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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, June 1, 2002

You can call mood unconventional

 •  Dems begin to pick up pieces after Harris exit
 •  Hirono re-entry praised nationally

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

About 150 stunned and somewhat bewildered delegates opened the strangest Hawai'i Democratic Party convention in a generation last night, with no gubernatorial front-runner to be found and the party faithful searching for a leader.

State Sen. Cal Kawamoto, D-19th (Waipahu, Pearl City), looked around the convention and didn't care for the mood of the delegates.

"People are just blah," he said. "There's no fire. We need to find a candidate for governor who will bring back the fire."

The convention opened at the Sheraton Waikiki with the usual business matters, but delegates were talking more about the closed-door meetings that they hoped would produce a candidate who could take on Linda Lingle, the strongest hope for a Republican governor in 40 years. It was a possibility that took on greater strength with Jeremy Harris' stunning withdrawal from the governor's race Thursday.

Roy Benham figures he has been to 15 Democratic conventions, but none had the feel of last night because of the Harris announcement.

"People are confused and they certainly are surprised," said Benham, who helped push for reforms at the former Bishop Estate. "They're wondering, 'What do I do now?' The governor's race has always been set in place when I've come. After (George) Ariyoshi came (John) Waihe'e. After Waihe'e came (Ben) Cayetano. For the first time there isn't an obvious candidate."

The typical state Democratic convention is "largely ceremonial — pomp and circumstance — with the candidates clearly defined," said Honolulu City Councilman Steve Holmes. "Right now the uncertainty is huge. I think some of us are on the lookout for real candidates to emerge."

Perhaps the most obvious sign of the convention mood came at the booth of former City Council chairman Mufi Hannemann. His campaign for mayor became another casualty of Harris' decision to stay in his present office.

In just the first hour of the convention, at least 75 people stopped by.

"They all say, 'What's Mufi going to do now?' " volunteer Sheila Apisa said. "We say, 'I don't know. What do you suggest?' "

The volunteers then started writing down dozens of suggestions for future political office — from the Legislature to Congress.

"Just about everything that's possible to run for has been suggested," Apisa said.

Democratic activists who signed on to support Harris, as well as those who were working for the mayoral candidates, found themselves being openly courted last night by those still in the race.

"There's a lot of positioning for support going on," said delegate Ken Sprague. "It's not just the usual people with the usual thoughts."

Holmes, predicting that the real push for supporters will be off the convention floor, said: "The hospitality suites are going to be a hotbed of activity."

"Everyone is trying to find a lifeboat," said Fred Trotter, a former trustee of the Campbell Estate, who is a supporter of gubernatorial candidate D.G. "Andy" Anderson.

Still, other Democrats focused on finding the positive among all of the uncertainty.

"We haven't had this much excitement in years," said Rep. K. Mark Takai, D-34th (Waimalu, Newtown, Pearl City). "This is probably going to be the most exciting convention we've had in decades."

Advertiser staff writer Frank Cho contributed to this report. Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8085.

Previous stories
May 31, 2002 Mayor Harris withdraws from governor's race
May 30, 2002 Companies agree to pay fines
May 27, 2002 Democrats to set agenda
May 21, 2002 Ed Case officially in governor race
May 17, 2002 Council struggles over final budget
May 8, 2002 Harris campaign to act on lost eight weeks
May 8, 2002 Other campaigns appraise effects of court ruling
May 7, 2002 Court clears way for Harris campaign
May 7, 2002 Harris' fund told to give up excess $98,000

Harris Profile
July 25, 1999 The Harris project: the first 5 years