By: Lokelani Wilder
Women in Hawaii make up 52 percent of all registered voters in the state and outnumber men by more than 33,000. In Hawaii, women hold 30 percent of political power, which is a lot compared to other states but it’s not equal. 30 percent is not enough.
Hawaii women cannot afford to replicate what we see playing out on the national stage where women from all generations and walks of life are in constant conflict with each other while they pursue or attempt to retain political power. An example of this conflict appears this week in a new book Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power, written by Susan Page. In the book, Page recounts House Speaker Nancy Pelosi making disparaging remarks about Congressional Progressives. Nancy Pelosi has never exactly been subtle about her disdain for the left-leaning wing of the Democratic Party. The House Speaker once scoffed that a glass of water could have won Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s New York seat. Pelosi condescendingly described Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal as the green dream, or whatever they call it and she dismissed the ever-growing Squad as like, five people. Pelosi once reported used a baby voice to mock the Squad’s purity politics.
Closer to home, the 2020 Democratic primaries saw Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary Hillary Clinton deliberately attack Representative Tulsi Gabbard. Clinton essentially labeled Gabbard as the Russian Manchurian Candidate. Given their political spat in early 2019, it should be no surprise that Senator Mazie Hirono remained quietly on the national sidelines while Gabbard was viciously attacked by Harris and Clinton. Colleen Hanabusa and Gabbard have had a historically closer relationship; however, Hanabusa’s election successes have not been nearly as consistent as Hirono’s. Hirono defeated Hanabusa in the 2006 Democratic primary for Hawaii’s Second Congressional District. On December 17, 2012, the second-longest serving U.S. Senator in history, Daniel Inouye, who had represented the state of Hawaii since it became a state in 1959, died of respiratory complications. Shortly before his death, Inouye sent Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie a letter requesting that Hanabusa be appointed to his seat for the remainder of his term. Abercrombie chose Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii Brian Schatz instead. Hanabusa challenged Brian Schatz in the 2014 Democratic primary and lost a close contest. In 2018, Gabbard endorsed Colleen Hanabusa in her bid to challenge Governor David Ige in the Democratic Primary. She lost. Hanabusa further ran for Honolulu mayor in 2020, finishing third in the Democratic Primary.
Positive change for women in Hawaii can only be attained if women from all generations and walks of life come together. We cannot discount a woman’s voice because she is a Boomer, Generation X, or Millennial. We cannot discount a woman’s voice because she is low income. We must seek to join together as a unified political voice because as women we are either all in there for the right causes and to the greatest extent possible, for the same causes. We must keep in mind that the majority of lawmakers in Congress are millionaires. Far too many politicians are also related to each other or former politicians. One study found that sons (and daughters) of U.S. Senators and Representatives have an 8,500 times higher chance of becoming a Senator than does an average American. No offense, but the sons and daughters of career politicians rarely have average lives. Nancy Pelosi herself is part of a political dynasty: her father was a Congressman and a three-term mayor of Baltimore. The government may be full of people who call themselves our representatives – but they mostly represent an elite, very wealthy sliver of the United States. If we want government to work for the people, for the average Hawaiian woman, then it is imperative that we don’t continually allow the one percent of the wealthiest women and men to legislate for the rest of the 99 percent. It is far easier to dismiss legitimate women’s issues as purity politics when, like Pelosi, Hirono, and Hanabusa, you are multi-millionaires. Pursuit of power and wealth tend to eventually neuter female politicians, no differently than power and wealth makes powerful men feel criminally entitled to sexually harass and abuse women. When political competition checks in, sisterhood must never be allowed to check out! As the most numerous and potentially the most powerful voting block in Hawaii, women must vote as a block and stand together for our common causes. We refuse to be given incentives with expectations for something in return. United, our votes will elevate us to true economic and political parity. The advancement of women in Hawaii cannot be achieved without economic and political parity and we have the power to vote together and take it.