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Editorial| On Politics

Endorsements emerge after a complicated dance

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What does a political endorsement mean and how do you get it?

When the candidate calls the news conference and the union, business or public interest groups line up for the picture, it seems so routine and easy.

Instead, it is the end of a complicated dance.

First everyone must take a test.

Organizations from the Sierra Club to the Hawaii State Teachers Association send out detailed questionnaires.

The HSTA brochure runs 13 pages and channels those high school essay test questions:

"HSTA supports a single, statewide school system with one elected Board of Education. Do you support or oppose HSTA’s position? Please explain."

The HSTA test asks 22 questions and makes you wonder if the union also hands out blue essay books to turn in.

Veteran Maui Democrat Rep. Joe Souki has spent decades filling out the forms.

"Half of your day is spent answering these questionnaires. They don’t just come from labor; there’re political ones like Grassroots Hawaii, the Catholic Forum, Office of Hawaiian Affairs," Souki says.

The questionnaires are some not-so-subtle lobbying on the part of the groups that want to lock in candidates.

Souki says he realizes that, but says politicians have to be careful and resist the temptation to promise too much.

"The Catholic one, I knew I wouldn’t get support. I told them I was pro-choice and for gambling. But, you try to be as honest as you can," Souki says.

The problem is that a candidate tied to the promises made during a campaign interview and replies in a questionnaire has also limited himself in the Legislature.

"We haven’t signed a contract or given a pound of flesh, but you need to understand and answer truthfully," Souki advises.

Some of the union wishes can be a bit of a stretch.

The ILWU, for instance, not only is against prison labor "that competes with the private sector" but also wants previously frozen bread in stores labeled as such "to inform the consumer and to promote fresh-baked Hawaii products."

Other union leaders say the questionnaires and candidate interviews do little good.

"The only thing they are good for is to cover your okole with your own members," says one union leader who asked not to be identified.

"Government is a tough, dynamic business. Situations are going to change and we understand that," he notes.

Implied in the endorsement is that if the unions don’t get that "pound of flesh" that Souki worries about, the unions most certainly will make sure you don’t get it in the next election.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Reach him at rborreca@staradvertiser.com

 

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