Chad Blair: Can The Green Party Turn Hawaii Greener? - Honolulu Civil Beat


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Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at cblair@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.


Money, as they say, is the mother’s milk of politics, but it is remarkable just how many — and how often — Hawaii candidates are suckling the teat for the 2022 elections.

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Josh Green leads the herd of Democrats, having held nearly 20 campaign fundraisers for his expected gubernatorial run, including four in just the past 30 days.

Likely opponent Kirk Caldwell has held 10 — also including four in December — while Vicky Cayetano has held a total of three, all within the past few months.

Jill Tokuda has held eight fundraisers for her lieutenant governor bid, four in the last three weeks. Other fellow Democrats and LG wannabes are not far behind: Sylvia Luke (seven fundraisers, four since Dec. 2), Sherry Menor-McNamara (five), Ikaika Anderson (four) and Keith Amemiya and Ron Menor (one each, although Menor has yet to formally announce his candidacy).

I bring this up not to discuss the dominant Democratic Party of Hawaii nor the minority Hawaii Republican Party, but to shine a little light on a third party in the islands that is also interested in the green — but not necessarily in greenbacks.

The Green Party of Hawaii prizes four core platform positions above all others: ecological wisdom, grassroots democracy, social and economic justice and nonviolence.

Established in the islands in 1991, Greens believe they are the only political party advocating for real change. Here’s what its website says about that:

“There is a connection between caring for the land and its people and democracy. Hawaii’s history reflects, and in many ways exaggerates, the global trend of the declining power of democratic institutions and environmental destruction. The corruption and injustice of ‘Free Trade’ policies and the continued privatizing of our common heritage has taken its toll on our land and our democracy.”

“Our candidates follow those values,” says Ramona Hussey, the party’s recorder. (They don’t use the term secretary, she explains, saying it was deemed sexist in the 1980s). “To me, grassroots democracy is really about the people, because we don’t elect representatives just to take care of everyone for us. I believe we elect them to represent us and our interests.”

Easy Primaries

I spoke to Hussey after receiving an email from her this week asking the media to get the word out that the Greens are inviting activists to run as candidates in 2022.

“Our full ballot status means Green candidates can easily advance to the general election,” the email explained. (More on that in a moment.)

When’s the last time you heard of a political party seeking recruits via press release?

Sylvia Litchfield and Ramona Hussey on a Zoom call Monday with the author.
Sylvia Litchfield (top left) and Ramona Hussey (bottom center) on a Zoom call Monday with the author. Screenshot/2021

I spoke on a Zoom call this week with Hussey, a Kailua attorney and retired administrator from the UH William S. Richardson School of Law, along with Sylvia Litchfield, the party’s membership chair and past co-chair.

“I am also on the media committee and the candidate committee,” explained Litchfield, who is a retired registered nurse in Makawao.

Litchfield said her party issued the press release to let as many folks in Hawaii as possible know that “there is another way to run as a progressive, where you don’t have to go up against a Democratic incumbent in a primary.”

By that she means that a Green candidate who makes the primary ballot will likely advance to the general election to face the Democrat and a GOP candidate.

Compare that with nonpartisan candidates for the Hawaii Legislature, who must garner 10% of the total votes to move from the primary to the general, or earn a vote equal to or greater than the lowest vote received by the partisan candidates (e.g., Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Libertarians).

“We offer a route to unseat these corporate-bought incumbents,” she explains. “Getting big money out of politics is a worthwhile goal.”

The Green Party does not accept corporate donations, and candidates typically receive publicly matched campaign funds, a program managed by the Hawaii State Campaign Spending Commission.

Litchfield, in a follow-up email, said that Green candidates are not seen as “the worrisome ‘spoiler effect’ here locally, due to the lack of Republican candidates in many races. As you know, many Democrat incumbents run basically unopposed, time after time. (Or against weak Republican candidates.) So in most cases there is no risk in voting Green, which is another reason our Green candidates have had strong showings.”

While there were no Green candidates for state offices on the 2020 ballot, several in Maui County ran in 2018 and made respectable showings.

Mish Shishido earned 30% of the vote against incumbent Democratic state Senator Roz Baker, who won with 61%. Nick Nikhilananda had 26% of the vote in his loss to state Rep. Lynn DeCoite, who took 66%. And Jen Mather lost to Rep. Angus McKelvey 56% to 17%. Republican Chayne Marten took 20% in that race.

Unlike the three Greens, the Democratic incumbents received tens of thousands of dollars from the likes of Altria Client Services (the tobacco industry), Anheuser-Busch, Pfizer, Allstate Insurance, Hawaii Dental PAC, Maui Hotel & Lodging Association PAC, the United Public Workers PAC, the Outrigger Hotels Hawaii PAC, Hawaii Association of Realtors and the Cattlemen Action Legislative Fund, to name just a few.

Going Green?

While Greens have largely failed to elect candidates to office in the islands — a notable exception is in Hawaii County, where several Greens were on the County Council in the 1990s before it became nonpartisan — they have had a better showing than in many other states.

In 1992, Green candidate Linda Martin shocked a lot of people when she took almost 14% of the vote against U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye. The legendary incumbent won easily with 54% of the vote, but it was a scandal-tinged election in which Republican Rick Reed earned 25% and Libertarian Richard Rowland had 2%.

Greens also field candidates for federal office, including president. People are still arguing whether Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the 2000 election to George W. Bush.

The origins of the Green Party can be traced to the creation of Green parties in Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. The first Green state-level political party in the United States was formed in Maine in 1984.

Colin Moore, director of the UH Public Policy Center, said it is “almost impossible for a third party to have much success” in America.

“The most successful was Teddy Roosevelt and the Bull Moose Party in the early 20th century,” he said.

“Getting big money out of politics is a worthwhile goal.” — Sylvia Litchfield

TR, of course, was a former Republican and president. Moore said he often quizzes his students on which third party was the most successful. Answer: The Republican Party, founded in 1850.

Even if they were to win, he said, Greens in Hawaii would likely be marginalized in a Legislature controlled by Democrats, something that has been the case for decades.

Where Greens can have impact is drawing attention to policy issues.

“Often third parties exist to highlight party issues, and when candidates are successful, then the two major parties absorb those issue or even the candidates,” said Moore. “It does allow you to draw attention to the policy issues they care about through media coverage. So, even if they do not win elections, they influence policy.”

Says Ramona Hussey, “Sometimes it is about the message rather than winning or losing. Hopefully, we want to win many races and get many Greens in, but it’s about the message.”

If more Greens do manage to get into office, perhaps there will be this message: It’s time to cut way back on fundraisers.


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About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at cblair@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.


Latest Comments (0)

While in principle I agree that we need other voices and representatives in government, the Green Party is not necessarily the right now, just because it says it's different.  I joined a progressive social media group during the run up to the 2020 election, and the group morphed into a tyrannical push for alternative candidates.  I asked a few simple questions, like what are the exact policies (not just abstract themes)  they support and what is the background and qualifications of the candidates.  I was blocked from the entire group.   So we need to be just as judicious in vetting and voting for third parties as we are with the Big 2. 

Kalani73 · 6 months ago

I would vote for a third party candidate that has the intelligence and courage to vote based on the merit of the proposal. Look at the "police the police" or "follow the defendant through the system" laws that sound good but with apparently very little thought given to implementation. And we could always use someone willing to buck the powers that be when our water supply is threatened.

Fred_Garvin · 6 months ago

I don’t agree that an elected Green would be marginalized in the legislature.  Electing anyone not affiliated with the two old parties, would be a novelty and give the new legislator far more access to the press than is typical. Also most of the marginalization now going on is of Democrats who challenge the leadership.  Efforts of people, like Gary Hosier and Kim Coco Iwamoto, to change this are invaluable.  Legislators, regardless of political affiliation or agenda, need to be willing to stand their ground and not worry about getting, or not getting, some plum chairmanship.  Clearly someone running as a Green or Libertarian is only doing so to stand up to power. As a Libertarian I don’t agree with many policies suggested by other parties. However, I understand the need to listen and engage with anyone who is honest and civil.  There is a lot to overcome in winning elections for us. Most of the Libertarians’ best results were in the first few years as a party.  This seems to be like the Greens in the early 1990’s. In the last 25 years we have only had two candidates for partisan office top 30%, most recently Feena Bonoan in 2020. Tracy RyanChair, The Libertarian Party of Hawaii

Tracyar · 6 months ago

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