BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Oahu County Democrats passed a resolution two weeks ago asking Hawaii’s Congressional delegation, the governor and national party advocacy groups such as the Democratic National Committee to remain neutral in races where there is more than one Democrat competing in the Primary.
The resolution passed the Government Affairs Committee at the statewide Hawaii Democratic Convention on Friday night, but it was killed on a technicality on the floor before the 620 delegates could vote on the measure.
The resolution was aimed in part at U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye. Hawaii Reporter chronicled the opposition to the resolution, which was organized by Inouye’s 2010 campaign chair in an effort to kill the resolution before it ever reached the floor for a full vote.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, D-HI, have abided by that unspoken rule, staying away from endorsements of other Democrats or advocacy statements before the Primary election.
But Inouye, undoubtedly Hawaii’s most powerful and influential politician, has been actively taking sides before the Primary much to the frustration of many party members. The resolution, introduced by Hawaii Attorney Joanne Adams, was an outgrowth of that frustration.
Inouye ignored the resolution even at the convention. During a 21-minute speech wrapping up the three-day event, he told the delegates that either former Mayor Mufi Hannemann or City Council Member Tulsi Gabbard are good choices for the open seat in the U.S. Congressional election, district 2. “Both of them are fine people,” Inouye said.
His remarks excluded other Democratic candidates – such as Bob Marx and Esther Kiaaina – who are actively campaigning for the nomination. And led supporters of Esther Kiaana’s congressional campaign to shout out “Kiaaina!”, “Kiaaina for Congress!”
Neither Gabbard or Hannemann showed up for the Congressional District 2 candidate forum on Saturday night, but they did make an appearance during Inouye’s speech on Sunday.
Inouye has also been campaigning for U.S. Congresswoman Mazie Hirono, D-HI, District 2, and against Congressman Ed Case (2002-2007) because of an old grudge Inouye’s held since 2006.
Inouye also endorsed and fundraised for Colleen Hanabusa when she was running for U.S. Congress in 2010 in a special election that pitted her against Case and Republican Charles Djou. Because of the three-way race, that included two well-known Democrats, Djou won. Hanabusa went on to win the General election six months later with Inouye’s help after Case agreed to withdraw from the race.
There was no mention about the Case/Hirono Senate race during his remarks. However, Inouye did say Hanabusa, who is running for re-election in District 1, is doing “a good job” and he hopes the Democrats can “send her back.”
Adams told Hawaii Reporter before the convention she authored the resolution 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.”
Adams said as a grassroots activist, she “strongly prefers the people decide who shall comprise our Congressional delegation through a fair and competitive primary election, followed by a fair and competitive general election.”
Adams and other Democrats say it has been 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, remain neutral if there is more than one Democratic Candidate in the race, and note, 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.
After the resolution died without debate on the floor, Adams said: “I asked about my resolution and was told that it had not been properly formatted to be submitted to the State Convention. I have not dug any further myself, but I do find it very strange that of all the resolutions that were forwarded from Oahu to the State Convention that this one was not properly formatted. Beyond that, you would have to pick up the trail from Oahu County Convention to find out who was the chair of the Resolutions Committee who handled that particular resolution. It is standard practice to reformat county resolutions when they are forwarded to the state. How or why this one was not done properly is something I do not know.”
Adams is chairing Kiaaina’s congressional campaign, but said her remarks are her personal views, and not tied to her role in a campaign.
But Adams added: “However, given Sen. Inouye’s comments at the convention, I think it is appropriate to introduce the resolution again at the next convention, and I will monitor its fate much more closely.”
Kiaaina told Hawaii Reporter, she was disapponted by Sen Inouye’s comments, adding “so was my family and all of my supporters who were in the audience.”
“My concern is that his comments can be construed as trying to influence the outcome of Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District when there are six Democrats running, including myself,” Kiaaina said.
Case, who agreed with the resolution’s intent, said it 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 on the eve of the convention.
“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.”
Other Resolutions Debated
In a marathon debate in the rules committee on Friday night that lasted from 7:30 p.m. to 11:15 p.m., Democrats debated everything from how to sanction a legislator who is not progressive enough, to how to kick out of the party Democrats who don’t follow the party platform, to preventing Democrats they approve of from running as Democrats in the first place.
The worst example of Democrats, according to members of the rules committee, include small businesswoman Bev Harbin, who was appointed by former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, and Mike Gabbard, a socially conservative state Senator who switched from the Republican to Democratic Party after his election.
Laura Thielen, a Democrat who worked for former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, and is the daughter of Rep. Cynthia Thielen, R-Kailua, is also unpopular with some Democrats.
She plans to run as a Democrat for a senate seat, which includes Kailua, Waimanalo and parts of Hawaii Kai in its district. Because of her Republican ties, key Democrats tried to prevent Thielen from running as a Democrat for the seat now held by Democrat Senator Pohai Ryan, and even suggested taking the case to court.
But after much discussion, a resolution passed that said candidates who want to run as Democrats but have been good standing members of the party less than 6 months, can ask for special exception, and if their candidacy is denied, another group of Democrats will consider an appeal as a whole separate application rather than as an appeal to the lower committee’s previous ruling.
Thielen said at the convention, while the ruling does not directly impact her since she has already filed as a Democrat, the overwhelming support for the resolution should keep party leaders from taking her to court.
Another controversial resolution passed the environmental committee that would have put the party on record as opposing the Koa Ridge and Ho’opili private housing developments.
But the resolution was killed on the floor after several union, pro-construction members spoke against the measure, calling it “anti rail and anti Hoopili.”
The resolution died with only about one fifth of the members’ support, and strong opposition from the remaining members, showing at least in this crowd, construction jobs took preference over the environmental concerns.
Hoopili is a controversial private housing development project that is proposed for construction on prime agricultural lands on Oahu’s west side. The new mini city would be build around the city’s planned elevated steel on steel rail project, which is now facing legal and political challenges. Koa Ridge is another controversial housing project in Mililani.