Civil Rights HI Politics

Regarding the Reprimand of Senator Gabbard

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.

One reply on “Regarding the Reprimand of Senator Gabbard”

I agree almost completely with everything you have written here. My only quibble would be with your statement, “Senator Gabbard is not a good Democrat.”

While I might agree, I think it is important for people to understand that issue was not part of the OCC’s decision, which narrowly limited itself to his “active opposition” to the Civil Rights plank of the State platform. The OCC did not have to pass judgment on the broader question of Mike’s bonafides as a “Democrat.” It limited itself to saying his opposition to equal rights for gay and lesbian couples was at odds with the platform and was serious enough to merit public criticism.

Had the OCC decided Mike’s work against Civil Unions made him a “bad” Democrat, they did have the authority to end the relationship. They would have had to make a broader assessment of Mike’s political activities to decide if it is in the Party’s interests to continue our relationship.

I agree with you that many of critics of the OCC’s reprimand don’t understand, or don’t care, that membership in a political party is voluntary and requires the mutual consent of the wannabe member and the rest of the membership. Under the bylaws of the Democratic Party, it is the county organization, the OCC in this case, which speaks for the collective membership as to whether to agree to continued membership, whether to break off the relationship or whether to impose sanctions for a member’s violation of our rules.

Those who say the OCC is violating Mike’s “freedom of speech” are actually saying they don’t care about the Party’s “freedom of speech” or “freedom of association.” They are also seem to be saying a person should be free to join a group while opposing its goals and the group should not have the right to protect itself from such a parasitic, or opportunistic members.

Since many of Mike’s defenders are members of conservative, nay, REACTIONARY churches, how would they feel if an atheist, satanist, Hindu or Jew were to join their church, only to use their membership as a means to work against the church’s positions? They would rally to protect their group against the unwanted intrusion. In most churches, the matter would NOT be handled democratically, with due process protections. The pastor would act unilaterally and the “flock” would go along “faithfully.” The Democratic Party followed democratically agreed upon rules, entrusted democratically elected district representatives to make the decision, and democratically voted to reprimand Gabbard. They gave him the lightest sanction available to them under their Rules. The alternative of dismissing the charges, would have established a precedent that the Party has no authority to hold elected officials to account for their opposition to parts of the platform.

And, it worth noting, they did not find Mike in violation for his “failure to support the Platform”– the standard in the Rules. The raised the standard, finding him guilty of “active opposition” to the platform.

I think the did well under the circumstances, behaved moderately, as against the hotheads clammering for Mike’s expulsion. Those who criticize the decision are either representing the views of elected officials who object to the Party having ANY authority over them, even if is exercised rarely and moderately, those who are hostile to the Democratic Party, and/or those who are hostile to ANY political party, viewing all parties as disruptive of some sort of civic-minded non-partisanship whereby “people of goodwill” come together to resolve our “common problems” in a process undistorted by partisan rancor. This “non-partisanship” is, in my mind, a destructive myth, fostered by “centrists” content with social decisions being made by those controlling the marketplace and means of communication.

Every “democracy” using political parties as the means for articulating the struggle of competing interests and negotiating their resolution–or at least, the victory of one coalition over the other. As a practical matter, those who are hostile to political parties, are really hostile to the workings of a pluralistic democracy. They may fantasize about a non-partisan alternative, but they cannot point to any real world example.

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