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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 28, 2006

Record, not name, should guide Isle voters

By Dawn Morais Webster

The House race for the 2nd Congressional District provided ample evidence that the legacy of familiar names and the power of old loyalties trump the merits of the issues that should matter.

The race was not short on debates and forums. What was striking was how few attended these events to hear the candidates explain — or not explain —their positions, their record and, in some cases, their deafening silence in the face of ruinous public policies. With all the hand- wringing about voter apathy, was it really not possible for either party to facilitate better attendance? Where were the college students? Was it not possible to transport interested senior citizens to these events so that they could at least hear firsthand where each of the candidates stood on close-to-the-bone issues like healthcare, affordable housing and Social Security?

It would have been instructive to have had at least one media article that analyzed what is different about this rural district. Perhaps an article that scrutinized voting records and past advocacy efforts? Or an article that, in analyzing past performance, might have helped voters look forward to what they could expect in terms of passion, energy and a willingness to take principled positions?

Instead, voters had to be content with scrutinizing questionnaires that often elicited politically expedient generalizations from the candidates, regardless of what they did or did not do at the time when their voices were needed most. Add to that poll-driven punditry, and it's easy to see the momentum of self-fulfilling prophecies.

From the media, the party establishments, organized labor, academics and activists one would think that a broader range of informed opinion could have been tapped that would have been helpful to voters.

One striking example of the sidelining of potentially useful expert opinion was the media indifference to the Sierra Club legislative scorecard. With the exception of Chad Blair of Hawai'i Public Radio, the Sierra Club's scorecard and its ratings of legislators for their positions on 10 environmental bills earned very little ink or air time.

How does one explain that indifference on the part of the media? How does one explain the repeated assertion that the candidates did not differentiate themselves?

A simple examination of background, legislative record and public statements would have revealed that there was only one candidate who lives on a Neighbor Island, that only a couple went on record opposing the war before it started, that only two opposed increasing the state's eavesdropping rights, and possibly only one advocated for farmers in recent legislative battles that threatened agricultural lands. If there was a failure to differentiate, the media and the pundits they relied on must share some responsibility for an inexplicable reluctance to look beyond the immediate horizon from their perches in Honolulu.

From my perch — as someone raised in a cosmopolitan environment where politics has always, regrettably, been framed by race — I look out and see needs that cut across ethnic lines and must be addressed with energy and commitment. And I know that past performance — not race, not legacy names and not old loyalties— is the most reliable indicator of future commitment to serving those needs.

Dawn Morais Webster is a member of the Honolulu Community Media Council. She wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.