Editor’s Page: No Contest

It’s not much of an election when only one person runs.

Photo by Linny Morris


A couple of years back, someone asked me what I thought was the biggest problem facing Hawaii. Maybe it was the black-and-tan talking—alcohol has a way of leading to exactly this conclusion—but my off-the-cuff answer was: “The quality of our political class.”

It seems that all the people with the best ideas, the greatest management skills, can-do entrepreneurial spirits and resumes of proven successes have all found better jobs. Or left the Islands. Wherever they are, they aren’t running for office. As we worked on this issue, the incumbents in major city positions—the mayor, the prosecutor, five out of nine city councilmembers—were either running unopposed or challenged by relatively inexperienced, unknown people. At the state level, things are no better. Roughly half the legislative races have just one person running for the seat.

Even if you love the job the mayor is doing, you’ve got to wonder what it means that no one with a comparable resume is going after his job. Where’s the competition? Is every policy argument settled?  Is the bench that shallow? I’ve never seen anything like it. The mayor’s race usually boils down to at least two heavy hitters.

I don’t know what the solution is. I’ve suggested in the past that voters should be given a “none of the above” option, even when an incumbent runs unopposed. Better to leave the seat empty than filled by default. But that’s not really democratic; it punishes the one person who did show up.

In recent issues, we’ve detailed the failings of our political class. There’s the excruciatingly slow pace of progress in the Department of Education, described in May’s “Grading the Public Schools.” There were problems highlighted in numerous aspects of local government in Randy Roth’s “Politics in Hawaii: Is Something Broken?” in June. If you read those pieces and agreed that our political class could be doing a lot better, there are a couple of things you could do.

One, you could run for office. If you don’t have the $2 million war chest to take on a sitting mayor, or $100,000 to battle a councilmember, start smaller. Work your way up. If not you, lean on someone you know who you think would better represent you. The deadline for candidate filing is July 22. Remember, being a politician isn’t all grueling committee hearings and coalitions. It has perks. Everywhere you go, people will have saved you a seat and a lei.

Two, you could pay closer attention to your vote this fall. We didn’t just start writing about Hawaii’s weak political class in 2008; we’ve been doing it for decades, identifying the same problems year in and year out. Every time we do, readers write in to tell us we were spot-on in our assessment and thank us for publishing the article—then somebody goes right out and votes for the exact same leaders.

Take a look around. Take a look at what “your guy” voted for, or didn’t vote for, which bills he introduced or which she helped squash, where he got his campaign funding from, or who she has aligned herself with in the Legislature or on the City Council. This person has been up to something in the four years since you last voted. Do you know what it is?

Maybe your guy is the problem. Of course, if he’s running unopposed, your guy is everybody’s problem.