Cliff Slater’s Second Opinion


Our folks don't bring home the bacon


At the core of our Congressional delegation’s recent entreaties for re-election was "pork." They sold themselves as a single unit fighting in Congress for Hawaii and "bringing home the bacon." Neil Abercrombie ran this last election virtually wrapped in the bacon instead of the flag.

Our delegation rightly points out that Hawaii is sixth in the nation as a recipient of federal spending on a per capita basis. Locally, everyone marvels at our delegation’s legislative skill and deftness in being able to achieve this in a Republican Congress.

However, their claim is nonsense—well spun, well delivered—but nevertheless nonsense.

First, divide Hawaii’s share of the federal pie into two parts; defense spending and everything else. An official government report, Federal Expenditures by State(1), shows that we are the fourth largest recipient of federal defense funds on a per capita basis (see table). We are outdone only by Washington DC, Virginia and Guam. But is that from our delegation’s political skills? Clearly not—here’s why.

This report also shows that the federal government spends 40% more per capita on defense in Guam than it does in Hawaii.(2) Yet, no one marvels at the political clout and canniness of the Guam delegate to Congress. This is somewhat understandable since he does not even get to vote. Nor does anyone claim that Arkansas—home state of our President but languishing at the bottom in defense spending—lacks political influence.

Quite simply, the military’s defense requirements dictate high spending in Hawaii and Guam and low spending in Arkansas. Republicans, who control spending in Washington these days, simply hold their noses and vote defense dollars for a solidly Democrat Hawaii. They will move what defense work they can, such as shipyard work, to Republican districts but the troops and the ships have to stay here because our national defense policy dictates it. It has absolutely nothing to do with ‘pork.’ (3)

The real test of an elected official’s ability to deliver ‘pork’ is in non-defense spending—social welfare, transportation, highways, education and non-defense procurement. For this, we rank a lowly 37th among the states on a per capita basis. Some pork. We rank so low that what our Congressional delegation brings home is not real pork but luncheon meat—a pastiche of the more unmentionable leftovers of the pig after the choice cuts are taken.

All this should not be surprising. Why would a conservative Republican Congress help a self-described "extreme liberal" like Abercrombie? Or, for that matter, regular liberal Democrats like Sen. Inouye, Sen. Akaka, or Rep. Mink?

Our delegation may keep announcing they are bringing home x million dollars here and y million dollars there. However, at the end of the day, the federal government’s account books are available and they do not lie. They tell us we are a third rate state when it comes to non-defense federal spending.



  1. U.S. Bureau of the Census. Federal Expenditures by State for Fiscal Year 1996. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC. 1997. Ref. No. FES/96. Table 10. (For selected data see table below.)
  2. The argument will be made that total defense spending is far less in Guam than in Hawaii; it is only on a per capita basis that Guam shines. However, the same argument holds true for Hawaii. Defense spending is greater in twenty other states when considered as total dollars; it is only on a per capita basis that Hawaii does well.
  3. Gene Ward said, during a campaign debate with Neil Abercrombie, that a hairy orangutan could bring home these kinds of defense funds. Abercrombie quickly diverted attention from this by saying he took this personally and added, "I hardly think that it does us any service to refer to Sen. Inouye or Sen. Akaka or Rep. Mink as orangutans." Sen. Inouye agreed. The ensuing uproar from this brouhaha totally distracted voters from Ward’s real message: an orangutan really could deliver defense dollars to Hawaii. No matter who is elected to Congress, defense spending will always be significant in Hawaii as long as it is welcomed.

Per capita federal expenditures





$ 2,752


$ 863


$ 4,018


$ 4,317


$ 6,771


$ 5,180