Article: JAs a ‘weakening’ voting bloc in Hawai’i

An article in today’s Honolulu Star-Bulletin by Richard Borreca and B.J. Reyes cites the past dominance of Japanese Americans in the Hawai’i Democratic Party and the waning influence of the JA “voting bloc” due to generational and other changes.

It was ethnic campaigning at its strongest, and it formed a political engine that powered the Democratic Party for more than 50 years.

National political analyst Charlie Cook described it as one of the enduring political machines, with Japanese-American voters cementing an alliance with the powerful private union, the ILWU, or International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

“Japanese-Americans … working in unions and government tended to be the heart of the Democratic Party,” Cook wrote in 2006 in the National Journal.

If Japanese-American voters voted together, it was not without reason, [Roy] Amemiya recalls.

“The war generation had a common issue: Their patriotism was being challenged. If they didn’t band together, they would eventually been interned like AJAs were on the mainland.

“So they came together and became very strong for the party and the labor unions,” Amemiya said.

The decline of JA loyalty to the state Democratic Party is because the party failed to live up to the expectations of the past and produced some bad apples when the party had its firmest grip on government and politics.

There were enough incidents of corruption that it overshadowed the good work of many other Democrats, include the primary source for this story, Roy Amemiya, and his extended family, which includes former state Senator and 2006 Democratic nominee for Governor Randy Iwase, someone I worked for in the State Legislature.

Amemiya’s family tree is a Democratic Party who’s who, including former Attorney General Ron Amemiya, uncle; state Intermediate Court of Appeals Associate Judge Corrine Watanabe, sister; and former City Councilman and Sen. Randy Iwase, brother-in-law. But Amemiya said intermarriage and the increase of other groups make the AJA vote a less significant factor.

Part of the shift is simply a change in demographic numbers. Japanese Americans in Hawaii were once 40 percent of the state’s population. New census data now puts Japanese Americans at 16.7 percent, although the portion with mixed ancestry is much larger because the Census Bureau counts mixed race as a separate category.

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