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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 17, 2001

Democrats elect leader

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

The Hawaii Democratic Party shifted its leadership to a "younger generation" yesterday with the retirement of former party chairman Walter Heen and the election of incoming chairwoman Lorraine Akiba.

Lorraine Akiba says she'll blend economic and social issues.
"I represent the new generation of Democrats who are getting involved," said Akiba, the former director of the state Labor and Industrial Relations Department and Democratic national committeewoman. "I'm a businesswoman, I understand the concerns about the economy, but as a Democrat I am also committed to the values and the need to be sensitive to social concerns of our community."

Akiba, 44, headed the Labor Department for five years before joining the law firm McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinnon, where she is a partner. She said she will continue to work at the firm while leading the Democratic Party. Akiba, born and raised in Honolulu, is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and Hastings College of Law.

Heen said he will remain involved in the Democratic Party. He added that Akiba "brings energy, she brings youth and she brings a familiarity with the issues that can be used to spread Democratic party programs, philosophies and values."

Since he was elected chairman in 1998, Heen saw the Republicans win 19 House seats — the most since 1954. Democrats also came close to losing the governor's seat during the gubernatorial election in 1998 when Republican Linda Lingle lost to Democratic Gov. Ben Cayetano by about 5,000 votes.

Yesterday Heen, 72, smiled as he talked about his retirement, which means more time for his grandson, surfing and golfing. "I feel like a large load has been lifted off my shoulders.

"I'm retiring because I think it's time for the party to turn leadership over to a new generation of Democrats," he said. "It's time to give them that right to serve as party leaders. I think they will bring fresh outlooks on traditional Democratic Party programs and be able to fashion new approaches to the problems that still face us."