First published in the Honolulu Star Advertiser 3/9/2022. Republished here with permission.
Nationally, there is the unembarrassed undermining of democracy in this country by the Republicans, an old, but no longer grand party, unwilling to denounce the indecencies of their leaders — and followers. Locally, not a peep out of Hawaiʻi Republicans as their national organization described the heinous events of Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol as “legitimate political discourse.” But they are quick to see opportunity in the destructiveness of small and big kine corruption in Hawaiʻi, corruption that the Democrats largely own. Republicans are not the answer, but I have to agree with Hawaiʻi GOP Chair Lynn Finnegan, who urges everyone to “look, identify, ask” (“5 Questions With … ,” Star-Advertiser, March 4).
This Lent, those of us contemplating temporary abstinence from one thing or another, might instead consider what we might take up in this time of peril. It’s time to take up our responsibility to be much more attentive. Well-heeled incumbents have the advantage of being in front of cameras, even if they were slow to address issues of public interest, such as Kapūkakī (Red Hill).
For instance, despite one report indicating he is running unopposed, U.S. Rep. Ed Case does have a worthy challenger in Sergio Alcubilla. We need to take it upon ourselves to learn more about the actual, wide range of candidates. Don’t rely only on the avalanche of advertising that an incumbent will likely be able to unleash. The onus is on us to “look, identify, ask.”
We must heed the voices of ordinary people.
Notice for testimony on bills is so short it limits who gets heard. The state Capitol was closed for far too long. But one precious opportunity to take up the fight for a living wage occurred Tuesday at a rally at the Capitol. And are people even aware that a version of the pernicious “Stand Your Ground” bill, House Bill 2464, is being championed here? Meanwhile, the bill proposing a small fee on sugar-sweetened beverages that would go towards funding Healthy Ohana programs cannot get a single hearing despite the alarming spike in child obesity.
We don’t need more studies and commissions to fight corruption. Instead, let’s see lawmakers use the moral compass too many seem to have misplaced to find their way back to good governance and transparency in place of the witch hunts and imperious disregard for what people need. We can do with fewer speeches about how shocked officials are that there is corruption in Hawaiʻi.
At St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church in Kalihi on Ash Wednesday, the Rev. David Gierlach reminded us that we are all “walking piles of future dirt!” Even Russia’s Vladimir Putin. That reminder provides some perspective. Lenten pledges to give up chocolate or red wine are familiar. But this year we were charged with “taking up,” rather than giving up something — as in “taking up a new volunteer task that stretches the heart and soul.” Opportunities abound through St. Elizabeth’s many ministries.
Let’s give up being passive tools of incumbent politicians. Let’s give up our indifference, even cynicism, and actually equip ourselves with information on who is running, and what our lawmakers are doing, or refusing to do. We aren’t facing the fierce might of an invading army. The least we can do as citizens is take up the task of being better informed. Of voting in the primary and the general elections and encouraging others to as well. (With statewide vote by mail, there is really little that should keep people in Hawaiʻi from exercising their right to choose their leaders.)
I’m not giving up dark chocolate for Lent. But I’m paying much closer attention to who is running, who is posturing, and who can be trusted to truly serve. For the sake of our community, I hope everyone is.
PS. If you have not already seen it, this commentary by Gary Hooser highlights the power of letting lawmakers know that we are indeed paying attention https://garyhooser.blog/2022/03/10/stand-your-ground-is-dead-minimum-wage-is-better-cross-over-is-here/
May it also move us to keep paying attention. Our democracy depends on it.