In a recent Star-Advertiser article, Hawaii Democratic Party member Bart Dame makes an odd observation about the so-called “progressive” movement in the Islands:
Dame noted that progressives have traditionally been a minority in Hawaii politics, but said their influence appears to be growing. He noted the penchant for mainstream Hawaii politicians to now try to identify with the label.
“They are explicitly embracing that word progressive and trying to sell themselves as progressives,” said Dame. “So that is a kind of proof that there is some success with the branding of progressive.”
Uh, what value is a movement when it’s all brand and no substance? A brand that Dame openly acknowledges has been co-opted by those who do not necessarily share the underlying values? A brand that in Hawaii is used by folks who engage in the most regressive types of behavior, including lying, fear-mongering, deception, cronyism, stifling dissent, personal attacks, bullying, mob rule and money-grubbing — in short, the same old dirty politics as usual?
Before I get into some specifics of the above, let’s look at a similar branding example that Dame and his ilk will understand — the organic movement. Oh, there was an outraged hue and cry when the mega dairies adopted the coveted organic brand. Sure, these companies met the organic certification standards. But in the eyes of the purists they weren’t truly organic because they didn’t have six cows grazing behind a big red barn. Instead, they were businessmen who saw economic value in the organic brand, which rakes in $43 billion annually in the US alone, and co-opted it.
The same is pretty much true for “progressive” politics in Hawaii. Whatever nascent progressive movement was stirring a decade or two ago in Hawaii has been snuffed out by power-hungry politicians and activists who smelled votes — and money — in the progressive label.
A perfect example is Gary Hooser, who with Dame formed the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action. The Star-Advertiser article describes him (and Dame) as “local progressive leaders,” but the voters of Kauai feel differently. Though Hooser spent more on his 2016 campaign than any politician in Kauai history, voters chose not to re-elect him to the Kauai County Council because they saw that his self-serving grandstanding around the anti-GMO issue cost the county serious bucks and polarized the community. Despite his resounding defeat, Hooser still embraces the despicable tactics of lying, fear-mongering and deception to push his political agenda. That’s not progressive by any definition I can find.
HAPA, too, is progressive in name only. The group refuses to disclose its funding sources or expenditures — even as it demands full transparency from others — and engages in political activities that most certainly can be defined as lobbying, without the required legal disclosures.
And just look at the politicians HAPA has endorsed! People like Maui Councilman Alika Atay, who is being investigated for awarding a $100,000 country grant to his executive assistant Brian Bardellini (a guy so nasty he’s been barred from visiting Council Services offices and interacting with state Department of Ag officials) and using his own campaign-style photo to promote the taxpayer-funded event.
Then there’s state Rep. Kaniela Ing, the Congressional candidate whose website claims: “Kaniela is the candidate who has consistently fought for progressive values, secured record funding for his district, and does not accept donations from corporations.” What he does do is drive without auto insurance and miss court appearances, lie about his academic record, misuse campaign contributions to pay rent and credit card bills, and file false campaign reports, netting a $15,000 fine.
And Big Island Councilwoman Jen Ruggles, who pretended to be a concerned citizen while on the payroll of Pesticide Action Network as a political operative.
Oh, and let’s not forget convicted felon and Maui Councilwoman Elle Cochran, the mayoral hopeful whose executive assistant, Autumn Rae Ness, actively lobbies the state Legislature on behalf of anti-GMO groups, without registering as a lobbyist.
But Hawaii’s “progressives” have not criticized these politicians for their sleazy deeds. Nope, their support remains unwavering. Just like the so-called “progressives” never spoke up when their more rabid followers were circulating “wanted: dead or alive” posters aimed at octogenarian seed breeder Jim Brewbaker and insulting memes about judges who returned verdicts they didn’t like.
Meanwhile, the so-called progressives also continue to support groups like Babes Against Biotech, Earthjustice (whose Hawaii director, Paul Achitoff, serves on the HAPA board), Hawaii SEED, Center for Food Safety and Pesticide Action Network — organizations that refuse to practice financial transparency, actively engage in producing and disseminating propaganda, seek to stifle any dissent among their ranks or criticism from the public, and have a decided aversion to the truth.
These groups and their leaders aren’t progressives. They’re demagogues who are trying to wrest political power from those who currently hold it, using a “brand” that they think will appeal to the young, disenfranchised new arrivals from the mainland who are desperately seeking to belong in Hawaii’s cliquish circles.
To me, progressives are people who speak up when wrongs are being committed. They aren’t people who commit wrongs while declaring themselves holier than thou. That simply makes them hypocrites. And that goes for Bart Dame, whose ugly intolerance was revealed in many comment threads on public news sites, as well as in his hateful messages to me.
Which leads me to the news source of “progressives” in Hawaii: Civil Beat. It’s bankrolled by Pierre Omidyar, who is so ethically challenged that he has no problem sitting on an editorial board and influencing coverage of groups that he funds through money donated to the Hawaii Community Foundation.
Civil Beat has made a mockery out of journalism. If you have any doubts about Omidyar’s political agenda, just look at how his other vanity press, Intercept, aggressively pushed the candidacy of New York Social Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
If Omidyar wants to finance partisan publications and surreptitiously influence politics, fine. But he shouldn’t pretend that he’s running objective, legitimate news outlets while operating like the Koch brothers — his billionaire brethren on the other side of the political spectrum.
Similarly, if folks want to behave like intolerant bullies with no regard for the truth as they seek money, fame and political power, fine. But they shouldn’t try to pass themselves off as progressives. Because they aren’t.
So yes, Dame may be correct that “progressive” is a new political buzzword in Hawaii. But as it’s currently defined and practiced in the Islands, it’s nothing more than a knock-off brand, like a cheap Louis Vuitton handbag.