Well we’re going to see here in the fall. That race had two Democrats and one Republican. This is a heavily Democratic state. The two Democrats outpolled Djou considerably when combined. Consequently, we will see what it all means. I think Hanabusa is going to run very strongly against Djou this time [Case dropped out of the new race in May] by arguing that he’s been opposed to things that Obama has been doing.
So no questions in Hawaii about whether Obama is an asset to use in your campaign?
Obama is still very popular in the state. A state this size doesn’t get its own president. We’re still very proud of the guy. The first non-Caucasian to be president of the United States originally learned something about how to live with other people in a state that’s very diverse, where people live together very well.
Has Obama’s popularity slipped in Hawaii at all in line with the rest of the country?
Yes, it’s slipped, but it has to when it’s at seventy-four percent when you’re elected. I think the last thing I saw was sixty-three percent, which is very high.
They’re socially very conservative. They have no chance. You can take that to the bank.
How liberal is Hawaii?
It’s growing in terms of social conservativism. We have more big box churches, and like the rest of the country, we have a strong Mormon community. There’s a small Mormon college on the windward side of Oahu, part of Brigham Young. We also have a large Filipino and Portuguese population, the majority of whom are Catholic, and the Catholic Church under the new pope has become more conservative. I would say we’re socially significantly more liberal than any other state in the country. It’s changed since the ’70s and ’80s, but does it make the Republican Party viable with socially conservative candidates? I think that’s yet to be seen. I doubt they’re going to pick up much.
Do you foresee a time when that might change?
No, I don’t because the feelings about tolerance in a society this diverse, which also has at its base a host culture, in the Hawaiians, who are an extraordinarily tolerant people, are strong. I don’t see it happening, but I could be wrong.
That depends whom you’re talking to. Social conservatives got big crowds to go after the legislature. Our governor has long said she is against same-sex marriage; this civil unions bill did not use the word marriage at all and it passed the state House and Senate with healthy majorities but not quite enough to override her veto. Lingle is retiring from office after November and my guess is if Neil Abercrombie wins the Democratic primary for governor and then the general election, that same bill will be introduced in the coming sessions. He has said he will fight for it.
That said, if his rival Mufi Hannemann wins the nomination and the general election, he is a Mormon and he will veto it. The Republican, Duke Aiona, is a very devout Catholic and has said he will veto it too.
This is not the first time Hawaiian Democrats have had to pick between Abercrombie and Hannemann.
No it’s not. Abercrombie was elected to the state house in the early ’70s and was later elected to the senate. He made a run for Congress in 1986 and he was opposed in the Democratic primary by Mufi Hannemann, who was younger, and that was the first race Hannemann won. There was a special election involved because the congressman had quit to run for governor. It was quite a dirty race. Hanneman won the Democratic nomination, but lost the special election. A Republican held that district for two terms.
In the meantime, Abercrombie came back and was elected to the city council. When the house seat became open again, Neil ran and won it. He’s been in the U.S. Congress since 1991. He’s been in politics for thirty-five years at the state and federal level and he’s a very colorful figure. He’s short but loud, he can be very articulate and very funny. He was quite a radical in the ’70s; he opposed the war in Vietnam and he went on to vote against the war in Iraq. And yet he’s been very supportive of the troops, contributing a lot to building housing for military personnel in Hawaii.
Has he done much to change that radical image?