By Michael Markrich July 12, 2020
No one much mentions Gov.John Burns and the legendary Democrats of the 1960s
anymore. Democrats of today have more important concerns, such as climate change,
defeating President Donald Trump and getting elected. The difference between the
politicians of that era and today is that the earlier generation of Dems felt they had an
obligation to serve everyone — not just the loud and the influential.
In June, nearly 400 appeared at a Kailua Neighborhood Board meeting willing to risk
their lives in the cramped recreation center, for a threat they deemed greater than a life-
threatening pandemic: affordable housing for young families, single mothers and the
They were responding to a project by the affordable housing company Ahe Group. The
attendance spilled out into adjoining buildings because some local Facebook pages had
stirred up community resistance.
According to the latest U.S. Census data for Kailua, some 2,500 people in a community
of 12,500 households live in poverty. Is 73 more rental units, as the project proposes,
really so many more to provide for? Even if one questions the size of the project — as I
initially did — don’t lower-income people have a right to live here?
Yes, say some Democrats — but “not here, not now.” They ask: “Couldn’t there be
fewer, maybe someplace else?” And what about the parking?” Local Democratic
candidates spin cartwheels to avoid offending. They want to talk about education, solar
panels and green sea turtles. Not people with critical unmet needs.
The problem in Kailua reflects the moral dilemma that the Democratic Party of Hawaii
Fighting a national culture war about the George Floyd tragedy in far-off Minnesota is
easy. Providing basic services in Hawaii that don’t just help the special-interest groups
that pay for local political campaigns is more difficult.
Democrats can live with vacation rentals — each now a potential vector bringing the
prospect of serious illness from visitors to long-time neighbors in the heart of residential
areas. But showing empathy to the less-fortunate at home — through real rather than
symbolic action — is another story. We should call this what it really is: social
discrimination based on income. Twenty years ago, Native Hawaiians and others lived
in low-income housing across from the Kailua baseball field. Since then, that land has
been turned into luxury condos. The affordable units have never been replaced. It is
modern-day red-lining — a practice that shames us all.
In the 1960s, Burns and his fellow Democrats had backbones — what they once called
“spine” — and weren’t afraid to stand up in a real way for unpopular causes like
affordable housing. I believe the new generation of Democrats also have this piece of
anatomy. They are just not yet accustomed to using it.
Michael Markrich is owner of Kailuabased Markrich Research and a freelance writer.
Copyright (c)2020 Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Edition 7/12/2020