Neal Milner: Hawaii Republicans Just Keep Trying Despite The Long Odds - 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 badgeDuring election night last week, I asked Diamond Garcia, the Republican candidate in Hawaii House District 42, why he chose to run again this time after losing last time.

He had no problem answering. Because the Democrats have done so much damage and Republicans can make things better, he said.

He is raring to go, and it turns out that Diamond is running in a district where he has a chance because of Democratic incumbent Sharon Har’s past legal troubles.

Most of the remaining GOP candidates from top to bottom have no chance.

Come the general election in November, the odds are tremendous against Hawaii Republican major candidates.

According to one reputable forecast, the odds of Duke Aiona winning are about 100-1, with Josh Green projected to get 60% of the vote.

In his 2010 governor’s race against Neil Abercrombie, Aiona got only 41% of the vote. In 2014, against David Ige, Aiona just made 40%.

The chances are probably not that much better for most of the Republican candidates for the Legislature.

Why do Republicans run if they are certain to lose? Under those circumstances, why put in all the work, money, time and sweat when the light at the end of the tunnel is not at the end of the tunnel at all?

I don’t mean this question to be rhetorical or sarcastic. It’s a serious question.

A Hawaii Republican Party chair once told me that the real challenge is to get a candidate for the Legislature to run a second time after he or she lost the first time because once is almost never enough, but more than once takes a real toll.

In Civil Beat columnist Danny de Gracia’s terms, there are too many Republicans who are in it for a season and not enough Republicans in it for a reason.

So why run?

Because you don’t accept the premise that you have no chance. You believe that what you offer the voters is so powerful that you can overcome the numbers. You just need to fight harder to remind people how much they have suffered under all these years of Democratic rule.

Republican gubernatorial candidate BJ Penn had a chance to tap into right-wing populism, but ended up being too nice. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Because it’s a new day. The past is the past. We are starting fresh.

I’m sympathetic. These are very human reasons that aren’t all that different from what motivates the rest of us to get out of our cocoons and take risks.

These optimistic views may get a candidate into the fray, but they minimize the power of history, the habits of preference and for that matter basic arithmetic.

Elections do not start fresh.

Take de Gracia’s recent column, for instance. It’s a powerful statement about why people should vote Republican and what candidates need to do to make this happen.

It’s far better than the pap about corruption, change and the need for a two-party system that comes out of the mouths of Republicans.

The column is not about stopping the steal, minimizing the insurrection, or any other slavish Trump love. And he’s right about his implications that the big shots in the state’s GOP are stale as month-old bread and silent as cloistered nuns.

But it’s a half-time pep talk, a good locker room motivator that is about being in the moment. It ignores the fact that your opponent is bigger, faster and stronger, and a consistent winner. And your team, a three-touchdown underdog, is already losing by three touchdowns. And your opponent had been awarded two touchdowns even before the game began.

There is motivation, and then there is a context so formidable and unchanging that motivation and hard work just aren’t enough.

Start with simple math. Republicans here are a minority party big-time. That means either converting many voters who normally vote Democratic or mobilizing people who seldom if ever vote.

Whatever people say, though, about not identifying with either party, when it comes to voting, most stick to one party or the other. This party identification has gotten even harder to change because nowadays so much of it is based on hate and distrust of the opposing party.

No doubt many Republicans here share the things that typically motivate Republicans in other states — Trump, “stop the steal,” active social conservatism, opposition to abortion, seething anger.

Duke is a Linda Lingle guy in a Ron DeSantis world.

For our state Republican candidates, there are two problems with this approach. One is that the local GOP candidates don’t do this and really can’t do this.

Duke Aiona, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, rejoins a long line of GOP candidates who don’t talk in these terms.

They are nice Republicans, with a style that seems consistent with the idea that politically Hawaii is a special place.

And they lose almost every time.

Even if they wanted to become more like mainland Republicans, the present top-of-the-ticket candidates, Aiona for example, do not have the attitude, skills or inclination to play hardball this way.

Duke is a Linda Lingle guy in a Ron DeSantis world. The conventional belief is something like, “Good. Heaven forbid Hawaii’s GOP becomes like Florida’s.”

Hawaii is too moderate and too nice for a nastier approach? OK, then, what should the party advocate instead?

If not more Ron DeSantis, then more moderation? Many people, including most pundits most of the time, say the Republicans here need to be even more centrist.


Never mind that partisans don’t easily change their basic beliefs (do you?) — this moderation has not worked for the party since, well, forever.

Consequently, for Hawaii Republican candidates, it’s a tightrope impossible to walk without falling off in one direction or the other.

What comes out is a lot about Democratic bungling and corruption, a little about too many mandates, a cautious anti-abortion view along with the understanding that you have no plans to lead an attack against Hawaii’s permissive abortion laws, talking about the need for change and corruption.

And never mentioning Mr. Trump. Ever.

Republican candidate for governor Heidi Tsuneyoshi's Job Interview segment
Republican candidate for governor Heidi Tsuneyoshi HNN/2022

Last week’s primary showed that the party is going to be of no help overcoming these obstacles. Think of three wings of the local GOP. Heidi Tsuneyoshi represented the more or less traditional conservative branch. She did not even get 10% of the votes.

BJ Penn, who had the potential of mobilizing the more populist wing, ended up running the quietest, politest populist campaign in America. Populists are no doubt out there in Hawaii somewhere, but as far as party-building is concerned, there is no there there.

Penn the lion turned out to be a lamb, or more accurately, the poor little lamb that lost his way. He turned nice.

Imagine the GOP plight if Aiona hadn’t run.

There are no potential Republican candidates on the horizon because there is no horizon.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Sen. Brian Schatz recently recounted losing his first race for political office. Rep Ed Case told the story.

At last Sunday’s Democratic Party unity breakfast, which was even more upbeat than usual and why not, Rep. Ed Case recounted how he badly lost in his first try for political office.

Right after that race, Brian Taniguchi, the guy who beat him, congratulated Case for running a good campaign. And, as Case tells it, he told him he had a great political future.

In human terms, the essence of the Hawaii’s GOP problem is that a Democrat who loses an election has a bright political future. A Republican who loses has none.

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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)

I encourage anyone that has interest in public service and is tired of how this state and city is being run (poorly in many opinions), to run for office. It doesn't matter what party, individually candidates should have a platform (even if it doesn't conform to Dem norms) and that should be what the public gets to choose from. Anything is better that what we have endured for decades. What you have is unions and big business, special interests running and ruining the state to serve their own greedy interests. Simply follow the money of the super PAC's in this election as it is proof positive who is the puppet master behind most of the leaders. "Be Change Now" is anything but and should be called "Keep things Status Quo." Let's hope at least half of those 60% of registered voters have been saving their voices for the General in November. It ain't over until it's over.

wailani1961 · 1 year ago

Second only to New York, Hawaiian citizens pay one of the highest tax rates in the United States, because the democrat's solution to any problem is to just to throw more money at it....IT could be faulty DNA as the culprit, as to why most people in Hawaii vote democrat or mainland transfers, perhaps a study should be done on that.2nd in the NATIONAL : Hawaii Total tax burden: 12.19% Property tax burden: 2.45% Individual income tax burden: 3.09% Total sales and excise tax: 6.65%

Triway1993 · 1 year ago

Democrats would like us to believe they are inevitable, but nothing could be further from the truth. The populist movement is already gaining momentum and the first party who can harness the grassroots will take the state.

Intelligentsia · 1 year ago

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