Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Christian Coalition vs. Progressive Caucus in Hawaii


Yes, anti-equality Democrats in Congress are a dying breed. But they are perhaps about to get a boost from an unlikely source: a 70-percent Obama district in his home state of Hawaii.

In Hawaii’s First Congressional District, State Senator Donna Kim is the frontrunner in the August 9th Democratic primary, despite a strident anti-LGBT record that has led the Christian Coalition to label her “fantastic.” She’s studiously courted the Religious Right throughout her three decades in various elected offices, even participating in February with evangelical pastors in a panel discussion titled “God’s Law vs. Man’s Law,” in which she railed against Hawaii’s legalization of marriage equality. Presumably, she agrees with the Hobby Lobby opinion. Kim is one of the few Dems running for Congress who hasn’t commented on the case.

She appeared earlier this year on the local Christian Coalition’s TV show for a 30-minute discussion (there was too much agreement to call it an “interview”) in which she made it clear she’s not just a social conservative. Saying nothing that a Tea Partier would disagree with, she claimed government has “so much waste,” particularly in education and social services; expressed her general opposition to taxes and an array of programs, including early-childhood education; and claimed government workers “are getting paid huge dollars!”

Hawaii voters do have a progressive alternative: Honolulu City Councilmember Stanley Chang, who is the only candidate who’s pledged to join the Congressional Progressive Caucus (following in the footsteps of late Hawaii Congresswoman Patsy Mink, who founded the caucus). Chang has been endorsed by the CPC’s PAC and Blue America. In addition, along with Senator Brian Schatz, Chang was one of the first two candidates anywhere in the U.S. ever endorsed by the new Climate Hawks Vote PAC. The Climate Hawks are so excited about both Chang and Schatz that they’ll be opening an office in Honolulu prior to the primary.

This seat is currently held by New Dem Colleen Hanabusa, who’s giving it up to challenge Schatz. If Chang wins, the seat goes from the New Democrat Coalition to the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which is the functional equivalent of a pickup. If Kim wins, the seat goes even more conservative.

Alas, some Hawaii Dems are promoting authoritarian State Representative Mark Takai as the “progressive” alternative to Kim. In two unremarkable decades at the State Legislature, Takai has continually (and unsuccessfully) pushed to establish nuclear-power plants in tsunami-prone Hawaii and to require drug tests for suspicionless low-income residents. But mostly he’s a military fetishist, frequently campaigning while in his National Guard uniform and consistently advocating for more defense spending. Earlier this year, he used his campaign’s Facebook page to link to an article on local right-wing, birther-friendly blog, harshly criticizing President Obama (who was born in this district) for not spending enough on the defense contractors and the Pentagon. He titled his post, which crudely featured a picture of a machine gun apparently being used in Afghanistan, “Our Military's Presence Must be Maintained in the Pacific!” (He’s also a fan of Kim’s tiresome crusades against government agencies in Hawaii.)

Takai doesn’t have the record or the disposition to fire up a lot of voters and get them to the polls on a summer Saturday in Honolulu. So, Kim, thanks to her corporate money, may cruise to Congress. There is one chance for an upset. Chang is making a concerted effort to finish strong, knocking on doors every day and unabashedly calling for Hawaii to honor its progressive history and culture by sending an ally of Elizabeth Warren and Alan Grayson to Congress. If the 31-year-old Chang pulls it out, he’d become the youngest CPC member and an emerging national leader. Click here to help Blue America support Chang’s get-out-the-vote efforts and make history in Hawaii.

PBS Hawaii is hosting a debate in this race at 11 p.m. PDT on Thursday, July 10. The debate, on the show “Island Insights,” will be streamed live online. Follow the debate-- and even ask questions (like, “Why does divorcée Donna Kim oppose marriage equality?”)-- by using hashtags #PBSInsights and #HI01.

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