GovernorLinda Lingle (R)
SenatorsDaniel Inouye (D)
Daniel Akaka (D)
RepresentativesRep. Neil Abercrombie (D)
Rep. Mazie Hirono (D)
Districts1st District (Abercrombie)
2nd District (Hirono)
Hawaii, geographically the most isolated archipelago in the world and geologically some of the youngest land on Earth, is continuing to undergo transformations. Humans settled these islands only about 1,000 years ago, when Polynesians paddled across vast Pacific expanses in small outrigger canoes. When Capt. James Cook arrived in 1776, he found that his Maori interpreter from New Zealand could understand Hawaiian. On this subtropical land, teeming with food and seldom inconvenienced by bad weather, Hawaiians built a fierce yet wondrous civilization of harsh taboos and cannibalism as well as alluring music and dance. The islands were united politically in 1779 by King Kamehameha I, who ate one of his rivals and maintained the old culture. In 1819, within a year of his death, his consort Kaahumanu outlawed the Hawaiian religious taboos and welcomed the American missionary Hiram Bingham. New England missionaries and their trader cousins came, while British and Russian ships occasionally put into port, and established the dominant culture. Starting in the 1850s, laborers from China, Japan, Portugal, and the Philippines streamed in to work the sugar and pineapple plantations. American planters and businesspeople bridled at the caprices of the royal family and, in January 1893, with the help of the U.S. Marines, ousted Queen Liliuokalani from the Iolani Palace and called on the United States to annex Hawaii. President Grover Cleveland demurred, and Hawaii for five years was a republic. President William McKinley annexed it in July 1898. This history is a source of regret for some. An Onipa’a ceremony remembering Liliuokalani’s overthrow was staged by John Waihee, the first governor of Native Hawaiian descent, in January 1993, with the American flag conspicuously absent. Later that year, Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed an apology for the overthrow of Liliuokalani 100 years before.
Hawaii created a better life for its citizens than almost any other island or native commonwealth. Its people have not walled themselves off in ethnic blocs but have been mixing for the last century. Each group has made worthy contributions. The Asian migrant laborers brought traditions of hard work, family loyalty, and group solidarity that found expression most vividly in the performance of the 442nd “Go for Broke” Regimental Combat Team, which was made up mostly of sons of Japanese immigrants and became the most decorated unit in U.S. military history. The Yankee spirit has been evident in Hawaii’s commercial success and in its attachment to the rule of Anglo-American law. The Hawaiian spirit is apparent in the vitality of the aloha ambience, the welcoming of others despite their differences, and a willingness to absorb the teachings of others while maintaining a certain Polynesian attitude toward life. It was Hawaii’s tolerance that inspired segregationist Southern Democrats to block its admission to the Union for years. Today’s Hawaiians can take pride in their ethnic heritage—or heritages: About half of the married couples in Hawaii are, like President Obama’s parents, interracial. In the 2000 census, 18% of Hawaiians identified themselves as being of two races and 7% said three or more. Some 23% described themselves as at least partly Native Hawaiian. There are some 246,000 descendants of the 45,000 Native Hawaiians of the late 19th century, though all but 10,000 are of mixed ancestry. The Census Bureau estimates that in 2007 Hawaiians were, wholly or in combination, 42% white (up from 40% in 2000), 4% black, 8% Hispanic, 56% Asian, and 23% Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander. Hawaii has many Samoans, including Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann. According to local experts, the Asian population is 18% Japanese, 12% Filipino, and 5% Chinese.
Politically, the Hawaii Territory was Republican. After all, Southern Democrats were blocking statehood and championing racial segregation. John Kennedy carried it in 1960 by just 115 votes. But from 1962 to 2002, its politics was dominated by a Democratic machine that had its beginning in the 1950s. At that time, World War II veterans such as Daniel Inouye, Spark Matsunaga, and George Ariyoshi joined forces with former mainlander John Burns, who as a police officer during the war helped prevent persecution of Japanese-Americans. They allied themselves with the then-powerful International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union, which represented sugar and pineapple plantation hands as well as dock workers, and cemented the allegiance of Japanese-American voters. The Burns-Inouye machine built on the grievances against the haole (the Hawaiian word for white) owners of the big companies, and triumphed. Inouye was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. House in 1959 and to the Senate in 1962. Burns was elected governor in 1962, and for 40 years the office was passed down in lineal succession to George Ariyoshi, John Waihee, and Benjamin Cayetano. Over the years, this machine has built a large government. Hawaii has high taxes and by far the highest number of state and local employees per capita. This is centralized government: Hawaii has five counties (and one, Honolulu, has 70% of the population), one school district, and one statewide health care plan. Landholdings are centralized too. Eight public and private entities own 69% of Hawaii’s land: The federal government 16%, the state 29%, and six private landowners 24%. The Bishop Estate—founded by descendants of Kamehameha I—now called the Kamehameha Schools Estate, owns 8%.
During the 50 years of Democratic dominance, Hawaii’s economy was transformed. By the 1960s, tourism edged out agriculture—mainly pineapples and sugar—as Hawaii’s No. 1 industry. (With more than 100 military installations of varying size, the state’s No. 2 industry is the military.) Pineapple acreage declined from 77,000 to 10,000, and Del Monte closed its last pineapple operations in 2006. Sugar production declined 67% in the 1990s, and most of the sugar produced is now processed into biofuel. Hawaii’s agriculture today is dedicated to specialty crops whose high cost of production can be recovered in local, national, or international markets: flowers, wasabi, macadamia nuts, Kona coffee, bananas, avocados, papayas, and genetically engineered seeds. As big agriculture shriveled, the ILWU has become overshadowed by the 44,000-member Hawaii Government Employees Association. Voting long tended to follow ethnic lines. Japanese Americans, used to working in organizations in unions and government, were the heart of the Democratic Party. Whites, with relatively high incomes, have tended toward Republicans. Filipinos, often in menial jobs, are heavily Democratic, and Chinese, somewhat less so. Native Hawaiians are heavily Democratic but not as likely to be active in politics.
As it changed, Hawaii found its vulnerabilities. It imports 90% of its food, and has only one-week’s supply available at any given time. This was a problem when commercial airline flights were cut off after September 11, 2001. Tourism has been vulnerable to slumps in the business cycle. The 1990-91 recession in California and the prolonged 1990s slump in Japan resulted in tourism peaking in 1990 and not reaching that level again until 2000. Then came September 11. Tourism bounced back by 2004 and kept rising through 2007, then plunged some 10% with the recession. The revival of the Japanese economy helped, and a 2007 U.S.-China agreement allows routine entry for Chinese tour groups. But lucrative wedding and honeymoon tourism has declined, and the bankruptcy of Aloha Airlines in 2008 hurt. Housing is expensive, bid up by luxury buyers who have made their money elsewhere. The median home price rose from $272,000 in 2000 to $510,000 in 2008. But Hawaii has a low rate of homeownership and many properties are held on 99-year leases. The combination of high housing prices and an economy that is not generating as many high-paying jobs for young people has prompted more migration of Hawaiians to the mainland. Obama, who has chronicled his anxiety growing up black in the seemingly tolerant Hawaii of the 1970s (and in one of its most elite private schools, Punahou Academy), is the first president born and raised in Hawaii. But he chose to be educated in California, New York, and Massachusetts and to make his career in Illinois.
This economic turbulence has been accompanied by some political turbulence. Hawaii’s Democratic machine faced challenges over the years, in primaries and from third-party candidacies, but the most effective challenge came from Missouri-born Republican Linda Lingle, the mayor of Maui. After losing to Gov. Cayetano by only 50%-49% in 1998, she came back to win the governorship four years later, 52%-47%. She proved highly popular, and was re-elected in 2006 with 63%. Union-backed Democrats, however, increased the already large Democratic margins in the Legislature in 2006 and again in 2008. Lingle, term-limited in 2010, seems likely to be succeeded by a Democratic governor.
Hawaii’s reputation for tolerance has been marred by controversy over the status of Native Hawaiians and by occasional violence, including attacks on military personnel by Native Hawaiians. A Native Hawaiian protest movement grew in the 1990s, with demonstrations on the anniversaries of the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani and the U.S. annexation of the islands. A state sovereignty commission sponsored a referendum on electing delegates to create a Native Hawaiian government. All of this raised the issue of just who is a Native Hawaiian, since almost no one is of pure Native ancestry any longer. Advocates of special treatment for Natives argued that they ranked below all other Hawaii ethnic groups (except, “of course,” as one said, “the Filipinos”) in income and education, and some called for independence from the United States. Native activist Haunani-Kay Trask disagreed: “As a nationalist, I hate the United States of America. But [independence] doesn’t live in the political-military world we live in, with 26 military bases in Hawaii and 7 million tourists a year.” She has also said, “Our native people have been essentially confined to a servant class.”
In February 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the 1978 Hawaii state constitutional amendment setting up Native-Hawaiian-only elections for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which administers a $400 million trust fund. That decision casts doubt on other provisions of the 1978 amendment, including the Hawaiian Homes Commission and the recognition of Native gathering rights on private property. Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka responded with a bill granting Native Hawaiians sovereignty. It would allow a separate sovereign Native Hawaiian government, with apparently no territorial jurisdiction, but with potential custody of the $400 million trust monies held in the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. A version was passed by the U.S. House in 2000, but it was not brought up in the Senate. Akaka finally got it to the floor in June 2006, and Lingle and a delegation of other Hawaiian leaders flew to Washington to lobby for it. But opponents stopped it from going forward. After the 2008 election, Akaka said it would have a better chance with Democratic control of the White House and Congress, and on the campaign trail, Obama said he would sign the bill. Akaka reintroduced the same language in February 2009.
Hawaii, so far removed from any other land, has a particularly fragile ecology, with a profusion of bird and plant species that are vulnerable to invasive predators. Airliners’ wheel housings are routinely inspected for the brown tree snakes that have killed off most of the birds in Guam. The oceans around the islands are vulnerable too, and a source of controversy. In 2006, President Bush issued an order dedicating the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, which covers an expanse of ocean plus a few uninhabited islands that is 1,400 miles long and 100 miles wide. The area contains 70% of the nation’s tropical, shallow-water coral reefs, some 7,000 marine species (one-quarter found nowhere else), the endangered Hawaiian monk seal population, and threatened species of predatory fish (sharks, groupers, jacks). It is the largest marine sanctuary in the world and was supported strongly by Lingle and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga. But Sens. Inouye and Akaka, apprehensive about the effect on a tiny fishing fleet employing some 20 fishermen and the precedential effect the order would have, were dubious if not hostile to the designation. Concerns were raised on Kauai and Maui when the 866-passenger, 286-vehicle ferry between Oahu and those islands started operating in August 2007. Until then, Hawaii was the world’s only archipelago without ferry service. Kauai protesters claimed it would bring heavy traffic, invasive species, and depletion of fish stocks, and the service was stopped. Service to Maui resumed in December 2007, with expensive devices to avoid harming whales. Meanwhile, Hawaii, with great potential for wind and geothermal energy, is still 90% dependent on nonrenewable sources, although a 2006 law requires a reduction to 80% by 2020. But nature is not always benign. The Kilauea volcano on the Big Island started erupting in 1983 and hasn’t stopped, and it is threatening hundreds of houses insured by a state program instituted in 1993. There is always at least a little trouble in paradise.
2008 Presidential Vote
Hawaii’s presidential voting over the years has been the product of two sometimes countervailing forces. One is the islands’ historic preference for the Democratic Party. Thus Hawaii voted Democratic when few other states did in 1980 and 1988. The other is an inclination to support incumbents in a state that takes patriotism very seriously, in part because the patriotism of so many of its citizens was once unjustly questioned and in part because of the large presence of the military. This helps explain why Hawaii supported Ronald Reagan solidly in 1984 and came close to voting for Gerald Ford in 1976, though it wasn’t nearly enough to help George H.W. Bush in 1992. Ross Perot’s military background, and the presence of Hawaiian Orson Swindle among his top leaders, gave him 14% and helped Democrat Bill Clinton carry Hawaii 48%-37%. In 1996 and 2000, as in 1968 and 1980, both those forces were moving in the same direction, and Hawaii voted 57%-32% for Clinton and 56%-37% for Al Gore.
In 2004, the two countervailing forces were in tension. October polls showed the contest a dead heat and suggested that Filipino- and Japanese-Americans, ordinarily Democratic, were leaning toward Bush, the commander-in-chief. Vice President Cheney flew 8,270 miles to appear in Honolulu at 10 p.m. on the Sunday night before the election and left two hours later—the first national nominee to campaign in Hawaii since 1960, when Republican Richard Nixon fulfilled his pledge to campaign in all 50 states (in the first election when there were 50 states). Hawaii’s Democratic preference prevailed, and John Kerry won 54%-45%.
In 2008, for the first time in Hawaii’s history as a state, no incumbent was running for president or vice president, and the Democratic presidential candidate was, for the first time for any party in America’s history, a native of Hawaii. Obama vacationed in Hawaii for a week before the Democratic National Convention, and returned to the state just before the election to see his ailing grandmother, who died two days before the election. Hawaii voted 72%-27% for Barack Obama. Whites voted 70% for him, Asians 68%, and “others” (presumably mostly Native Hawaiians) 80% for him. Obama carried nearly every precinct in the state.
Hawaii chooses presidential delegates by caucus. Sometimes insurgent candidates have been able to swamp thinly attended meetings and win, as Democrat Michael Dukakis and Republican Pat Robertson did in 1988. In 2008, Hawaii Democrats held their caucuses on February 19, and more than 37,000 voters turned out, compared with 4,000 in 2004. The Obama campaign ran television ads in which the candidate stressed his Hawaiian heritage. Hillary Rodham Clinton sent daughter Chelsea in to campaign for a couple of days. Obama’s 76%-24% win was one of the string of victories in February that propelled him to the nomination. The Republican caucuses took place on May 17, long after Arizona’s John McCain had clinched the party’s nomination.
|111th Congress: 2 D|
Hawaii has two congressional districts: The 1st includes urban Honolulu and extends westward to Pearl Harbor and the rural area beyond. The 2nd includes the rest of Oahu and the Neighbor Islands. The 1st District elected a Republican in 1986 and 1988. The 2d District has elected only Democrats since it was created in 1970. Before that, Hawaii elected one Democrat at large in 1959 and 1960 and two Democrats at large from 1962 to 1968. The Democratic Legislature made minor and politically insignificant changes in the district lines in 2002.