Surfing has been a central part of Polynesian culture for centuries. Since the late 19th century, Hawaii has become a major site for surfists from around the world. Notable competitions include the Triple Crown of Surfing and The Eddie.
The only NCAA Division I team in Hawaii is the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors and Rainbow Wahine, which competes at the Big West Conference (major sports), Mountain West Conference (football) and Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (minor sports). There are three teams in NCAA Division II: Chaminade Silverswords, Hawaii Pacific Sharks and Hawaii-Hilo Vulcans, all of which compete at the Pacific West Conference.
Notable college sports events in Hawaii include the Maui Invitational Tournament, Diamond Head Classic (basketball) and Hawaii Bowl (football).
Notable professional teams include The Hawaiians, which played at the World Football League in 1974 and 1975; the Hawaii Islanders, a Triple-A minor league baseball team that played at the Pacific Coast League from 1961 to 1987; and Team Hawaii, a North American Soccer League team that played in 1977.
Hawaii has hosted the Sony Open in Hawaii golf tournament since 1965, the Tournament of Champions golf tournament since 1999, the Lotte Championship golf tournament since 2012, the Honolulu Marathon since 1973, the Ironman World Championship triathlon race since 1978, the Ultraman triathlon since 1983, the National Football League's Pro Bowl from 1980 to 2016, the 2000 FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships, and the 2008 Pan-Pacific Championship and 2012 Hawaiian Islands Invitational soccer tournaments.
Tourism is an important part of the Hawaiian economy. In 2003, according to state government data, there were more than 6.4 million visitors, with expenditures of over $10 billion, to the Hawaiian Islands. Due to the mild year-round weather, tourist travel is popular throughout the year. The major holidays are the most popular times for outsiders to visit, especially in the winter months. Substantial numbers of Japanese tourists still visit the islands but have now been surpassed by Chinese and Koreans due to the collapse of the value of the Yen and the weak Japanese economy. The average Japanese stays only five days, while other Asians stay over 9.5 days and spend 25% more.
Hawaii hosts numerous cultural events. The annual Merrie Monarch Festival is an international Hula competition. The Hawaii International Film Festival is the premier film festival for Pacific rim cinema. Honolulu hosts the state's long-running LGBT film festival, the Rainbow Film Festival.
As of 2009[update], Hawaii's health care system insures 92% of residents. Under the state's plan, businesses are required to provide insurance to employees who work more than twenty hours per week. Heavy regulation of insurance companies helps reduce the cost to employers. Due in part to heavy emphasis on preventive care, Hawaiians require hospital treatment less frequently than the rest of the United States, while total health care expenses measured as a percentage of state GDP are substantially lower. Proponents of universal health care elsewhere in the U.S. sometimes use Hawaii as a model for proposed federal and state health care plans.
Hawaii has the only school system within the U.S. that is unified statewide. Policy decisions are made by the fourteen-member state Board of Education, which sets policy and hires the superintendent of schools, who oversees the state Department of Education. The Department of Education is divided into seven districts; four on Oʻahu and one for each of the other three counties.
Public elementary, middle and high school test scores in Hawaii are below national averages on tests mandated under the No Child Left Behind Act. The Hawaii Board of Education requires all eligible students to take these tests and report all student test scores. This may have unbalanced the results that reported in August 2005 that of 282 schools across the state, 185 failed to reach federal minimum performance standards in mathematics and reading. The ACT college placement tests show that in 2005, seniors scored slightly above the national average (21.9 compared with 20.9), but in the widely accepted SAT examinations, Hawaii's college-bound seniors tend to score below the national average in all categories except mathematics.
The first native controlled public charter school was the Kanu O Ka Aina New Century Charter School.
Hawaii has the highest rates of private school attendance in the nation. During the 2011–2012 school year, Hawaii public and charter schools had an enrollment of 181,213, while private schools had 37,695. Private schools educated over 17% of students in Hawaii that school year, nearly three times the approximate national average of 6%. According to Alia Wong of Honolulu Civil Beat, this is due to private schools being relatively inexpensive compared to ones on the mainland as well as the overall reputations of private schools.
It has four of the largest independent schools; ʻIolani School, Kamehameha Schools, Mid-Pacific Institute and Punahou School. Pacific Buddhist Academy, the second Buddhist high school in the U.S. and first such school in Hawaii, was founded in 2003.
Independent and charter schools can select their students, while the public schools are open to all students in their district. The Kamehameha Schools are the only schools in the U.S. that openly grant admission to students based on ancestry; collectively, they are one of the wealthiest schools in the United States, if not the world, having over eleven billion US dollars in estate assets. In 2005, Kamehameha enrolled 5,398 students, 8.4% of the Native Hawaiian children in the state.
The largest institution of higher learning in Hawaii is the University of Hawaii System, which consists of the research university at Mānoa, two comprehensive campuses at Hilo and West Oʻahu, and seven community colleges. Private universities include Brigham Young University–Hawaii, Chaminade University of Honolulu, Hawaii Pacific University, and Wayland Baptist University. Saint Stephen Diocesan Center is a seminary of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu. Kona hosts the University of the Nations, which is not an accredited university.
A system of state highways encircles each main island. Only Oʻahu has federal highways, and is the only area outside the contiguous 48 states to have signed Interstate highways. Narrow, winding roads and congestion in populated places can slow traffic. Each major island has a public bus system.
Honolulu International Airport (IATA: HNL), which shares runways with the adjacent Hickam Field (IATA: HIK), is the major commercial aviation hub of Hawaii. The commercial aviation airport offers intercontinental service to North America, Asia, Australia and Oceania. Hawaiian Airlines, Mokulele Airlines and go! use jets to provide services between the large airports in Honolulu, Līhuʻe, Kahului, Kona and Hilo. Island Air and Pacific Wings serve smaller airports. These airlines also provide air freight services between the islands. On May 30, 2017, the airport was officially renamed as the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), after U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye.
Until air passenger services began in the 1920s, private boats were the sole means of traveling between the islands. Seaflite operated hydrofoils between the major islands in the mid-1970s.
The Hawaii Superferry operated between Oʻahu and Maui between December 2007 and March 2009, with additional routes planned for other islands. Protests and legal problems over environmental impact statements ended the service, though the company operating Superferry has expressed a wish to recommence ferry services in the future. Currently there is a passenger ferry service in Maui County between Lanaʻi and Maui, which does not take vehicles; a passenger ferry to Molokai ended in 2016. Currently Norwegian Cruise Lines and Princess Cruises provide passenger cruise ship services between the larger islands.
At one time Hawaii had a network of railroads on each of the larger islands that transported farm commodities and passengers. Most were 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge systems but there were some 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) gauge on some of the smaller islands. The standard gauge in the U.S. is 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm). By far the largest railroad was the Oahu Railway and Land Company (OR&L) that ran lines from Honolulu across the western and northern part of Oahu.
The OR&L was important for moving troops and goods during World War II. Traffic on this line was busy enough for signals to be used to facilitate movement of trains and to require wigwag signals at some railroad crossings for the protection of motorists. The main line was officially abandoned in 1947, although part of it was bought by the U.S. Navy and operated until 1970. Thirteen miles (21 km) of track remain; preservationists occasionally run trains over a portion of this line. The Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project aims to add elevated passenger rail on Oahu to relieve highway congestion.
The movement of the Hawaiian royal family from Hawaiʻi Island to Maui, and subsequently to Oʻahu, explains the modern-day distribution of population centers. Kamehameha III chose the largest city, Honolulu, as his capital because of its natural harbor—the present-day Honolulu Harbor. Now the state capital, Honolulu is located along the southeast coast of Oʻahu. The previous capital was Lahaina, Maui, and before that Kailua-Kona, Hawaiʻi. Some major towns are Hilo; Kaneohe; Kailua; Pearl City; Waipahu; Kahului; Kailua-Kona. Kīhei; and Līhuʻe.
Hawaii has five counties: the City and County of Honolulu, Hawaii County, Maui County, Kauai County, and Kalawao County.
Hawaii has the fewest local governments among U.S. states. Unique to this state is the lack of municipal governments. All local governments are generally administered at the county level. The only incorporated area in the state is Honolulu County, a consolidated city–county that governs the entire island of Oahu. County executives are referred to as mayors; these are the Mayor of Hawaii County, Mayor of Honolulu, Mayor of Kauaʻi, and the Mayor of Maui. The mayors are all elected in nonpartisan elections. Kalawao County has no elected government, and as mentioned above there are no local school districts and instead all local public education is administered at the state level by the Hawaii Department of Education. The remaining local governments are special districts.
The state government of Hawaii is modeled after the federal government with adaptations originating from the kingdom era of Hawaiian history. As codified in the Constitution of Hawaii, there are three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial. The executive branch is led by the Governor of Hawaii, who is assisted by the Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii, both of whom are elected on the same ticket. The governor is the only state public official elected statewide; all others are appointed by the governor. The lieutenant governor acts as the Secretary of State. The governor and lieutenant governor oversee twenty agencies and departments from offices in the State Capitol. The official residence of the governor is Washington Place.
The legislative branch consists of the bicameral Hawaii State Legislature, which is composed of the 51-member Hawaii House of Representatives led by the Speaker of the House, and the 25-member Hawaii Senate led by the President of the Senate. The Legislature meets at the State Capitol. The unified judicial branch of Hawaii is the Hawaii State Judiciary. The state's highest court is the Supreme Court of Hawaii, which uses Aliʻiōlani Hale as its chambers.
Senator Brian Schatz
Senator Mazie Hirono
Representative Ed Case (HI-1)
Representative Kai Kahele (HI-2)
Hawaii is represented in the United States Congress by two senators and two representatives. As of 2021[update], all four seats are held by Democrats. Former representative Ed Case was elected in 2018 to the 1st congressional district. Kai Kahele represents the 2nd congressional district, representing the rest of the state, which is largely rural and semi-rural.
Brian Schatz is the senior United States Senator from Hawaii. He was appointed to the office on December 26, 2012, by Governor Neil Abercrombie, following the death of former senator Daniel Inouye. The state's junior senator is Mazie Hirono, the former representative from the second congressional district. Hirono is the first female Asian American senator and the first Buddhist senator. Hawaii incurred the biggest seniority shift between the 112th and 113th Congresses. The state went from a delegation consisting of senators who were first and twenty-first in seniority to their respective replacements, relative newcomers Schatz and Hirono.
Federal officials in Hawaii are based at the Prince Kūhiō Federal Building near the Aloha Tower and Honolulu Harbor. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service and the Secret Service maintain their offices there; the building is also the site of the federal District Court for the District of Hawaii and the United States Attorney for the District of Hawaii.
Since gaining statehood and participating in its first election in 1960, Hawaii has supported Democrats in all but two presidential elections; 1972 and 1984, both of which were landslide reelection victories for Republicans Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan respectively. In Hawaii's statehood tenure, only Minnesota has supported Republican candidates fewer times in presidential elections. The 2016 Cook Partisan Voting Index ranks Hawaii as the most heavily Democratic state in the nation.
Hawaii has not elected a Republican to represent the state in the U.S. Senate since Hiram Fong in 1970; since 1977, both of the state's U.S. Senators have been Democrats.
In 2004, John Kerry won the state's four electoral votes by a margin of nine percentage points with 54% of the vote. Every county supported the Democratic candidate. In 1964, favorite son candidate senator Hiram Fong of Hawaii sought the Republican presidential nomination, while Patsy Mink ran in the Oregon primary in 1972.
Honolulu-born Barack Obama, then serving as United States Senator from Illinois, was elected the 44th President of the United States on November 4, 2008 and was re-elected for a second term on November 6, 2012. Obama had won the Hawaii Democratic caucus on February 19, 2008, with 76% of the vote. He was the third Hawaii-born candidate to seek the nomination of a major party and the first presidential nominee from Hawaii.
Hawaii is the only state in the United States that does not maintain a separate, state-wide police force. Instead, state law enforcement responsibilities are taken on by the municipal police agencies of the four main islands. Forensic services for all agencies in the state are provided by the Honolulu Police Department.
While Hawaii is internationally recognized as a state of the United States while also being broadly accepted as such in mainstream understanding, the legality of this status has been questioned in U.S. District Court, the U.N., and other international forums. Domestically, the debate is a topic covered in the Kamehameha Schools curriculum, and in classes at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.
Political organizations seeking some form of sovereignty for Hawaii have been active since the late 19th century. Generally, their focus is on self-determination and self-governance, either for Hawaii as an independent nation (in many proposals, for "Hawaiian nationals" descended from subjects of the Hawaiian Kingdom or declaring themselves as such by choice), or for people of whole or part native Hawaiian ancestry in an indigenous "nation to nation" relationship akin to tribal sovereignty with US federal recognition of Native Hawaiians. The pro-federal recognition Akaka Bill drew substantial opposition among Hawaiian residents in the 2000s. Opponents to the tribal approach argue it is not a legitimate path to Hawaiian nationhood; they also argue that the U.S. government should not be involved in re-establishing Hawaiian sovereignty.
The Hawaiian sovereignty movement views the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893 as illegal, and views the subsequent annexation of Hawaii by the United States as illegal; the movement seeks some form of greater autonomy for Hawaii, such as free association or independence from the United States.
Some groups also advocate some form of redress from the United States for the 1893 overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani, and for what is described as a prolonged military occupation beginning with the 1898 annexation. The Apology Resolution passed by US Congress in 1993 is cited as a major impetus by the movement for Hawaiian sovereignty. The sovereignty movement considers Hawaii to be an illegally occupied nation.