The Obama Presidency
What it could mean for Hawaii
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On Nov. 4, 2008, voters elected Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States of America. Not only is he the first African-American president, he is also the first Island-born president. In Hawaii, the Punahou graduate claimed his largest margin of victory in any state: 71.5 percent of the vote.
Does that big turnout mean the next president is going to go out of his way to favor his Island birthplace? Hardly. In fact, many argue that kind of favoritism would be inappropriate. But Obama’s likely policies and his inherent familiarity with Hawaii indicate no foreseeable downside to having a native son in the White House.
Beginning with his rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, through his campaign and up until election day, Obama has stirred a mania in Hawaii that can only be described as cult–like. At least two Web sites with maps of Obama’s former Hawaii residences and favorite hangouts were running at press time. L&L Drive Inn released a special Chinese zodiac Year of the Ox T-shirt, featuring a yoked ox with an Obama tattoo on his bicep. An Obama family vacation in August 2008 put Oahu on “Obama Watch” and practically gift-wrapped a tour-of-the-island primer for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau. National newspapers and magazines have begun the inevitable travel pieces focused on “Obama’s Hawaii.”
What’s In It For Us?
Aside from the promotional value of a Hawaii native in the nation’s highest office, local residents have to wonder: what, in practical terms, does a Barack Obama presidency mean for Hawaii?
“Principally, I think it means that you have someone in the White House who, at long last, is familiar with Asia and the Pacific – literally, having been born and raised in Hawaii and then Indonesia,” says Congressman Neil Abercrombie. It doesn’t necessarily give Hawaii an advantage for federal government funds, but the new commander-in-chief doesn’t have a romanticized, exotic perception of Hawaii.
“That’s certainly not the case with President-elect Obama,” Abercrombie says. “He understands there’s real challenges here and the rest of the Pacific that require real solutions; that there’s hard-nosed and clear-eyed legislation that has to follow, and executive decisions that need to be made. We’re in a much better position than we would’ve been otherwise.”
That’s certainly good news for supporters of the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, better known as the Akaka Bill. “I think the President-elect’s explicit support for Native Hawaiian recognition means that some kind of legislation is likely to be on the table soon,” says Brian Schatz, chairman of the Hawaii Democratic Party.
While the Akaka Bill remains controversial, there is agreement that its passage may move the state toward greater stability and predictability in land-use matters, including the issue of legally clouded ceded lands.
“You start talking about land issues in Hawaii, and people’s eyes are going to glaze over,” Abercrombie says. “Not necessarily because they don’t care, but because it’s too esoteric for them. ... When it comes to issues like that, it’s not so much that any favoritism will come our way from the president, it’s that we don’t have to explain it.”
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