Danny De Gracia: Hawaii Has A Good Chance To Reset The Republican Party - 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.

In November 1979, after two unsuccessful attempts at running for president, Ronald Reagan sought to reset the Republican Party brand and characterized that moment in American history as a national crisis of confidence.

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Seeking to get out from under the shadow of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford’s GOP, Reagan launched his third presidential campaign by telling voters: “A troubled and afflicted mankind looks to us, pleading for us to keep our rendezvous with destiny” and went on to promise, “we will become that shining city on a hill.”

We know from history that voters in 1980 would ultimately forgive the Republican Party for its past missteps and choose Reagan in a blowout victory over incumbent Jimmy Carter as president. Reagan had been a poor-performing presidential primary candidate in the past, but in 1980, voters were looking for his brand of leadership.

The lesson that can be learned from that campaign is when one appeals to a voter’s sense of dignity and empowers the public to see themselves not as they are, but what they can be, Americans like to choose inspirational, uplifting leadership.

I mention this example because here in the islands the Hawaii Republican Party, in choosing former House minority leader and 2010 lieutenant governor candidate Lynn Finnegan as its new state chair, has an opportunity to reset its course with the public.

At a time when the GOP – both nationally and locally – has sunk into a reactionary culture war rather than being a party of ideas and inspiration, Finnegan has an opportunity, if she takes it, to reform her party and set an example for Hawaii.

I first met Finnegan in 2006 at the State Capitol, and later worked under her in 2010 when I was a research analyst in the House Minority Research office. One of the things that I appreciated about then-Rep. Finnegan was that while being a Republican, she was always willing to step outside of the bubble of pure partisanship and listen to policy concerns on the basis of what would work best for the most people in Hawaii.

That kind of Republican is sorely needed at a time when a nihilistic, contrarian “everything is fake” mindset has infected conservatism.

As Hawaii Gov. David Ige enters his final year of a highly controversial administration, local voters are rapidly marching into a coronation of yet another Democratic candidate as their next governor with the Hawaii Republican Party in shambles. And while Hawaii’s political demographics may make Democrats the inevitable outcome of most elections, the local Republican Party needs to offer voters a credible alternative that can hold Democrats accountable.

In short, bad, out of touch local Republicans polarize and embolden bad, out of touch Democrats to take power. But competent, credible local Republicans force Democrats to be better, so even if a Republican loses, the Democrat that wins does so only by being a better candidate than the rest of their party.

If I were to give advice to the Hawaii Republican Party’s new chair, I’d begin by saying reset the party and focus on knowing the policy particulars of Hawaii and what can be done, right now, to directly impact people at their point of need.

Republicans have long taken a back seat to Democrats in Hawaii but the new chair brings hope. John Pritchett/Civil Beat/2021

Republicans look best as a party of ideas and inspiration, not a party of rage and reaction. Understanding what’s broken in Hawaii and being able to leverage moral and intellectual force to address it is what makes for a great choice on a ballot.

It has been a very long time since the Hawaii Republican Party has offered solid policy candidates, and Finnegan should make it a point to recruit people who can competently campaign on how to improve the Aloha State.

I know local Republicans, historically, like to bring people like Scott Walker or Newt Gingrich to Hawaii to advance their fundraising causes, but they ought to cool that jingoistic stuff and work on leadership development or policy acumen for their members. They ought to bring people like former NASA flight director Gene Krantz to teach candidates the principles of organizational trust, team chemistry, and excellence. Instead of partisans, they should bring people like Green Beret Gen. Stanley McChrystal to teach members about commitment and vision.

Lynn Finnegan, right, with Duke Aiona in 2014. Civil Beat/2014

Lastly, the Hawaii Republican Party needs to form around an organizing principle of leadership-by-example. There are many people in Hawaii who may not necessarily consider themselves “Republican” or “conservative” but vote Democrat simply because the local Republican that ends up on their ballot is, for lack of a better description, nutty.

I say this in an absolute spirit of love, but there are some local Republican candidates who just don’t make a good fit for the party image. It isn’t enough to simply say the other party is bad and you need to vote for someone else; Republicans need to demonstrate that they have the character and temperament to raise the bar, rather than lower the bar, if elected to office.

I’m glad to see that the Hawaii Republican Party has someone like Finnegan again in a position of leadership at a time like this. Hawaii needs a better GOP to offer good choices on the ballot and to have better people in office.

Lynn, I’m hoping you can reset your party. This is a time when we need Honolulu to be a shining city on a hill, not a trash heap. Rage must give way to enlightened understanding; tribalism must step aside for sincere devotion; and reaction must be replaced by initiative.

Read this next:

The Honolulu City Council Can Be A Catalyst For Change

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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)

Republicans have a chance.  But first they need to believe in something.  When I was growing up they believed, or said they did in Balanced budgets.  But 30 years after Eisenhower they abandoned balanced budgets with Deficits don't matter.  They also use to believe in small government.  Government should be able to be drowned in a bathtub.  But then 30 years after Eisenhower they expanded Government more than any party  since Johnson/Kennedy.  So what are they going to believe in? I suggest republicans adopt an anti Military stance.  Say no to additional contaminated water.  Say No to Burn Pits.  Push for acknowledgment of the medical hazards of being in the military.  Might even push to bring back the draft so that more are exposed to the military's pollution.  When a cross section of America develop strange diseases after being exposed to DU or Burn Pits, maybe the military will be forced to clean up?  I do not like bringing back the draft but it is not fair for only a small percentage being exposed.

buds4fun · 8 months ago

Danny, I take it that you are a Republican, or at least Republican-leaning.In that light, do you accept Joe Biden as the duly elected. President of the United States of America?

Democracy101 · 8 months ago

Indeed Lynn is a great person and very smart.  I got to know her at the time the Duke ran.  She is pragmatic and easy going spirit.  Not a push over of sure.  She can be a whip if needed.  A good trait.  If there is one thing that is "Nutty" in Hawaii, that would be that we keep voting in the same type of people (D's) that have tried to pass some very nutty bills.  Let hope we can have a balance of power instead of a one party system that has only hindered Hawaii. Best wishes Lynn.  You can do it!

Stopthemadness · 8 months ago

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