The lost generation in Hawai‘i politics

The A line that stuck with me in an AP analysis of the governor’s race described the 72-year-old Democratic candidate, Neil Abercrombie, as “one of the last remaining major Hawaii politicians who was an adult when statehood was achieved in 1959.”

His Republican opponent, James “Duke” Aiona, is relatively young at 55, but it’s not really young at all by Hawai‘i gubernatorial standards. If elected, Aiona would join Ben Cayetano as the oldest person to become governor since statehood.

It serves as a reminder that Hawai‘i’s roster of elected officials is aging even faster than our population — and there’s not much of a crop of young leaders coming up behind them.

One of our U.S. senators, Daniel Inouye, is running for reelection this year at 86 and the other, Daniel Akaka, says he’ll run again in 2012 at 88. Rep. Mazie Hirono is the baby on the Democratic side of our congressional delegation at 63.

If either senator steps down, the leading candidates to step up are hardly spring chickens — Linda Lingle, 57; Ed Case, 58; Mufi Hannemann, 56; and Hirono. Not exactly a lot of prime years left to build the kind of seniority that Inouye put to our advantage in nearly 50 years of service after being elected to the Senate at 38.

U.S. Rep. Charles Djou, at 40, is by far the youngest person holding one of Hawai‘i’s highest offices, and he’s under serious challenge by Colleen Hanabusa, 59.

The only statewide office that’s guaranteed to have a relatively young occupant is the mostly ceremonial post of lieutenant governor; Democratic candidate Brian Schatz is 38 and Republican Lynn Finnegan is 40. There are few others in the younger age bracket in the legislative ranks who seem good candidates to move up.

Whether it’s because our brightest young prospects have been squeezed out by a logjam at the top or because our special-interest driven system breeds followship more than leadership, political leadership seems to have skipped a generation here and is becoming one of Hawai‘i’s biggest sustainability problems.

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21 Comments on “The lost generation in Hawai‘i politics”

  1. hipoli Says:

    This is somehow OUR fault?

    Like little children, the next generation has been told the entire time by the current generation to wait…dont rock the boat…your time will come…respect your elders…be seen not heard, unless we tell you to speak…

    And then they get told they arent leaders?

    There ARE leaders amongst us youngins’, Dave. Intelligent. Passionate. Dedicated.

    Blake Oshiro. Jill Tokuda. Pono Chong. Sylvia Luke. Scott Nishimoto. Maile Shimabukuro. Chris Lee. Josh Green. Shan Tsutsui. Mark Takai.

    Do you know any of these legislators, Dave? Really know them? I dont think so or you wouldnt have felt compelled to write this particular entry.

    Then there are also young emerging leaders in the surrounding ranks, within the A-bracket committees, the departments and out in the private sector. I look no further than the current crop of permanent staff at WAM and FIN to recognize the next generation of B&F and DAGS directors. In the departments, there are more than amazing, brilliant young people working their way up those ladders. And then theres the emerging young leaders in the private sector like Kyle Chock (PRP) and Jennifer Diesman (HMSA), as examples.

    Easy on the old-guy stuff there, my friend. The next generation of our leaders really arent a bunch of mindless idiots.

    Well, not any more or less than the current bunch, at least.

  2. Richard Gozinya Says:

    I like our Jurassic-age politicos.They make me feel younger than spring time.

  3. Michael Says:

    In the future the elois will only become feed for the morlocks. So used to computers they will ask, What is a Book?

  4. David Shapiro Says:


    I really like some of the people you mention and others as well, but I’ve never heard a single one of them seriously mentioned as a prospect for higher office. All the people being talked about for the top offices in 2012 are the old retreads.

    I totally agree with you that they’ve been held back by being told to wait, don’t rock the boat, respect your elders, etc. But I’m not seeing where it shows leadership to sit back and take it instead of seizing the day.

  5. Nikki Heat Says:

    I think Dave that the perceived lack of young talent among elected officials reflects some of the success of the Democratic Revolution of 1954 and the largely self-selected nature of politics today. Party boss politics — where a precinct or district leader might identify a bright prospect — is no longer the norm in most districts where the Democratic Party regulars’ pick might not even win the primary (the GOP might operate differently since they’ve run rather cookie cutter campaigns this year). Talented young people may not want to be in politics at a young age– we have families and work and soccer and volunteer projects and church. Ambitious young folks may have wanted to be in public office in the old days but when you now have the opportunity to work on Bishop Street and have a real chance to move up (even if you didn’t go to Punahou or St. Louis), why go through the hassle of running for office, often losing your privacy (and that of your loved ones) and putting up with the often contradictory expectations of the MSM, the public and private worker unions, and the big bucks stakeholders in government?
    I do recall an anecdotal story about the late Najo Yoshinaga quipping once during the Primary battle for U.S. Congress between Norman Mizoguchi, Neil Abercrombie and Matt Matsunaga for Danny Akaka’s vacant Congressional seat (Akaka had been appointed by Gov. Waihee to fill the U.S. Senate seat of Spark Matsunaga), when asked about the lack of young people among the Democratic Party candidates generally, that he worked with young people, and then he pointed to the middle aged veteran Mizoguchi.
    I used to see some value in having young people in office but I do like someone who’s worked at something else before running for office, and perhaps has his or her own family and knows what working families go through in dealing with schools, health care and a challenging economy. Someone running for office straight out of college or law school without living in the real world raises questions in my mind about whether they are equipped to make decisions which affect the lives of people who will have to deal with the effects and impacts of those decisions.
    As far as @Hipoli’s list, what’s young? If it’s under 30, you knock off most of the people on that list.

  6. manoak Says:

    In the US federal system small states like Hawaii usually pursue a strategy to gain their fair share of Federal benefits by re-electing their Senators and Representatives as often as they are willing to run. Because, most federal benefits are based on population.

    On the state and local level it’s a different story.

  7. Michael Says:

    Many names mentioned are still Baby Boomers.
    1946-1964 was the Era. Talent is being compared to those born before this Era. Senator Inouye, Senator Akaka. Hawaii was not even a State till 1959.

    Compare Present Baby Boomers with Baby Busters and see what the difference in talent would be in the future. Or Generation X? We be run by Apes.

  8. Earl of Sandwich Says:

    Actually, you go by under 30, you knock everyone off hipoli’s list except Chris Lee.

    I agree with Nikki that youth isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be when you’re supposed to be making public policy decisions. I would also prefer someone who’s lived a little life outside of school – we’ve had, for example, a couple of legislators who got elected right out of law school, and one seems to be on the way. I fear they believe(d) law school prepped them to be lawmakers, but that just hasn’t shown to be the case. It also usually takes a little while for them to get off that know-it-all attitude, which basically wastes time they could be spending making valuable contributions or at least learning good lessons.

    However, I guess it comes back to Nikki’s question: What’s young?

  9. Michael Says:

    Young is one who is as Smart as a 5th Grader with Old School common sense.

  10. manoak Says:

    After the election, how about a top 10 under 40 contest?

  11. David Shapiro Says:

    Earl, Nikki, I too prefer to see people get some life experience before running for office (and not only lawyering). As for what’s young, I think we’d be in better shape if people started moving up in their 30s and early 40s instead of mid-50s and 60s as with most candidates in recent LG and congressional races. CD1 would have been a perfect place for the Democrats to run a younger fresher face as the Republicans did with Djou. In my mind, it would have been a smarter play than a baggage-riden retread who didn’t live in the district and had already lost twice in her own district. Once Hanabusa was anointed by the old guys as the anyone-but-Case candidate, younger experienced legislators who may have been interested had little choice but to stand down.

  12. hipoli Says:

    Dave, theres just no room for any of the younger politicians to go anywhere. The only three people who would not have jeopardized their current spots to throw in on the CD1 race would have been the Senators – and Josh and Jill are just in their first full term. And Shan? Shan-who? Outside of the junkies, no one knows him (yet, just in case). The young Reps arent going to throw in and loose their seats. Take one look at JRK and Brian himself on his first try at CD2 to see why. Thats why, I think, so many older Senators did throw into the LG race – they were ready to leave & youre right that they werent going to take on Hanabusa.

    But forget all this…

    Did you seriously just call Hanabusa “a baggage-riden retread who didn’t live in the district and had already lost twice in her own district”.

    Ouch. What the hell did you have for lunch? Forget that she was once the promising young star on Hawaii’s scene? She’s wanted to move up. Shes run to improve her visibility, likely helping her become the first female Senate President. Like her record or not, shes worked very hard. And she’s waited. Its HER turn, Dave.

    I cant believe you just called her a retread. Thats not appropriate, Dave, or nice.

  13. Michael Says:

    Hannabusa was only endorsed to Keep Democrats in the Majority.

    Experience. I agree! Age before beauty. Unless one is a Muhammad Ali, who was both. An admirable person for his stand against Vietnam…..

  14. charles Says:

    So the reason the young ‘uns haven’t moved up is due to deference to the AARP set.


  15. As if Says:

    Kyle Chock and Jennifer Diesman as emerging leaders? Ha. They are where they are in the private sector because they are puppets, in one case, to someone big in the public sector. Real leaders stake their own claim. Sorry Hipoli, at least Jeff Mikulina toiled in the trenches for years before earning his sinecure at Blue Planet.

  16. hipoli Says:

    OhMy! As If has a bone to pick with Kyle and Jennifer?

    I stand solidly behind my suggestion of Jennifer. Much to the dismay of many because I know you know shes not the most popular schoolkid on the playground, I predict she aint’ goin’ no where but up. Sorry, Charlie (literally).

    Now, Kyle, well, Ok, maybe maybe not. Hes one of the young ones who came to my mind. Perhaps I could have thought about it a bit longer.

    Jeff’s a solid suggestion. Good one. Keiki Pua Dancil’s another.

    In any case, my point has been made. The next generation is on the cusp, lying in wait.

  17. WooWoo Says:

    David Chang is on the verge of unseating Karl Rhoads in HD28.

    Check them out on Insights last week.

    Karl starts off by running away from the party. First question from Boylan-

    Boylan (to Rhoads): Why should they keep you?

    Rhoads: Well, I think that I’m not your ordinary democrat. I’m independent minded and when I feel like its necessary to go up against my party I do. And it gets me in trouble sometimes…

    Rhoads does not get much better for the remainder of the interview.

    Chang is a West Point graduate, Iraqi War veteran, small business owner, and was named PBN’s Young Businessperson of the Year. I believe he is in his early 30s.

  18. zzzzzz Says:

    @hipoli, is any part of “a baggage-riden retread who didn’t live in the district and had already lost twice in her own district” not accurate (other than the spelling)?

    I never thought of Hanabusa as a “promising young star.” By the time she was getting a lot of island-wide traction, she wasn’t very young. My perception is that because of that, she was very anxious to move up as quickly as possible, like her political clock was ticking.

  19. As If Says:

    Not sure what the “Sorry Charlie” reference is about, but since Hipoli concedes erring on Kyle Chock, that leaves Jennifer Diesman. The day that working as the mouthpiece of the largest most profitable health care machine makes you an emerging leader, is the day leader actually means follower. That worried, sad look on her face these days is very telling compared to her fresh-faced early days.

    As contrasted with Jeff Mikulina, he fought for the underdog and against the establishment, wasn’t well funded, and was often outnumbered, but often ended up winning the day by speaking truth to power. Still not sure what Hipoli means by emerging or leader at this point.

  20. charles Says:

    I suspect many emerging leaders have yet to emerge. But I have no doubt they will emerge.

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