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Editorial | On Politics

Oshiro’s future linked to HB 444

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The tiny 53-vote victory back in 2004 should have been Blake Oshiro’s big win.

Challenging the liberal two-term Democrat was perfect-pitch conservative Jerry Coffee, a best-selling author, top-drawer motivational speaker and a certified American war hero.

Both knew and worked the grassroots formula for winning in Hawaii: Shoe leather and sweat—walk every inch of the district twice.

Coffee lost in a district that had never gone Republican at a time when the GOP in the Legislature was starting its big flame-out.

If Oshiro came out the victor back then, the challenges double this year.

Oshiro, 40, is the author and prime mover behind House Bill 444, the civil unions bill now before Gov. Linda Lingle.

Oshiro is also gay, a fact he neither hides nor advertises.

Oshiro says being gay means he understands "what a minority viewpoint is."

Part of the reason for government, he says, is to prevent discrimination, no matter how a person is categorized.

If civil unions become law of the land, Oshiro hopes to use the bill sometime in the future.

"At some point I would like to. At this point, I don’t have an explicit time frame or plan," Oshiro said in an interview.

The civil unions bill was a corpse, a dead bill, until at the last moment in this year’s legislative session, Oshiro, the House majority leader, announced in caucus he wanted another vote on the bill.

It survived a series of four floor votes and goes on to be Lingle’s most challenging political test.

For Oshiro, when he goes back to his Aiea-Halawa, salt-of-the-Democratic-Party House district, he is careful to explain his position.

"I try to educate them about the issue of civil unions. It is not the same as same-sex marriage. It is about government and the benefits it affords to certain couples and that government should not be discriminating against certain couples," Oshiro says.

"This is something I have always advocated for," Oshiro adds, pointing out that he was also the author of bills on death with dignity, choice, hate crimes and discrimination.

Enter Gary Okino, another Democrat and a City Councilman who wants to run against Oshiro. He is Christian, conservative, says he prays for homosexuals and actually said he doesn’t understand gays "because the parts don’t fit."

Besides Okino, another Democrat, state Sen. Mike Gabbard, has carved out a political career opposing civil unions and same-sex marriage.

And besides Oshiro, Maui Democrat Rep. Joe Bertram is also openly gay.

Passing HB 444 is a plank in the Democratic Party platform, Lingle’s possible veto is still on the bubble—but the real test of just how far Hawaii has come will be if Oshiro stays or goes this fall.

Veteran political reporter Richard Borreca is now a full-time columnist. His "On Politics" column will run on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays in the Views & Voices section. Reach him at


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