Keeping core values despite party change
By Mike Gabbard, State Senator
Have you checked out The Hot Seat? It's our opinion-page blog that brings in your elected leaders and people in the news and lets you ask the questions during a live online chat.
On The Hot Seat last week was state Sen. Mike Gabbard, who switched political parties midterm and became a Democrat. Below is an excerpt from that Hot Seat session. To see the full conversation, go to The Hot Seat blog at www.honoluluadvertiser.com/opinion and click on "On The Hot Seat: State Sen. Mike Gabbard." (Names of questioners are screen names given during our online chat.)
Rich Vermeesch: Senator, we choose our political affiliation based on the core values and principles which our political parties represent. What key values of the Democratic Party drew you away from your Republican affiliation? Does this move represent a major shift in your own core values?
Sen. Mike Gabbard: I've always been a strong environmentalist and supportive of working-class people in Hawai'i. I continue to embrace the same core values that I've always had.
Scott Ohashi: Why did you switch parties?
Gabbard: I made the decision to switch parties after a great deal of thought and discussions with my daughter Tulsi, those in the party leadership, and especially my constituents. Serving one session in the Legislature convinced me that I could be much more effective in serving the people I represent as a member of the majority party. The response I've received from Democrats, Republicans and Independents is that I made the right choice. I'm not a very partisan person. I will continue to stand by my convictions and values, and remain just as independent as a Democrat, as I was as a Republican.
JohnK: Now that you switched to the Democratic Party, do you feel the other Democrats will take you in or do you feel you have something to prove to them? Also, how do you explain your actions to your voters?
Gabbard: I received a very nice personal note from Sen. (Daniel) Inouye welcoming me, and Sen. (Daniel) Akaka attended the press conference. Also, Congressman Abercrombie, whom I had several conversations with on the phone prior to switching parties, was very supportive. I have appreciated the welcoming attitude and aloha that I've received from many elected officials at the federal, state, and county levels.
The response from my district has been overwhelmingly positive — not just in my district, but across the state. Even from some lifelong Republicans, they've called me up and said, "Mike, you've done the right thing."
I met a lady at Safeway the other day who told me that at first she was disappointed in my decision because she comes from a Republican family that goes back generations. Then, she said the more she thought about it, the more she realized the practical aspect — and that is me being able to accomplish more for the district as a member of the majority party.
Of course, I've lost a few supporters. But I find when I talk to most people and explain the situation, they "get it."
Terry W.: I saw that recently you changed parties from Republican to a Democrat because you felt you could more effectively serve the people in your district. I live in Kapolei, and while I can understand your reasoning, and it makes sense, I think it would have been better for you to switch when you're up for re-election in 2010. Why didn't you wait?
Gabbard: We're the fastest growing district in the state. By 2025, the Kapolei area will have 50,000 more homes, 40,000 more jobs, and the population will double to 175,000. The community deserves the most effective representation possible, and it's clear that I can get more done as a member of the majority party.
Kalani: It is my understanding that you are very anti-gay. I understand you are a strong believer in your faith in God, but because you are in public office, shouldn't you represent all and not just heterosexuals with the same beliefs as yourself? We are people just like you and your fellow church-goers.
Gabbard: People who know me, through my public service on the City Council and state Senate, my two non-profit groups, Stand Up For America and Healthy Hawai'i Coalition, our small businesses, know that I don't hate anyone.
Let me tell you a quick story. A few months ago, I was contacted by a lesbian whom I'd previously met while campaigning in 2006. I remembered her vividly because right after I dropped off my flier to her, she tore it into shreds and threw the pieces in her driveway. I wrote her a nice note and told her that if I was elected, my door would always be open. Recently, this same lady came to me for assistance with a problem she was having and we were able to help her. The truth is I respect everyone and as a state senator I do my best to represent and help everyone who contacts me.
Willie P: For the record, what is your stand on gays and lesbians? Do you think they have just as much of a right to be represented by the law (your support as their senator) as do straights?
John M.: Does your definition of "all" exclude the gay and lesbian community?
Gabbard: Your questions are similar, so I'd like to answer them together. I respect everyone, and my job is to represent all the people in the state, which is what I'm trying to do, as best I can. I am opposed to same-sex marriage/civil unions but support the existing reciprocal beneficiaries law.
Brian: I remember that Wal-Mart said they would not open a store in Kapolei until major regional traffic improvements are completed. Traffic did get better for a while, but it has gotten worse. We now have several other stores planning to open, including Target and Costco. People are going to travel from all over the island to shop at the first Target. Why is Wal-Mart the only one being asked to hold back, while these other stores seem to be going ahead without mention of the concerns brought up when Wal-Mart announced their plans? Shouldn't these other stores be asked to hold back as well?
Gabbard: The intersection at Fort Barrette and Farrington is the biggest choke point in Kapolei. When Wal-Mart announced its intentions to open up a store at that intersection, diamondhead of Chili's, a lot of people in the community were very upset. The other stores coming in, such as Costco and Target, are planned for the west side of Kapolei where there's less congestion and easy accessibility to the H-1.
Just to let you know, the latest is that Wal-Mart hasn't finalized its plans. There's a possibility that they'll be putting a store in the new Kapolei Mall (DeBartolo Development) instead of that congested intersection.
But you're right, all businesses should be treated fairly.
Marie: Why did you sign as a Democrat when you don't uphold their national or state platform values, such as freedom of speech, freedom for women to make their own medical decisions, family values for families who love and respect all their children, for those who value the U.S. Constitution and love our troops and want them home?
Gabbard: With all due respect, Marie, I strongly support and uphold our basic freedoms. Obviously, we don't agree on some of the issues, but my door is always open and I'm always interested in hearing all sides.
By the way, whether we like it or not, there's no way that 100 percent of Democrat rank and file are going to agree with 100 percent of the party platform. The main thing is to work together with aloha on the issues we can agree on.