Neal Milner: Are You Really Willing To Throw The Rascals Out? - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Neal Milner

Neal Milner is a former political science professor at the University of Hawaii where he taught for 40 years. He is a political analyst for KITV and is a regular contributor to Hawaii Public Radio's "The Conversation." His most recent book is The Gift of Underpants. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Opinion article badgeAnd now yet another journey into sleazebag land. The feds have arrested Keith Kaneshiro, Honolulu’s ex-prosecutor, for bribery. More to come? You betcha.

Every time someone in this state is accused of corruption, you hear a lot of this: “Things have gone far enough. It’s time for a change. The Democrats have controlled things long enough.”

Rage against the political machine. Throw the rascals out.

I am not saying this shouldn’t happen. I am saying it won’t. Not now, not for the indefinite future. It means fighting against corruption in the context of firmly rooted politics as usual.

Believing this will change is wishful, magical thinking. Yeah, that sounds dismissive and patronizing because “we need big change” is so much a part of peoples’ political beliefs.

You at least deserve an explanation about why your dreams are just dreams. Here are the reasons why change won’t happen the way you hope. In a later column, I’ll suggest how you can work with this to fight corruption.

In legislative bodies, strong opposition parties make big noise. They tell the public things that the majority does not want the public to hear. “Oh, so that’s the problem!” Information breeds accountability.

In contrast, Hawaii’s Republican Party is almost totally shut out of the Legislature. One state senator and four House members, that’s just a basketball team with no subs if someone fouls out.

The media pays little attention to the GOP. GOP spokespeople, official or otherwise, are as quiet as mice. I’ll go further. Hawaii GOP spokespeople don’t exist.

Now, let’s get to the voters.

Let’s start by looking deep — well, a little bit deep — into yourselves. I want you to think about why you vote for the same party, if not the same people, every time. (Studies show that close to 90% of voters, including ones who claim to be independents, consistently vote the same party.)

How often, if at all, do you go outside your preference box? Why not?

Keep your answers in mind for later.

Like all political knowledge, when it comes to corruption, some people know and care much more than others. Voters who know less about it are less likely to allow it to affect their votes. Voters who most follow corruption issues are also the voters most attentive to politics generally.

Voters seldom make their choice based on a single issue. Many voters are paying no attention to the Jan. 6 congressional committee hearings. It’s also true about abortion.

Could disgraced legislators Kalani English, left, and Ty Cullen have won reelection? 

As an issue, corruption comes and goes. Look what has happened in Hawaii since those two legislators took cesspool bribery money.

Sure, state legislators have established a corruption commission, which is doing good work. But already the Legislature has been unwilling to go as far as the commission wants regarding campaign contributions.

After the terrible Kealoha scandal, have you noticed how little discussion there has been about police corruption? This includes during the police chief search.

Politicians accused of corruption often win reelection anyway. Sixty percent of incumbents implicated in corruption who were running for reelection won.

Here is a thought experiment: Could Kalani English and Ty Cullen, our most obvious corrupters, have run again and won? In his last election, English got two-thirds of the vote. Cullen destroyed his GOP opponent 61% to 32%.

The best chance to get rid of them would be in the Democratic primary. If Thought Experiment Cullen and Hypothetical English lost, the ultimate general election winner would still be a Democrat.

(By the way, nationally over the years, there are plenty of examples of politicians winning elections from their jail cells.)

You may want to get rid of a politician you think is corrupt, but you might have no one else to vote for. Literally.

We are back to Hawaii’s Republican Party. Often there is no Republican candidate in state legislative races.

The Republicans have done better filling slots for the upcoming 2022 races but having a candidate on paper is far from having a candidate visible and compelling enough to get all those habitually Democratic voters to vote GOP.

Now, back to the question I asked you to think about. Given the nature of today’s politics, a voter is much less likely to vote for a candidate from the opposite party.

Politics has become nationalized. Positions on national issues are much more likely to determine the ins and outs of state and local politics.

Ticket splitting is way down. For instance, Wisconsin, which overall is competitive, is in crucial ways not so competitive at all. Around 90% of its state legislative seats are either safe Democratic or safe Republican, pretty much like heavily blue Hawaii.

What drives voter behavior more than anything right now is negative party identification. People are mainly motivated to vote against the opposing party.

If you fear, loathe and distrust Republicans — common sentiments these days —  could you get yourself to vote for a corruption-fighting GOP candidate in your heavily Democratic state legislative district?

“I just can’t vote for someone from the party of Trump,” you might think. Or “I just can’t vote for any lib.”

Because of hyper-polarization, a person is less likely to have meaningful contact with people with other political views. Social media makes these differences worse.

That makes it less likely to get a consensus on anything, including corruption. Nationally, what is seen as corrupt by one large group of people is considered heroic by another — “Stop The Steal” and Congress’s Jan. 6 hearings.

No corruption issue in Hawaii polarizes us that starkly, but the national sentiment leaks into our perceptions.

So, if we are serious about fighting corruption here, we need to write off the possibility that there is going to be some sort of voters’ revolt.

If I had a quarter for every person in Hawaii who claims she wants a viable two-party system, I wouldn’t have to worry about the price of gasoline.

But if I had two bits for every person who casts her vote for a candidate for that reason, I could maybe buy a pack of Longs Ad gum.

Civil Beat recently ran an article about the state’s Democratic gubernatorial candidates’ ideas about campaign finance reform.

High probability that one of them will be Hawaii’s next governor. From the throw-the-rascals out perspective, that is not throwing the rascals out. It’s just exchanging one group of rascals for another.

So, if we are serious about fighting corruption here, we need to write off the possibility that there is going to be some sort of voters’ revolt. The Legislature in 2023 will probably look a whole lot like the last one.

Corruption-fighting is taking place and will keep taking place in a political context that looks just like the one you are used to and often complain about.

How do we fight corruption with this as given?

I’ve told you what doesn’t work. Next column I will suggest what might. Hint: it involves pressure from different sources as well as avoiding the mistake of seeing the problem as “a culture of corruption.”

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About the Author

Neal Milner

Neal Milner is a former political science professor at the University of Hawaii where he taught for 40 years. He is a political analyst for KITV and is a regular contributor to Hawaii Public Radio's "The Conversation." His most recent book is The Gift of Underpants. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Latest Comments (0)

Throw out these rascals and new ones will take there place. The system breeds and enables corruption.

robertsepulveda · 9 months ago

Love the piece you wrote. I was saying something similar online and people were ready to burn me at the stake just for mentioning (R). The issue is, too many people associate each party with what they see on TV from the U.S Govt. Does that mean the state legislators follow all their parties beliefs? Not necessarily. You can have more than one type of (D), so you can definitely have more than one type of (R). If more people actually do the research and not listen to everything they see on the news, there's a higher chance HI will be able to elect a (D) or (R) that won't continue with the status quo. The other big issue is, the people here don't do anything when there is a problem. They complain and say, oh well, guess that's the way it is. When they should be going to city council meetings and hearings, and telling them what they think. If you make enough noise, they'll listen.

dudewithglasses · 9 months ago

Hawaii is a state where a great many people vote for candidates because they see their friend holding a sign for the candidate on the side of the road. Reading the multiple campaign literature that got mailed to my house every election cycle showed little difference between the candidates. Common themes were sustainability, solving homelessness, addressing crime, working together…. Ask the average Hawaii resident "What about voting for a republican?" . The answer would likely be something like "Nah brah! Dis Hawaii. Republicans, das mainland style!" .

Arewethereyet · 9 months ago

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