By Representative Cynthia Thielen
When I joined the Republican Party in college during the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower notably stated: “In all those things which deal with people, be liberal, be human. In all those things which deal with people’s money, or their economy, or their form of government, be conservative.”
Republican leaders promoted freedom for all (President Abraham Lincoln), worked to preserve America’s natural resources (President Theodore Roosevelt), and supported “gays serving in the military” (Senator Barry Goldwater). This is the party I joined.
In the early 1990s, social conservatives took over the Hawaii Republican Party, electing their GOP national committee members. While the party currently is governed by moderate Republicans led by respected former Congresswoman Patricia Saiki, social conservatives now have become the majority in the House Republican Caucus.
What does this mean? Most important, compromise is looked at by a few of the minority caucus members as abandoning social conservative principles. One member is still trying to overturn the marriage equality law. Yet it is the very Democrat-Republican cooperation that resulted in the last two years of positive legislative action, earning the Legislature its first “B” grade ever. So much was accomplished by working together. Time and energy was saved from endless politicking and posturing, and most of us became united in doing what we were elected to do — serve our constituents.
Working on solutions for our state can’t be done in a “my way or nothing” approach. Good governing requires working together to develop good policy. This means that Democrats and Republicans set aside partisan bickering, and this is what most of us did in the last two years, when we had the bipartisan coalition.
Democrat and Republican leadership formed the coalition, and three minority leaders served as vice chairs of important committees. The coalition was disbanded this year because the House majority no longer needed House minority votes to maintain the current majority leadership.
In my opinion, this was a mistake. The public good was better served through bipartisan governance. I believe that this successful cooperative experiment provided an important model for our young people, many who are jaded against the traditional political process. As noted in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, “it’s too bad that the little test run of bipartisan leadership was so short-lived.”
Now, with social conservatives in control of the House minority due to former Minority Leader Aaron Johanson becoming a Democrat, our caucus primarily has become one-sided. Yet our broader community is much more diverse and noted for its tolerance. Democrat-Republican cooperation will be abandoned, mirroring the past gridlocked Congress with its ideological battles.
If the Republican Party ever is to flourish in Hawaii, it must expand by reaching out to moderates, returning to its Eisenhower roots, focusing and growing the economy, embracing Teddy Roosevelt’s commitment to environmental protections and promoting good governance.
To the dismay of some — but I hope the pleasure of many — I intend to stay a member of the Republican Party. I ask moderates in Hawaii to join me, so we can go back to the Lincoln, T. Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Goldwater roots of the Grand Old Party. Will you?
On vacation: On Politics columnist Richard Borreca is on vacation. His column returns Jan. 6.