Total Strangers To A Voting Booth

In my role as a licensed local political analyst, I am frequently asked by television reporters for my thoughts on the issue of the day.

I seldom demur. I am, after all, a retired professor who, for 40-plus years, spoke to three or four classes of semi-conscious students a week.

Despite the stupor I induced in them, they dutifully scribbled notes as I declaimed. Only on occasion would one or two drop their pens and lay their heads on their desks.

But in retirement – ah, arid retirement – I have only my shrinking circle of friends who’ve heard me, on all the issues of the day, ad nauseum. When I arrive at the party, they move to another room.

I assure you, a professor without students, or friends, is a sad and desperate man.

So when the call comes from the television reporter requesting my thoughts on this, that or the other thing, my reply is quick: “Come on out!” Then I exchange my retiree tee for an aloha shirt, gargle, put in my dental retainer and brush the 22 strands of hair still attached to my head.

By the time the reporter and camera-bearing video-grapher march up to my front stoop, I am ready – the professor has an audience of two.

So they sit me down and the reporter asks the question of the day: “Who won the debate?”

Or “What does Lingle have to do tonight to cut Hirono’s lead?”

Or “Has Pacific Resources Partnership crossed the line with those ads?”

And I’m off, talking faster and faster, practically nonstop for 20, 25, sometimes 30 minutes. The reporter’s face reads, “Enough already!” But the professor charges on.

Finally, the reporter tells the photographer he’s got what he needs – which was, after all, no more than an 8- to 12-second sound bite that will appear in his 90-second piece on the 6 o’clock news.

So allow me, dear reader, a few more seconds of your time for one of last week’s issues of the day:

Hawaii’s claim to the lowest voter turnout in the nation. How have we come to such a state of political apathy?

It’s complicated, but let’s start with the obvious. Ours is a one-party state, and it always has been.

The Republicans owned the Territory of Hawaii, and beginning in 1962 Democrats have owned the state. Year after year, in the overwhelming number of political races, no Republican, Green or Libertarian need apply. And they don’t. In far too many legislative districts, Democrats face no or only token opposition.

So when many people hear, “Who you voting for?” they reply, “It doesn’t matter. The Democrats are going to win.” And they’re right.

Then there’s the simple truth that Hawaii residents are, by and large, happy. Last year, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, a tall, Asian-American, observant Jew, 65 years old and married with children, living in Hawaii and making more than $120,000, matched the statistical profile of the happiest man in America.

Now, few of us makes more than $120,000 a year; but no matter what our income, we live in Hawaii, with access to sun, surf and sea 365 days a year. Our unemployment rate is 2 percent lower than the national average; our social safety net generous, if frayed; our crime rate low; and our multi-ethnic society tolerant – not enough anger to sustain a Tea Party here.

Finally – for my 8 to 12 seconds is almost up – voter participation among Hawaii’s youth has plummeted. Ascribe it to the failure of our schools to teach civics or to the minimal efforts of our state parties to appeal to younger voters.

Whatever it is, Hawaii’s young people don’t hang out at their neighborhood polling places.