Seasons Of The Political Year
Ah, it’s springtime, 30 games into the major league baseball season, tornado time on the continent and the madcap final days of Hawaii’s legislative session.
It never ceases to amaze. Last spring Hawaii’s law-makers surprised us by ending on time, keeping acrimony to a minimum and boasting budget solidarity from one end of the Capitol to the other.
Not so this year. Consider, for example, the 17-8 Senate vote to confirm state Rep. Jessica Wooley as director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. For a week prior to the Senate vote, rumors circulated of efforts by state Sen. Clarence Nishihara, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, to defeat her nomination.
He obviously failed, but five of the 17 senators who voted to confirm Wooley did so “with reservation,” hardly a ringing endorsement for her and an ominous harbinger of what’s to come.
I don’t know Wooley, but the “Letters” column in last Wednesday’s Star-Advertiser hints of another chapter in the increasingly bitter debate over GMOs.
In her letter, Judith Pettibone of Makiki characterized Wooley as “a progressive voice for the aina” while indirectly calling Nishihara “a tool of biotech.”
The letter that followed from Peter Adams of Pahoa decried the newspaper’s labeling Wooley a “progressive,” because “an actual progressive recognizes the role of evidence-based scientific analysis” and Wooley’s “anti-GMO position is regressive and based on fears and misinformation, not facts. Wooley is therefore no progressive.”
Whatever Wooley’s appointment means for the aina or the definition of “progressive,” it certainly speaks to Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s savvy as a politician.
The governor received criticism from anti-GMO forces on Kauai during the debate over that island’s legislation to control pesticide use by biotech companies. Appointing an anti-GMO state representative to a key environmental post could ameliorate the important environmental wing of Hawaii’s Democratic Party.
But this is not an ordinary spring. This one occurs in an even-numbered year, thus an election year, and more important, a gubernatorial election year.
Hawaii voters take gubernatorial elections very seriously. The governor awards contracts, offers jobs and enjoys constitutional powers unrivaled by all but a few governors across the nation.
Abercrombie already faces a primary challenge in the person of state Sen. David Ige. If he gets by his fellow Democrat in the primary, he will then face a rematch with the two men who opposed him in 2010, Republican Duke Aiona and newly minted Independent Mufi Hannemann.
Hannemann’s decision to run as an Independent finds historical precedent in the dilemma of the late Frank Fasi. Democrat Fasi began running for governor in 1974, but he could not get through the Democratic primary. George Ariyoshi beat him twice in a four-person contest in ’74 and again in 1978.
In 1994, Fasi created something called the Best Party and ran a third time for Hawaii’s highest office. The Democrats put up Ben Cayetano; the Republicans, Pat Saiki.
Cayetano won with 35.8 percent of the vote. Fasi, on the basis of a devoted personal following, ran second with 30 percent. Saiki finished third with 28.6 percent.
This year Hannemann is betting that he can do what Fasi couldn’t, that his base of supporters is rabid enough to carry him past the candidates running under the more traditional Democratic and Republican labels – and he’s undoubtedly carrying around some polling numbers that indicate he can do it.
Should he, that would make for a most amazing story.