GOP aims for own revolution
|•||1954 Democratic revolution|
Fifty years ago this fall, a cadre of young Democrats swept the Republican-controlled Territorial Legislature in what has become known as the historic Democratic Revolution of 1954.
But Republicans hope 2004 will be the year of their own upheaval. They want to capture the state House, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 36-15. The GOP needs 11 more seats to establish a majority in the House, the same number of new seats the young Democrats won in 1954.
"The Democratic Revolution of '54 was a turning point in our history," said Brennon Morioka, chairman of the Hawai'i Republican Party. "It clearly showed that people won't be satisfied with the status quo ... that's our message. We're tired of status quo. We want change, we want things to move forward. And we're not going to stand for it. And maybe 2004 will be our revolution."
Few outside the Republican Party believe the GOP can accomplish that, and even some Republicans are just hoping the party will win at least three more House seats to block any overrides that could come down against GOP Gov. Linda Lingle.
Some skeptics also say the GOP lacks the issues the '54 Democrats had. Many of the new Democrats were Japanese Americans returning from World War II with a GI Bill education. Inspired by John Burns and other leaders, they allied themselves with labor unions demanding fair wages, workers' rights and social equality.
But times have changed since those territorial days. And unlike the 1954 Democrats, today's Republicans have a popular governor who has promised to go door-to-door, if necessary, to influence legislative races.
And at least some Democrats who were part of the famed 1954 class in the Legislature warn that their own party may have relaxed a bit too much and should be wary of the GOP, which broke the 40-year Democratic stronghold on the governor's office in 2002.
"As I look at Lingle, she reminds me of us when we first started," said David Trask Jr., who was first elected to the Legislature in 1954 and who later became a powerful labor leader as head of the Hawai'i Government Employees Association.
"The Democrats better watch out because this goes back to '54 when the Republicans got cocky. And they woke up after the election in '54 the losers."
Years of frustration
Advertiser library photo
Gov. Linda Lingle, shown with Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona, said their victory in 2002 was achieved with support from Democrats and independents.
Advertiser library photo
Kohala attorney Nelson Doi, elected to the Senate in 1954, said the election resulted from years of accumulated frustration. The governor and the territory's judges were appointed by a U.S. president thousands of miles away, Doi said.
"Many of the appointees came from the Mainland and they didn't know anything about Hawai'i," he said. The differences in culture and values were both obvious and subtle, but often profound.
Other Democrats first elected in 1954 included U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, former Gov. George Ariyoshi, the late U.S. Sen. Spark Matsunaga and the late longtime state Sen. Sakae Takahashi.
Doi, now 82, said he began to notice the frustration begin to foment during the 1950 constitutional convention, which featured a number of young, local-born delegates who were new to the political scene, such as himself. That paved the way for him and others to run for and win seats in the Territorial Legislature four years later, he said.
Author Tom Coffman said the legacy of the 1954 election, led by local Democrats who attended college on the GI Bill after serving in World War II many of them Americans of Japanese Ancestry, or AJAs has overshadowed other significant events leading up to that year.
"The veterans, as heroic as they were, and I give them enormous credit, fit on the shoulders of other people who are not so obviously known," said Coffman, who details Hawai'i's social, cultural and political changes during the 20th century in his "The Island Edge of America."
"I think that the beginning of people starting to work together across racial lines before and during the war was the beginning point," he said. "And then the victory of the unions in the very last stages of the war. Those were the antecedents to 1954."
The Democrats also changed the way they campaigned.
Democratic rallies used to be centered on individuals and were more fun than informative, but Tom Gill, then O'ahu Democratic campaign chairman, insisted that candidates running in the same multiple-representative districts run as a slate and focus on issues, said Gill's wife, Lois Gill. Candidates held coffee hours, and volunteers who worked around the clock called voters and offered rides to the polls.
The overwhelming results of the election were as surprising to the Democrats that year as much as anyone else, Coffman said.
"The people involved didn't have any intuition about some sweeping social change that was occurring," he said. "And then the drama came and people turned around and said: 'Oh, my God, what did we do?' "
Once they were in office, Coffman said, the Democrats' main priorities for the ensuing two decades were driven largely by the two key constituent groups that put them over the top in 1954 labor workers and war veterans.
The labor movement, led by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, sought improvements to labor laws such as workers' compensation, temporary disability insurance, health insurance and unemployment benefits, he said.
Meanwhile, war veterans had "middle class aspiring to wealth" ambitions, Coffman said.
He pointed to the development of the community colleges and other significant changes to the University of Hawai'i system that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s.
Doi and Stanley Hara, another Big Island Democrat first elected to the House in 1954, said significant improvements were made in the lower education system as well. Hara said that before the Democrats took over, the territory only required itself to provide free education through the eighth grade. Families wishing to send their children to high school were required to rent textbooks and pay other fees that made it cost-prohibitive for those who were disadvantaged, he said. "It was a privilege."
Hara said lawmakers were not afraid to pass legislation raising taxes to pay for teacher raises and other major initiatives. "We were happy to do it," he said. "When we needed the money, we raised the tax.
"It was an exciting time and, by God, we were able to do it," Hara said.
Ariyoshi, who was among those recruited by Burns to run in 1954, said Democrats were focused on expanding opportunities for people that at the time were limited.
"Right after we got elected, we talked about equal opportunities," he said. "The fairness issue is very, very important. That's one of the things that came out of the '54 election. Fairness and equal opportunity for Hawai'i's people."
But such fundamental issues no longer have the urgency or prominence in politics today. And at least some observers say there doesn't appear to be any issues powerful enough to galvanize voters like those 50 years ago.
"As far as I can tell, I can't see any overriding issues," said Dan Tuttle, a former University of Hawai'i political science professor and an Advertiser political columnist from 1959 to 1984. "Compared to the '50s or '60s, it's dull."
2004 as 1954 revisited?
"I will guarantee that we will do our best to bring about better balance in the Legislature and elect people who will support the ideas that everyone elected me to carry out," the governor said.
She stressed that her victory in 2002 over Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono was achieved with support from Democrats and independents, many of whom at that time chose to send back Democratic lawmakers. Hopefully, she said, those same voters will now see that Democrats only blocked her measures and will now vote for Republicans.
"I think that will show up in this election where the voters will say 'well, I think she does need some more Republicans to help her out,' " she said.
Coffman, however, said he agrees more with Tuttle that the message being delivered by Lingle and the Republicans does not inspire voters who are in the center of the political spectrum.
He pointed to Lingle's top priority during the last legislative session elected school boards as a means of achieving education reform as an example. "If that was any indication of the Republican's ability to create a big agenda, then they're doomed to failure," Coffman said.
He suggested that Republicans should instead focus on the widely held perception that they are more adept than Democrats at improving the state's business climate.
While obviously skeptical that the Republicans will take over the House, some Democrats who were elected in 1954 see some parallels between the political environment in 1954 and now.
Inouye, who was among the young WWII veterans elected in 1954, said that the Republicans of that era were complacent. "They just assumed they were going to win, and even if they were very courteous ... there was a spirit of arrogance," he said. "I see some of that in us. Which is dangerous politically."
After years of being the majority party, Democrats "may have forgotten how we got there, that it was a struggle," he said.
But Inouye said Democrats received a wake-up call when they lost the 2002 gubernatorial race to Lingle.
"I think it was a good thing," he said. "It shook us up, but it did not crush us. And in that sense we are very, very fortunate."
Hara said he also hopes today's Democrats have been inspired to take another look at what happened 50 years ago.
"We came from a have-not background and we have to go out and reach for and attain program objectives so what we can change and better our way of life for the future, for our young people," he said. "Some of them today kind of need to reflect and think about that."
House Majority Leader Scott Saiki, D-22nd (McCully, Pawa'a), said the newer generations of Democrats have been responsive to public concerns and still embrace the values instilled by party members in 1954.
"The challenge for the new Democrat is to apply those values to the changing circumstances," he said. "That's been the challenge for us in particular over the past 10 years. The values are equality, opportunity and tolerance, and I really feel strongly that the general public still values those principles and identifies those values with Democrats."
Meanwhile, the GOP is recruiting young candidates, many with local faces representing different ethnic backgrounds.
Kymberly Pine, who is running for the 'Ewa Beach House seat now occupied by Democratic labor official Romy Mindo, said she is inspired to run as a Republican because of her Filipino grandmother's strong Democratic values that stressed "fighting for the little guy."
"Working almost eight years at the State Capitol, I'm realizing that the Democratic Party is no longer the same people that did that and it's now the Republicans who are fighting for the little guy," said the 33-year-old head of House minority research. "A lot of people in 'Ewa Beach are telling me that the Democrats are arrogant and that they don't listen to them anymore."
Wilson Kekoa Ho, 62, said he remembers when Waimanalo was a Republican stronghold and his father was among those who fought successfully to change that. Both Dan Inouye and Jack Burns showed up for coffee hours at his house, he said.
Fifty years later, Ho is a Republican challenging Democratic Rep. Tommy Waters for the Waimanalo-Lanikai House seat. The Waimanalo Neighborhood Board chairman said that he got to this point because the Lingle administration has been able to help his community when the Democrats for years could not.
"I think they're the people's party now," Ho said of his newfound allegiance to the GOP.