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Thursday, September 18, 2014         

ON POLITICS


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Filipinos likely to get bigger say in isle politics

By Richard Borreca

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This 2010 Census news by itself may not be big news, because the increase has been projected for many years.

But, now it is a fact and it will add another angle to Hawaii's happily mixed-up political demographics.

"Numbers are very important in politics … i.e., the winner has to have more votes than the opponent! So it is a big deal that Filipinos have surpassed AJAs among Asian Americans," says Amy Agbayani, who oversees University of Hawaii diversity programs.

Continuous migration from the Philippines and a high birth rate make Filipinos the fastest-growing ethnic group in Hawaii. It is, however, an underrepresented group in several areas, according to the Center for Philippine Studies at UH.

The study center calls the largely blue-collar group, the "emerging middle class."

The demographics make it a reliable and strong part of the Hawaii Democratic Party.

"The Filipino voters are diverse but because of our history in Hawaii and close ties to unions and the Democratic Party, Filipinos generally vote for the Democratic Party candidate," Agbayani says.

That can translate into new political power.

"Ethnic voting is still important enough so that more Filipinos mean more votes for Filipinos," says UH political scientist Neal Milner.

In the overwhelmingly Filipino and part-Filipino districts such as lower Kalihi Valley or Waipahu, Filipino candidates have a good chance of winning, says Agbayani.

And Hawaii has had a Filipino governor, several Filipino neighbor island mayors and significant Filipino caucuses in the state Legislature.

If being Filipino can get you into the political game because you have a ready-made base, it does not take you to the winner's circle because we are a state of minorities, not majorities, and no one group can win just on the basis of ethnicity. So by itself, Filipino voters are a trend, but not a political tidal wave.

"I have been hearing about this sleeping giant since my uncle, Rudy Pacarro, was on the City Council," grouses the current Council chairman, Nestor Garcia.

Advancement for Filipino immigrants, advises Garcia, is best left to education and strong families.

"It is better to move ahead from the bottom up and not hope for top-down advancement, like having a Filipino governor," Garcia said.

Political analysts report that Filipino voters, like all voters in Hawaii, need to exercise the right to vote with more regularity. Not showing up is just like not existing in the first place.

"It is one thing to have the numbers, it is another thing to get them involved," says Garcia.

"So the combination of ethnicity and increased representation may be important. But that is a lot more complex than saying that all things being equal, the more Filipinos, the more Filipino politicians," counsels Milner.

What will be significant is that the more Filipino voters are in Hawaii, the more all politicians will have to listen to Filipino voters and Filipino issues in employment, education and health care.

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Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at rborreca@staradvertiser.com.






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