Non-incumbent Guide Is A First

Politics is the one area of life where Americans in general, and the people of Hawaii in particular, tend not to cheer for the underdog, which otherwise is an essential part of our character. In our politics, though, the heroic little guy usually stays the little guy.

And so MidWeek is offering something new in this issue – and as far as I know it is a first nationally for a newspaper: A Voters’ Guide to Non-incumbent Candidates (pages 29-32 and 41-44).

No, we haven’t joined certain tea partiers in wanting to drive every incumbent from office.

But we do believe very strongly in participatory democracy, and that the more people who participate, the better it is for our democracy. To that end, I personally support term limits for politicians. If we can do it for presidents and for our governor, why not other office-holders?

Dan Boylan mentioned in a recent column that redistricting drove two veteran legislators from office, who between them spent 58 years at the Legislature. And while there are incumbent politicians who are smart, competent and principled in their work – and most incumbents started out as little guys – too many are professional politicians, entrenched and seemingly interested mostly in hanging on to power.

And so in this issue we are bringing our roughly half-million readers a closer look at non-incumbent candidates for the state Senate and House of Representatives (Oahu candidates only, because it’s where MidWeek is circulated). We offered candidates an opportunity to answer an online questionnaire and send us a photo. I was generally impressed with candidates’ responses – of both major parties – and hopefully this guide will help you sort out candidates. If you like what you learn here, by all means follow up and learn more – most candidates have websites or are on Facebook, at the least.

It takes courage to run for public office, to put your name and your ideas out there, and to face rejection by thousands of neighbors. And it’s especially courageous when your foe has been around for years and has stockpiled campaign donations.

So we’re focusing on non-incumbents because it is my view that name recognition decides far too many races – regardless of the character, intelligence or performance of the politician. And how many of us have stood in a voting booth, puzzled by a slew of unfamiliar names, and then, “Oh, Yamamoto – eh, my good friend’s cousin is a Yamamoto, so I’ll vote for this one!”

And you’ll see a number of familiar names among the non-incumbents, including 10 former office-holders who were previously voted out by constituents. But they are non-incumbents in this election, and so they are included in our guide. How you view them is up to you – have they been politically reborn and are they offering new and better ideas this time around, or are they taking another stab at power, hoping name recognition pays off again?

Of even greater concern than the power of name recognition in deciding elections is that campaign money – let’s call it what it is, influence money – tends to run uphill to office-holders. Several of the candidates listed in our guide, after filling out our questionnaire, emailed me to say thank you, expressing how difficult it is to get their names – and especially their ideas – into the public arena with limited funds.

We hope you’ll take a look at non-incumbents running for office in your neighborhood, and ask yourself two questions:

1) When we keep electing the same people over and over again, and things only get worse, do you think we ought to consider change?

2) And how much worse could things be if a new face with fresh ideas and outlook takes the oath of office in January?

Full disclosure: I’ll vote for an incumbent for the state Senate because I believe she’s generally done a good job, and has only been on the job six years – that’s not long enough to sell out to special interests, and self-interest, is it? Plus, she’s running unopposed. If she were not, however, I would take a look at her opponent.

She is, by the way, one of 11 State House incumbents running uncontested statewide – further testament to how daunting it can be to take on an incumbent, and the courage required.

However you vote – and whenever, in these days of early/absentee voting – the main thing is to cast a ballot and take advantage of a sacred American right that millions of people around the world have never known.

* One side note regarding the two dominant parties and their responses to MidWeek‘s request for their candidate lists with email addresses:

Republicans responded within three days.

Democrats hemmed and hawed, and after several days said they were not going to release their list to the media. After a couple more calls, they said they misunderstood and thought I wanted another list – what that one was, they wouldn’t say. Another four days later when I did at last get the Dems’ list with emails – which arrived 15 minutes after I called party chairman Dante Carpenter directly to complain – it lacked more than 25 candidate email addresses. So MidWeek staff got on the phone and contacted candidates. Both parties have the same number of candidates, by the way.

We considered not mentioning party affiliation for candidates, letting each candidate stand on his or her own, but after that boggling experience decided to list them as D or R.

Oh, and special thanks to Susan Kang Sunderland, who compiled the 56 candidate profiles and wrote the voters’ guide roundup story, a yeowoman’s task performed like the consummate pro she is.

* The publication date for this issue reminds me it was July 18, 1984, that MidWeek first hit Oahu mailboxes – with Joe Moore on the cover in his Columbia Inn Roundtable All-Stars softball uniform. Today, 28 years later, the former little “shopper” has become an award-winning newspaper, and an indispensable part of life on Oahu. Our voters’ guide is just another sign of MidWeek‘s progress and growth.

We could not have done it without our many loyal advertisers and readers like you who reach for the paper every week. We are most grateful for your time and attention.