In a time when the rest of the country remains in the slipstream of the Republican Revolution, Hawaii stands out as a conspicuous anomaly.
While Republicans last week notched significant victories in traditionally Democratic New York and New Jersey, Hawaii has held out as an unabashedly liberal stronghold. And although a protracted recession has created a few cracks in the state's Democratic fortress, there are no signs that Hawaii is on the verge of the sea change that swept the United States in the mid-1990s.
Indeed, in many ways, it has continued to strengthen its liberal underpinnings. * Democrats still hold 76 of the 90 seats in the Legislature. * This summer, Hawaii became the first state to mandate benefits to domestic partners who could not legally marry. * Recent state Supreme Court decisions have upheld the legal concept of gay marriage and have rolled back privatization, forcing counties to fire private contractors and rehire unionized workers. The roots of Hawaii's liberal tradition are complex. As an island, survival has always been a communal struggle against the limited resources of a confined environment. "A lot of people think old Hawaii was paradise. It wasn't," says US Rep. Neil Abercrombie, a fourth-term Democrat. "People had to work very hard to survive. It required a lot of cooperation." Later, thousands of immigrants from China, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines worked together on sugarcane plantations under grueling conditions, forming cross-cultural ties. "We were multiethnic before any state on the mainland," says Dan Boylan, a political scientist at the University of Hawaii, West Oahu. "That has taught people in Hawaii tolerance." These same immigrants - most notably the Americans of Japanese ancestry - rose up to grab political power during the 1950s and formed labor unions that became a potent political and economic force. By contrast, the islands' Polynesians have always been on the fringes of political power. Even during pre-colonial days, a tradition of deference to a strong controlling group led to the monarchy, and later to a merchant class of landed whites who ruled through the Republican Party. …