Hawaii: Home of the RINO

In this state, you can't tell the Republicans from the Democrats.

In Hawaii, Republicans-in-Name-Only (RINOs) have long dominated the official Republican party. Now activists are rebelling.

By Tito Montes Published on April 24, 2015

Hawaii is widely known as one of the most liberal states in the Union, despite the deep Christian convictions of hundreds of thousands of hard-working voters. One-party Democrat rule has gripped state and county governments since Hawaii’s Statehood in 1959 — when a single watershed election created a power structure that still exists. Hawaii’s legislature regularly backs the most “progressive” policies of any state, imposing heavy taxes, massive bureaucracies and lavish government programs, and leading the leftward charge on social issues from same-sex marriage to abortion. There is more political pluralism in Venezuela today than there is in the State of Hawaii.

How has the “Left” managed this comprehensive control? Much of the blame belongs to the Hawaii Republican Party (HRP), which has consistently failed to resist or oppose big government and radical policies (especially in the last ten years) — serving as a token opposition whose primary role seems to be plucking out and propping up a few party “favorites” from their incestuous pool, and funneling money to political consultants and operatives whose views are openly liberal. You might call Hawaii the largest RINO reserve on earth.

Hawaii’s voter participation is infamously low, in part because Republican’s have failed to make any case for a competitive two-party system and the checks and balances such a system would deliver. So while the Hawaii GOP sits torpidly on the sidelines, our systematically victimized electorate cannot even imagine what life could be like if Democrats were to lose their grip on power.

Perhaps the greatest gift to Democrats has been the stunning silence of the HRP on every significant or controversial issue. In 2010, the HRP’s power brokers went so far as to manipulate their own party’s platform adoption process to keep the party officially neutral on any topic that might have motivated voters. For instance, Hawaii’s Democrats favor a high sales tax and are quite willing to say so. You might expect the state’s Republicans to oppose them. But no, the party announced it was “neutral” on the sales tax — and so it went, on issue after issue, from Obamacare and same-sex marriage to abortion and the unchecked growth of the public sector.

The Hawaii Republican Party lacks the courage, messaging, and energy to give voters a reason to question Democrat dominance. Party leaders are content to squander the party’s limited resources every two years on last-minute, pricey, and quixotic campaigns by vanity candidates for governor, senator or congressman — to the exclusion and complete neglect of local offices, other crucial races and desperately needed party rebranding.  The party is little more now than as an FEC-approved shell to funnel campaign donations from the other 49 states (and especially Washington, D.C.). The HRP’s local organization is in shambles:  Only around 160 delegates and alternates bother attending the annual state convention, leaving some 1,800 seats empty every year. All but a tiny number of the hundreds of voting precincts remain un-organized and inactive.

Not all Hawaii Republicans are satisfied with their party’s addiction to neutrality, dysfunction and inertia. Dozens of party activists have called for major changes in the HRP, for a party that actually fights for every local seat, takes an open public stand on crucial issues, and generally acts like a political party instead of an offshore bank. We of the Hawaii Republican Assembly have led that movement. Frustrated conservatives have talked about a wide variety of tactics, from voicing fearless ideas for improvement directly to party leaders to “starving out the liberals” by boycotting party fundraisers.

The RINOs still have their horns, and they’ve used every kind of maneuver to slap down rank and file conservatives, which form the base of the party. Establishment HRP leaders succeeded in passing their “see-no-evil” platform at the last three state conventions in 2010, 2012 and 2014.  Party leaders up for reelection in 2015 are committed to the same old failed formula — and are trying to silence dissidents with intimidation and threats of expulsion.

At the party’s last quarterly state committee meeting on March 7, 2015, HRP leaders took a stunning and unprecedented step to quell the conservative uprising. Party state chair Pat Saiki and Honolulu county chair Fritz Rohlfing, along with longtime national committeewoman Miriam Hellreich, fooled and forced a majority of the party’s state committee, made up mostly by willing old-timers too scared to change anything, to adopt a new resolution designed to silence dissent in Republican ranks.

The resolution declared that any office holder in the Hawaii Republican Party who criticized Party leadership could now be stripped of his or her position in the party — at the discretion of Party leaders. Even locally elected delegates to the county, state and national conventions are expected to hold their tongues.  Chair Saiki issued a clear statement in the wake of the vote that unkind words about her performance in office would not be tolerated:  “My commitment — my loyalty and integrity should never be questioned,” she warned. The members of our Hawaii Republican Assembly took careful note, since we were clearly her targets.

While punishing free speech by fellow party members might seem extreme, it shouldn’t be considered surprising given the state of Hawaii’s Republican Party — whose organizational mediocrity and left-leaning policies would shock Republicans from any other state and please any communist or fascist dictator of the past. Let us be candid: Hawaii Republican Party leaders are indistinguishable from Democrats. Earlier this year, Aaron ‘Ling’ Johanson, the sitting minority leader and top Republican in the State House of Representatives, admitted he was really a Democrat and switched parties. Hawaii Republicans thank Mr. Johanson for his candor, and invite his fellow RINOs to do the same.

There are real Republicans in Hawaii, who want to build up a majority party, to tap into the enormous, disaffected bloc of non-voting citizens in our ill-governed state — which boasts the lowest voter participation rate in all the 50 states. We of the Hawaii Republican Assembly  (HIRA) intend to mobilize these voters with real alternative views on every important issue. We are affiliated with the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, and have learned from our colleague organizations the essentials of running real, grassroots campaigns.

In just two years, HIRA has attracted top national conservatives to its fundraising events engineered to raise the funds needed to start realizing our vision. From talk radio veterans Rusty Humphries and Michael Medved to top leaders of the National Rifle Association, National Right to Life, and the American Conservative Union, the Hawaii Republican Assembly has definitely attracted the attention of those who don’t want Hawaii to be written off as a hopelessly ‘blue’ Democrat state.

Step one is to rescue the Hawaii Republican Party with serious, active, conservative leadership.  Step two is to run that party so that Republican ideas, policies and candidates become relevant and victorious —  victorious because the people of Hawaii will not be afraid to show their support for a principled, forceful, and fearless new Hawaii Republican Party. Sure, the lights are off down at party headquarters. But HIRA is stepping up to switch out the burnt-out fuse of liberalism at our state party so voters in 2016 and beyond will finally have a real choice.

 

Tito Montes is President of the Hawaii Republican Assembly.

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