of emergency.

And that’s where 2022 candidates for office need to place their focus. The discussion right now needs to be how can we make Hawaii government more transparent, more responsive to problems, and more competent so that people willingly cooperate and participate in the social contract.

The paradigm shift that needs to occur must be both political and philosophical.

In essence, the kind of change that needs to happen in Hawaii government in 2022 and beyond is almost analogous to what the U.S. Army did following the disastrous Vietnam War, when officers recognized that a combination of micromanagement by elected officials, bad organizational doctrine, wrong technology and lack of political support by the American public all contributed to their failures.

The survivors of the Vietnam War didn’t hold on to what had brought them to a state of ruin; they were willing to candidly admit amongst themselves that “the Army is hollow and broken” and make efforts to change personnel, revise methods, and most of all, study new ideological models.

After the disaster of the Vietnam War, the military didn’t hold on to the failed policies that got them there. manhhai/flickr.com

I mention this Vietnam analogy because Hawaii government has all the hallmarks of the Robert McNamara-era of governance, when we are so insistent on bean-counting and performance measures but our leaders don’t have the will to solve problems and our bureaucracy is always behind, rather than ahead, of a crisis.

Right now with Covid-19, elected officials give press conferences filled with confusing statements that sound more like talking for the sake of talking than actual policy. Our bureaucrats go in front of cameras and make promises they can’t keep and predictions that don’t consistently hold up.

The public service announcements that various government agencies run to tell us how to cooperate with them are insulting, annoying and reek of patriarchal condescension. The public wants to get on with their lives, but our government keeps changing benchmarks. And what is the result? Everyone is angry, everyone is frustrated and everything is still an ongoing state of emergency.

And how does Hawaii look and feel? On every island, the state and counties that presume to know how to run our lives can’t even handle basic infrastructure or sanitation. Federal grants pour like waterfalls into Hawaii to improve community outcomes, but where is all this money going when this place still functions in a dilapidated manner?

Hawaii is hollow and broken, ladies and gentlemen.

As I have repeatedly said over the years, Hawaii residents deserve the very best government. If you’re running for office right now, put away the cute pictures of you and your family in aloha shirts, do away with vain talk about how great of an advocate or representative you’re going to be and actually stop for a moment and sincerely think about how we can make government work again.

We need to stop talking personality and start talking policy, procedures and philosophy. We need a government that is worthy of our trust and tax dollars again.

To end the emergency here, bad people are going to have to go. Bad ideas are going to have to be stopped. And most importantly, bad potential choices on our ballot need to be met with better candidates in the days to come.


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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. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.


Latest Comments (0)

I find this piece pretty spot on and like most other states our politicians tend to be career oriented becoming part of the broken machine.  I hope for better and more choices, however, even when there is a glimmer of hope (there are some folks in now that don't fit the mold and speak out against the status quo), they are usually silenced by the majority that are either afraid, naive, or want to keep the status quo.  Covid may spark change in some, but there seem to be significant numbers that feel Hawaii didn't dial it back enough and that more limits on business and personal freedoms are needed.  As stated, "Hawaii is hollow and broken," with millions of Federal dollars propping it up at the moment.  Not only do politicians need to spend that money where it will make a difference, but the public will need to see things change.  It's an upward battle to say the least.  

wailani1961 · 1 month ago

Here is a simple albeit difficult step in the right direction:  Amend the  Hawaii state constitution declaring that corporations are not people and that corporations shall only enjoy rights that are specifically granted to them.  This would allow us to eliminate the overwhelming influence of corporate money in politics and yes, unions are corporations. Yes, it would be challenged all the way to the US Supreme court but I believe it would actually have a good chance of surviving that challenge.  Money from corporations is one of the root causes of our morass. It should be "government of the people, by the people, for the people" not as it is presently "government of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations."

JustMe · 1 month ago

I've been saying for many months that the "emergency" needs to end. I'm halfway convinced that the inauguration of a new governor may be the only way to bring about the end of the emergency. Unfortunately, the most likely outcome is another governor just as bad as Ige.

Jay · 1 month ago

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