On Saturday, July 25, the Oahu County Committee (OCC) of the Oahu Democratic Party voted to set aside the recommendation of its Rules Committee to dismiss a complaint against State Senator Mike Gabbard and instead passed a resolution to reprimand the Senator.
Senator Gabbard is not a good Democrat, despite what some might say. In fact, before August 2007, he was a Republican; one reviled by most, if not all, Democrats. He was brought into the Party as part of a deal struck by State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa. She agreed to support his membership in the Party, if he’d agree to join her faction in the Senate. At the time, the idea of allowing Gabbard into the Party made just about everyone I know sick and some long-time Party members even quit the Party in disgust. Despite the foul taste the whole thing left in our mouths, Democrats couldn’t keep him out.
Let me say it again another way. Gabbard didn’t join the Democratic Party of Hawaii because he shared our views, because he felt in his heart his beliefs and principles were more closely aligned with Democrats. No. He joined the Party because it was politically advantageous for him to do so.
So when I hear and read comments from people who chastise the OCC for reprimanding him, I feel the need to respond. Some of the Democratic faithful want to claim the high moral ground by calling the Democratic Party of Hawaii the ‘big tent’ Party. While I like the notion, allowing anyone and everyone to join who wants to because its personally advantageous to their careers is insanity. Thankfully, at the 2008 State Democratic Convention, this was remedied. In the future, Republican elected officials who want to switch parties will have to go through an approval process.
I’m sure this will upset some, as well.
Members in the Democratic Party of Hawaii is voluntary. Joining the Party means you’re willing to abide by the rules of the organization, not to mention support the Party’s Platform. Now, but this I don’t mean every Democrat in the legislature has to vote ‘with the Party’ 100% of the time. I understand elected officials have a responsibility to their constituents, as well as their own beliefs and principles. But if a member actively works against the Party’s Platform, against its principles and against its members, it is clear grounds for punishment.
Not only is Civil Unions (and marriage) supported in the Party Platform, it was a legislative priority this past legislative session. And if Gabbard has simply voted his conscience, I doubt a complaint would have been filed. And if it had, I’m doubtful the result would have been the same. He didn’t and not only was he vocal in his opposition of the bill’s passage, but he helped stoke the fires of those who would vilify equal rights for same-sex couples. What’s more, he made threats to Democratic Senators who supported the bill that they would lose their seat in the next election. This behavior and opposition has weakened the Party and will potentially cost Democratic-held seats at the State Legislature. As such, his actions could not go unpunished.
If he really has a problem with the Party, its position on the issue, and the rules regarding how the Party manages itself, maybe he shouldn’t be a Democrat.
Critics of the OCC’s decision to reprimand Senator Gabbard claim the Party has punished him for his vote on HB444 HD1, or that the Party has violated his right to free speech, among other claims. In fact, neither are true. Other Democrats voted against the bill, but none of them had a complaint filed against them. None of them were Republicans not more than two years ago. None of them were vocal and active opponents to the bill and none of them threatened other Democratic Senators. Those Democrats either voted their conscience, voted the wishes of their district, or both. Gabbard went a step further. He helped organize the bill’s opposition and, again, threatened other Democratic Senators. It was for these reasons he was punished, reprimanded.
When Senator Gabbard joined the Party, its members knew he would be a problem when it came to issues of civil rights, women’s rights, reproductive rights, and others. Party members knew this, but couldn’t keep him out. He, on the other hand, knew he’d publicly and actively oppose the Party on any number of issues. He knew didn’t agree with much of the Party Platform, but chose to join anyway. People throw criticisms at the Party for the reprimand of Senator Gabbard, but those same people don’t seem to have a problem with him joining an organization with which he disagrees on a large number of issues.
It would be like if I joined a ‘pro-life,’ anti-abortion group that couldn’t keep me from joining, only to go on to not only disagree with the organization’s position on abortion, but also publicly and actively work to undermine their principles and goals. I doubt anyone would think less of this group if it decided to reprimand me for my beliefs, but that’s exactly what a number of people are complaining about with regard to the OCC’s reprimand of Gabbard.
Gabbard has every right to say and do what he pleases, as granted by the US Constitution, but the Oahu County Democratic Party has the right to free association under the same Constitution. As Gabbard can say what he likes without punishment from the law, so has the Democratic Party the right to punish, even expel, members who joined voluntarily.
If you want Gabbard to be able to say and do as he wishes without the Party punishing him, give him a call and urge him to rejoin the Republican Party, which I imagine will welcome him back with open arms.