August 15, 2012 | 07:38 AMELECTION? WHAT ELECTION?
For most of you around Maui (and Hawaii), that indeed is the question. After all, just 290,724 people voted in the Aug. 11 Hawaii Primary Election (roughly 21 percent of the state's population). Worries that holding this year's election in August rather than September would catch voters off guard proved baseless–turnout in the 2010 Primary stood at a miserable 42.8 percent, compared to this year's similarly anemic 42.3 percent.
Primaries are usually ignored by the general population. Just ask Maui County Councilman Joe Pontanilla. Two years ago, during the November General Election, he was running unopposed for reelection but still convinced 28,309 people to vote for him. Saturday he challenged incumbent state Representative Gil Keith-Agaran, but could barely win 1,585 votes, which didn't even come close to victory.
Still, this is how we do things in America. So on Aug. 11, more than person showed up to various polling places around the state and decided that some Democrats–Mazie Hirono, Tulsi Gabbard–were fit to stay in the races for US Senator and US congressional representative, respectively, while other Democrats–Ed Case, Mufi Hannemann–needed to go back to their day jobs (attorney and tourism shill, respectively). We'd feel sorry for Case and Hannemann and all the rest who saw their campaigns go down on Saturday night, though we must also point out that since most campaigns in the state consist of a mix of television, radio and print ads mixed with candidates and their supporters waving at passing motorists from roadsides, it's hard to believe that any great debate on issues and ideas has occurred.
It's all good now, though. All the Dems got together with their "unity" meals they day after the election and made nice. As for the Republicans (which in this primary consisted of US Senate candidate Linda Lingle and about 50,000 other people, compared to the nearly 240,000 registered Democrats who cast ballots), well, they're putting on a good show.
Still, Lingle and Hirono are in a rematch! No matter what, Hawaii will send its first woman to the United States Senate. And given the overwhelming registration differences in the 2nd Congressional District, it's very likely a woman named Gabbard will head off to Washington next year.
Of course, all the fanfare and ad-buying and sign-waving begs a giant question: Does all this matter?
DOES ALL THIS MATTER? (NATIONAL EDITION)
The question, of course, depends on what you want government to do. If you look in horror at the federal government's ruthless criminalization of marijuana (even for those who buy weed for medical reasons from a cannabis co-op); continued military occupation of Afghanistan; continued use of the Guantanamo base for indefinite detention of those deemed "terrorists" by the Pentagon; continued use of drone aircraft to assassinate suspected terrorists–including those born in the US and thus United States citizens, normally afforded legal due process and all that; expansion of the National Security Agency to the point that it's spying on American citizens in ways that, while admittedly unconstitutional, are still kept secret, then elections like these don't really matter.
For all of those issues cited above, there's a kind a silent, sickening bipartisanship that's settled across the land. Few candidates of either the Republican or Democratic parties are speaking out against NSA spying or the targeted killing of American citizens overseas or the endless drug war.
Concerned about poor people and those who live on the streets? Wondering why your parents seem to be better off economically than you? Looking at your mortgage payments and questioning the wisdom of buying a house? Reading headlines about job creation but seeing only crappy service industry hiring notices?
The Republicans and Democrats have all sorts of platitudes to offer on these issues, but after four years, not much to show for it beyond Democratic promises that they'll start creating good-paying jobs any day now and Republican insistences that the key lies in slashing government spending (which will, in all likelihood, lead to greater job losses...).
Only those candidates with party labels like "Green" and "Libertarian" offer anything approaching honest assessments of our great and miserable times, but don't worry: the two-party system long-ago trash-canned those people into the "loser" category so few of us will ever pay attention to them.
To be fair, there are actual differences between Democrats and Republicans over issues like same-sex marriage and climate change. But on too many pressing problems, the two major parties simply signed non-aggression pacts, leaving the rest of us to deal with it all as best as we can.
DOES ALL THIS MATTER? (LOCAL EDITION)
I've always believed that, as a matter of actually affecting people's day-to-day lives, local government was where the real power lay. Sure, we can fret about the slippery slope that is NSA domestic espionage and targeted drone killings, but few of us need fear them (at least, for now) in the same way we worry over the property tax bill or whether Maui Police Officer Keith Taguma is ticketing cars today.
Speaking of the police, have you noticed that they weren't really an issue in any of the local races? We've had a recent (and scary) officer-involved shooting, and yet the happy, smiling faces running for the state House and Senate and our own County Council seem perfectly happy with our constabulary. Never mind that the Maui PD painfully enforces the same Do-Not-Film-Us unwritten rule that seems to govern Mainland departments. Or that state law prohibits–I repeat, PROHIBITS–the release of names of those officers busted by Internal Affairs.
Ditto the affairs of the county Department of Liquor Control, the island's persistent desire to approve vast developments without first securing serious, dedicated potable water sources, our continued economic reliance on tourism (despite the apparent reality that few tourist dollars seep out of the mega-resorts lining the shoreline) and the growing, festering controversy that is sugar cane burning.
That last issue especially gnaws at the island. In use since the 19th century, the practice of burning cane in the fields is filthy and wasteful, and yet it goes on despite the growing portion of the population that wants it stopped. But when you ask local officials (and those who want their jobs) about finding some solution to cane-burning that doesn't involve covering Central Maui with strip malls and housing tracts, you'll be lucky to get an answer that doesn't involve a shrugging of the shoulders.
See, we like our issues to have two choices: Cane-burning or land development? Burn oil or build windmills? Vote Democrat or Republican? Issues like the NSA's spying on Americans or the lethal force practices of the Maui Police just don't lend themselves to easy choices.
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