Now comes the real, hard work: To, in fact, do that positive "change" thing amid an environment of economic uncertainty and fiscal austerity.
Frustrated voters across the nation last night sent Congress, and President Barack Obama, a vital message — that they demand action, and they demand it now. On the very top of the list: Fix the economy by creating jobs and cutting spending.
Democrats clung on to the U.S. Senate but Republicans seized control of the U.S. House by winning 58 new seats, the largest swing since 1938. This is a new era, and we want to see bipartisanship propel things forward, not hear more empty rhetoric. It’s a national tidal wave of change that resonates all the way across the pond, to Hawaii.
Yes, voters here did return the state last night to its Democratic roots, electing Neil Abercrombie as governor over Republican James "Duke" Aiona, and Colleen Hanabusa to the U.S. House’s 1st Congressional District over short-term incumbent Republican Charles Djou. And of course, the state Legislature was never in danger of losing its Democratic supermajority.
But the foundation is shifting — and Hawaii’s politicians need to shift with them.
Harder looks must be taken on affording entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. Anticipation is high for guidance from the Obama-created bipartisan deficit commission, which has a Dec. 1 deadline to come up with recommendations to balance the budget by 2015, as well as proposals to improve the fiscal outlook via changes to address entitlement spending and the gap between federal projected revenues and expenditures.
Last night’s congressional upheavals make it clear that compromise will be sorely needed to avoid gridlock — and voters will expect results on spending cuts and real attention paid to the deficit before the 2012 election.
An immediate issue will be the Bush-era tax cuts, which are due to expire at year’s end. While there is bipartisan political will to extend these cuts for the middle-class, doing so for the rich has been contentious. Afraid of upsetting any voters before the elections, Congress delayed doing anything. But now, with a clearer view of the landscape, it needs to stop copping out and instead, act on tax policies — encourage capital formation to encourage job growth, for example — to nail down this unpredictable economic environment.
The Democrats’ retention of the U.S. Senate means Hawaii’s re-elected Sen. Dan Inouye will keep his powerful Appropriations chairmanship — so will be able to help champion Obama’s legislative agenda. The Republicans’ new control of the U.S. House, though, will require Obama, Hanabusa and others to flex their bipartisan skills.
Despite still-strong pipelines with D.C., Hawaii should not count on federal generosity to rebuild our economy — but must work to be ever more self-reliant. Abercrombie ran and won on the message of "change" — and he must now parlay his decades of public service and public-private connections to lead wisely. From budgetary shortfalls, to education reform, to social services, to land-use development, to energy efficiency, Gov.-elect Abercrombie must balance to bring his campaign promises to fruition.
The 2010 election is behind us. It was a bellwether campaign for the record-breaking millions of dollars expended, and for the floodgates opened by the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United ruling, which allows corporations to contribute unlimited amounts to the making of political ads, so long as the donations don’t go directly to candidates’ campaigns.
But for now, no more cheap-shot ads. No more robo-calls. No more sign-wavers. Today, a new governor-elect faces some of the greatest challenges in the state’s history.
Change is indeed needed. Citizens are hungry for it, from the U.S. Capitol, to the state Capitol. Unfettered tax-and-spend won’t fly; austerity and innovation will.
The true test, going forward, is to avoid government as usual. Hawaii, and the nation, cannot afford it.