Hawaii’s endlessly quarrelsome Democrats may provide some guidance next month into the winners and losers of Hawaii’s ongoing culture war.
Arch-conservative Pat Buchanan brought the phrase into prime time with a 1990 speech warning of a "religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a culture war as critical … as was the Cold War."
Culture wars don’t win jobs, find new industry or raise reading scores, but they define politics, both local and national.
Civil union, same-sex marriage, the sanctity of marriage, freedom of religion and civil rights are all on the battlefield in the Democratic primary. The touchstone among conservative and liberal groups is the just-vetoed House Bill 444, the civil union bill.
It becomes most obvious in the polarizing campaign between former Rep. Neil Abercrombie and former Mayor Mufi Hannemann.
Local groups, including the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender caucus of the Democratic party, and the national Human Rights Campaign, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, have all endorsed Abercrombie
"Abercrombie has a stellar record on GLBT equality in contrast to his opponent, Mufi Hannemann, who has indicated his opposition to full equality on issues affecting GLBT issues," the Human Rights Campaign endorsement said.
In opposition will be the faith-based community of organized religious groups that protested passage of HB 444.
Hannemann provoked gay activist groups by saying he would also veto a civil union bill if it were similar to HB 444.
Jo-Ann Adams, GLBT caucus chair, says the primary races "will be a test for the population as a whole, and particularly the political prowess of the religious right."
A win by Hannemann would move the state to the right, just as a win by Abercrombie would move Hawaii to the left.
There is the same sort of rich division in Democratic candidates running for lieutenant governor. Civil union supporters include Reps. Lyla Berg and Jon Riki Karamatsu, plus former Sen. Gary Hooser and former Democratic party chairman Brian Schatz. Those opposed to civil unions include former Sen. Bobby Bunda and Sen. Norman Sakamoto.
In the Halawa-Aiea state House district, civil union supporter Rep. Blake Oshiro is defending his seat against City Councilman Gary Okino, a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage.
Finally, the culture war battlefield includes the primary campaign of House Speaker Calvin Say, facing Dwight Synan, who just won GLBT Democratic caucus support.
Adams says the civil union bill "has helped frame the issue for our supporters as a party priority, a civil rights issue and a constitutional mandate."
Conservatives also agree that the civil union bill is an energizer.
"Invariably, I think it will have some impact … at the polls," predicts Francis Oda, chairman of Hawaii Family Forum, the faith-based organization against same-sex marriage.
By primary day in September, Democrats may want to recall the words of former national party chairman Howard Dean, who said he was in search of the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.