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As Convention Approaches, Hawaii Democrats Fight Inouye's Control, But Party Insiders Have Another Plan

US Senator Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii

“We’ll have to make sure it doesn’t come up at the state convention. Is the First Amendment dead?” Linda Chu Takayama, 2010 campaign manager for U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye

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BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN - A bold and controversial resolution that will be debated at the Democratic Party of Hawaii convention this weekend is causing quite a stir among party members – even in the highest political circles.

And an email obtained by Hawaii Reporter sent by a key Inouye supporter to a Congresswoman, Inouye’s chief of staff, Inouye’s special assistant, the party’s National Committeewoman, and Congresswoman Mazie Hirono’s spokesperson, shows there are already plans underway to kill the resolution before it even comes to the floor for a full vote.

The resolution, which already unanimously passed the recent Oahu County Convention, demands Hawaii’s congressional delegation, governor and party leaders remain neutral until after the Democratic Primary.

The party’s top officials would be asked not to endorse, campaign or fundraise for any candidates until after the August 11 Primary election.

The resolution is aimed in part at the powerful U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, who serves as Senate Appropriations Chair and President Pro Tempore. Inouye has been extremely clear in recent elections which candidates he favors. Hawaii Democrats say this is a change from just a few elections ago when Inouye remained relatively neutral.

Congresswoman Hanabusa was endorsed by U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye in the 2010 election over Former Congressman Ed Case

During the 2010 special congressional election, which pitted then state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa against Congressman Ed Case (2002-2007), Inouye openly backed Hanabusa and aggressively campaigned against Case. Inouye even went so far as to attack Case’s honor and integrity over a dispute Inouye said they had in 2006 when Case ran against Inouye’s senate partner Daniel Akaka. While Case apologized last spring for inadvertently insulting the senior Senator, Inouye has essentially continued the snub and hostility.

As a result of the division in the Democratic Party between Inouye’s supporters and those who want the party to be more independent of Inouye’s controlling grip, Republican Charles Djou, a former city council member and state representative, won the three-way race and took the congressional seat temporarily.

Joanne Adams, a Hawaii attorney who introduced the resolution, said fellow party members included the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and Democratic National Committee in her initial language, which shows “people equally resent the national organizations trying to manipulate the outcome.”

She used the example of Democrats being encouraged to vote for Ed Case rather than Colleen Hanabusa so that Charles Djou would not win the special election.

“The upshot was that meddling by the DCCC was the Charles Djou won the special election; we have no idea if he would have won it DCCC had not meddled,” Adams said. “However, the results of the general election seem to indicate that he may not have. We might have elected Congresswoman Hanabusa from the start.”

This election season, Inouye is again openly campaigning against Case, this time by supporting Congresswoman Mazie Hirono, D-HI.  Inouye wants Hirono to win the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the retirement of Daniel Akaka. In Hawaii, this almost guarantees Hirono would have that seat for life.

Inouye also made it known he does not want former Democratic Governor Ben Cayetano elected as Honolulu Mayor, and instead favors former Rep. Kirk Caldwell or Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle.

Inouye recently appeared at a rally with Caldwell and Carlisle that launched the construction of the city’s planned $5.3 billion elevated steel on steel rail, a pet project of Inouye’s that Cayetano opposes.

Cayetano, who will attend the convention, said as Hawaii’s governor he did not take sides in the Democratic primary races, and traditionally Hawaii governors don’t take sides “to keep unity within the party.”

“The governor has power and should not be interfering with races because that means you have to go against another Democrat,” Cayetano said.

If a high-ranking member of the party makes endorsements, it makes the other candidates and their supporters “really upset,” Cayetano added.

Dan Inouye joins Mayoral Candidate Kirk Caldwell and Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle at a rally for the rail with Kiewit workers

Since Inouye is one of the most powerful and senior members of the U.S. Senate, and unquestionably the most influential politician in Hawaii, his endorsements are effective, but also divisive.

Some members of the party recently compared Inouye and his so called enforcers to “bullies” who want to put into place the next U.S. Senator, two U.S. Representatives, the next Oahu mayor and even the next federal judge.

This particular resolution documents party members frustration with this power grab, even though the text does not specifically name Inouye or his cohorts.

Adams said: “I wrote it, because it has become abundantly clear that with the retirement of Senator Akaka, we are beginning the transition of our Congressional Delegation to the next generation. It is not as clear, and yet there are rumors, that the field is being limited in some races by decisions made ‘by the powers that be.’

“On the other hand, there are rumors that when the field is crowded, particularly if it looks like the outcome may not please ‘the powers that be,’ that they are injecting themselves into competitive primary races to try to tip the vote to the candidate they prefer.

“As a grassroots activist, I strongly prefer that the people decide who shall comprise our Congressional delegation through a fair and competitive primary election, followed by a fair and competitive general election. If it means that there is a little upheaval for a few terms as we settle in on the next person to hold that seat, I find that preferable to having my ballot choices limited.

“It has been a party tradition that the Chair of the Party, and the Chair of each County Party, the Executive Director of the Party, the Caucuses of the Party, etc., remain neutral if there is more than one Democratic Candidate in the race.  With rare exception, they have.

“My issue is with the elected officials who hold leadership positions who actively limit our choices or try to tip the election toward a particular result by using the power of the offices they hold to sway voters to one Democratic candidate over another in a contested primary race.”

Adams said she “heard rumors” there might be a fight over her resolution at the Convention, but maintains that was her purpose in writing the resolution.

“I did not expect that the resolution would pass unanimously at any level.  What I had hoped was that there would be vigorous debate by the rank and file within earshot of the party leaders who engage in this behavior.  If the majority of party members prefer a ‘boss’ mentality where we are told how to vote, I will abide by that decision.  However, we are at a turning point where the people could say that they would prefer to make their own choices on the next generation to lead us in Congress,” Adams said.

Ed Case

Case, who plans to attend the convention, said the resolution is one reflection of a grassroots rebellion within the Democratic Party of Hawaii “against the political bossism that has proved so corrosive to our party over the last decades.”

“Many party members, and I am one, resent efforts to spoon-feed us our candidates, micromanage our choices, shut down any real debate and control our future. We believe that not only are these efforts against the very principles of our party, but they lead to insider decision making, risk our continued leadership of all Hawaii and destroy development of our next generation of leaders,” Case said.

“The longstanding tradition of DPH leaders and Democratic elected officials remaining neutral in contested Democratic primaries is a sound one because it keeps our party open and evolving in a changing Hawaii and checks destructive centralizations of power. I welcome the Oahu Democrats' adoption of the resolution and look forward to a full debate of the resolution and underlying issues at our convention,” Case added.

Senator Inouye’s office did not have a comment on the resolution and would not say whether the Senator will openly oppose it at the convention.

But behind the scenes, some of Inouye’s key supporters appear to be plotting to make sure the resolution never comes up for a vote.

Linda Chu Takayama

An email obtained by Hawaii Reporter written by Linda Chu Takayama, an attorney who has served as both Inouye’s campaign manager and the manager of the Democrats’ coordinated campaign, gives an insight into the controversy.

The May 7 email was addressed to Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, D-HI, Hirono’s Campaign Spokesperson Betsy Lin, the Democratic Party of Hawaii’s National Committeewoman Jadine Nielsen, Inouye’s Chief of Staff Jennifer Goto Sabas and Inouye’s Special Assistant Sara Daly.

Takayama said in her email: “Here is a reso(lution) from the Oahu County convention this weekend. It asks the Cong(ressional) Delegation to remain neutral in contested primaries – no endorsements, fundraising, letters, campaign ads, etc. for other candidates.”

Takayama added: “We’ll have to make sure it doesn’t come up at the state convention. Is the First Amendment dead?”

Some of the resolution's text is highlighted in red:

"Resolved, That the O‘ahu County Democratic Party ask the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, to remain neutral in all contested primary election races, and not provide active support to any candidate in any contested primary race; this shall include but not be limited to, making monetary or in kind contributions, soliciting money or in kind contributions, accepting a position in a campaign, sign-waving, letter writing, appearing in campaign ads, etc."

When asked about the email by Hawaii Reporter, Takayama said: “The email I sent raised concerns about a resolution that I felt would be restrictive of the First Amendment rights of certain officials to express support for whomever they wished.  I would have the same concerns for restrictions on any individual’s rights to support a candidate of their choice.

“I was writing to a group of folks I’ve known for a while and  to whom I often express my personal opinions and not in any representative capacity.  Some of them may be involved in other campaigns, but I believed all of them would have an interest in a policy affecting individual rights.  There was no specific campaign or strategy at issue.  You would be jumping to unwarranted conclusions to assume so.   I was not speaking on behalf of any one or any campaign, just on the principle.   I am as concerned about the impact on legislative and county races as the more prominent Congressional or Mayoral contests,” Takayama said.

Takayama, who has served as the director of the Party’s Coordinated Campaign, which aims to unify Democrats against Republicans, said she is not heading the campaign this year and has not been for some time.

Betsy Lin, Hirono’s former chief of staff who now works as a spokesperson for Hirono’s U.S. Senate campaign, said: “Our campaign is not involved in any movement to ‘Kill’ the legislation you refer to. However, on a personal level I have concerns about restricting the First Amendment rights of anyone's right to support the candidate of their choice.”

Jadine Nielson, who in addition to serving as the party’s National Committeewoman, has also been a Clinton delegate and the state director for U.S. Sen. John Edwards’s presidential bid, said: “I'm not involved in the resolution you mentioned.”

Jennifer Goto Sabas, Inouye’s chief of staff, did not respond to Hawaii Reporter’s media inquiry that was also copied to Inouye’s special assistant Sara Daly.

Richard Rapoza, spokesperson for Hanabusa, said the congresswoman is planning to remain neutral in all Democratic races this election year, and has her own election to focus on.

The email also copied Rona Suzuki, a volunteer with Inouye’s campaign.

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