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Ben Cayetano, former Hawaii Governor
Ben Cayetano, former Hawaii Governor

HONOLULU – Hawaii is the third least politically engaged state.

That’s according to a study released Monday by WalletHub, which reviewed six key metrics — from political donations to voter turnout.

Jill Gonzalez, spokeswoman for WalletHub, said Hawaii ranked lowest for the percent of the population registered to vote in the 2012 presidential election, at 58.9 percent. Only West Virginia had a lower voter turnout that year at 47.8 percent. Hawaii’s percentage was 51.6

Former Gov. Ben Cayetano, a Democrat who held the governor’s office for eight years from 1994 to 2002, blames the Hawaii Republican Party for the notoriously low turnout.

“One of the big things is there is no party competition. Hawaii’s GOP is irrelevant. One party dominates everything here,” Cayetano said. “The Democrats who run against each other are pretty much on the same side on social issues, so it just comes down who has greater resources and who is more popular.”

Hawaii had the biggest drop in the number of voters who participated in the 2012 presidential election, as compared with 2008.

“In the 2012 presidential election, 10 percent fewer people voted than in the 2008 presidential election. The home state of the president showed the least support for him in the polls, with the biggest drop in the nation in the polls in 2012 combined with the second lowest voter turnout,” Gonzales said.

Rarely does a Hawaii election excite people enough to boost voter turnout, Cayetano said, but Obama’s first election was an exception.

“We saw some excitement there with Obama’s election, but not with the local elections,” Cayetano said.

The GOP has itself to blame, Cayetano said. In 1988, when the “religious right” took over the Hawaii GOP, several key members of the Republican Party — who were moderate or even liberal — left to join the Democrats, Cayetano said

The party hasn’t come back, he said.

Panos Prevedouros, a professor of engineering who ran for Honolulu mayor, said people in Hawaii feel they have no control over what happens in politics and government, so they don’t show up to vote.

“The people have come to a point that they believe whenever the big guys decide on a plan, that is a plan,” Prevedouros said.

When Hawaii has elected Republicans, as was the case when Linda Lingle was elected in 2002, there were no major changes in the opposite direction, in part because the Democrat dominated Legislature rendered her ineffective, Prevedouros said.

Lingle supported the Democrats’ tax increases and other policies, Prevedouros said, instead of sticking to Republican values, and despite her own pledge not to increase taxes or create new taxes.

She supported a tax increase on Oahu to fund the $5.2 billion elevated steel on steel rail system, which divided the community, Prevedouros said.

“The public really feels that they don’t have a say. That the big unions find a way to get through what they want, and there is no accountability really. Unfortunately that is the state of being in Hawaii,” Prevedouros said.

Hawaii did rank higher in the WalletHub study than most states when it came to political donations compared with the adult population, at 13th.

That works out to $6.39 donated to Hawaii politicians by Hawaii’s adults, compared with the lowest in the nation, Idaho, at $2.22 per person. The District of Columbia was much higher than any of the states at $439 per person, with the next highest ranking going to Virginia — $15 per adult.

“They want to influence how politicians vote. Since there is no competition, the politicians don’t have to worry much, and you have the special interests having more and more influence,” Cayetano said.

Young people aren’t engaged. The report showed the “percentage of young people 18 to 24 who voted in the 2012 presidential election” was 26 percent; the “percentage of senior citizens who actually voted in the 2012 presidential election was considerably higher at 63.26 percent.”

Hawaii  ranked poorly in tax fairness at 49th place in a previous study, which matched the political engagement overall ranking of 49 percent, Gonzales said. Hawaii has among the highest overall taxes in the nation.

“In this study we saw a strong correlation between tax fairness and political engagement,” Gonzales said.

If political participation increases in Hawaii, Gonzales said, tax fairness would probably improve.

Prevedouros doesn’t see that happening, at least in the coming election.

Hawaii will select its next U.S. senator, two members of Congress and a new governor; the race for a seat in District 1 is close, as is the governor’s race, but Prevedouros said people don’t seem excited.

“People are not energized. The candidates and their supporters are taking shots at each other, but it’s just boring,” Prevedouros said.

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