The Democratic Revolution of 1954

#165 in the Moʻolelo series

As alluded to in the last post, “Spark Matsunaga,” the 442nd Infantry Regiment and 100thBattalion became the most highly decorated units in American history. After the war, many veterans were armed with the GI bill, which gave them the ability to attain a college education, and law school for some. This made them qualified candidates for public office. Demographically, the immigrant population remained the majority of population, and Japanese Americans alone made up 45 percent of Hawaiʻiʻs population.

(l-r) Matsunaga, Mink, President Johnson, Burns, Inouye in 1959 (source: wikimedia commons)

A second generation of the immigrant population came of age to vote in the years after the end of World War II. This also allowed for another major political change, the rise of the Democratic party, which culminated in the 1954 Democratic Revolution. With qualified candidates such as Inouye, Matsunaga, and the so-called “Great White Father,” John Burns, the Democratic Party reversed the Republicans’ decades-long hold on HawaiʻI politics. With a well-organized campaign and unified voters, the working class which had already come together for the labor strikes, and a voting majority, the Democratic Revolution changed Hawaiʻiʻs power structure in ways that remain to the present day. As I wrote in “The Permanent Revolution:”

In 1954, the Democratic Party organized a revolution that mobilized demographic shifts and anti-plantation (and anti-elite) sentiments that had been building for decades. The formerly non-existent party used union organizing to mobilize voters from ethnic groups whose aspirations had long been repressed. The result, by the time of statehood, was one of the most liberal agendas of any state, including low tuition levels at the University of Hawaiʻi, a well-intended unitary school board, and stated rights for women.

Inouye and Mink were still in Congress in 1993 (along with Matsunaga’s replacement in the Senate, Daniel Akaka, when President Clinton signed the Apology Resolution), showing the durability of the Democratic Revolution. Also pictured is Neil Abercrombie, who became governor in 2010.

In that post, I describe the dismay of two very liberal commentators, David Shapiro and Tom Coffman, at the lack of options other than Democrats in the 2012 elections! They oppose everything the opposition Republicans represent, yet see the folly of having such a weak opposition party to counteract Democrats in Hawaiʻi. And as I wrote in “Hawaiʻi in the 1950s:”

In 1954, Democrats took political power in what came to be known as the Democratic Revolution of 1954 – they swept most of the seats in the Territorial legislature and Congressional delegate. They soon captured the Governorship as well. In August 1959, due in part to the collaboration of John Burns with the “Master of the Senate” Lyndon Johnson, Congress passed the Statehood Act. We still live in a society shaped by this revolution and the party that led it.

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