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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Gabbard mulls being a Democrat

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Sen. Mike Gabbard

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State Sen. Mike Gabbard said yesterday he may switch political parties and become a Democrat, which would further weaken Republicans in the Senate.

Gabbard, R-19th (Kapolei, Makakilo, Waikele), is expected to meet with Democratic activists this weekend and could make a decision shortly after. Democrats have a 20-to-5 advantage over Republicans in the Senate, and two Republican senators are facing significant re-election challenges next year.

"Tulsi has been twisting my arm," Gabbard said of his daughter, former Democratic state Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Tamayo, who now works for U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, in Washington, D.C. "But I haven't made a decision yet."

Gabbard, a former Honolulu city councilman elected to the Senate last year, was more likely than other Senate Republicans to cross over and vote with Democrats last session. He also disappointed Republicans when he was the deciding vote to override Gov. Linda Lingle's veto of a bill that created an advisory council to help select appointments to the University of Hawai'i Board of Regents.

State Senate Minority Leader Fred Hemmings, R-25th (Kailua, Waimanalo, Hawai'i Kai), spoke with Gabbard last night after hearing talk about the potential switch. "There's really two parties in this state: the party of the status quo and the party of reform," Hemmings said. "It would be sad to see Mike go to the party of the status quo."

Democratic leaders declined to comment publicly but several Democrats said privately that Gabbard was likely to switch.

Several Democratic activists, however, are upset that party leaders might embrace Gabbard after his role in opposing same-sex marriage in the late 1990s. "I think he's been a vicious demagogue on civil rights for gay couples," said Bart Dame, who is co-chair of the party's legislation committee and close with its progressive wing.

The Interfaith Alliance of Hawai'i wrote a letter yesterday to state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, D-21st (Nanakuli, Makaha), describing Gabbard's views as contrary to the party's platform. "As a leader who clearly stands for equality, we feel it is essential for you to distance yourself from Senator Gabbard's record of inciting fear and prejudice, especially against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members of our diverse Hawai'i community," wrote the Rev. John Heidel, president of the alliance's board of directors.

Doug Pyle, the co-chair with Dame of the party's legislation committee, said there is room in the party for people who oppose same-sex marriage or civil unions. "That's not the issue with Mike Gabbard," he said. "It's his history of extreme rhetoric."

Reach Derrick DePledge at ddepledge@honoluluadvertiser.com.