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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hawaii House member switching from GOP

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Rep. Karen Awana

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Leeward state Rep. Karen Awana said she will switch political parties this morning and become a Democrat, leaving just seven Republicans in the state House. She is the second Republican lawmaker this year to leave the party.

Awana, a freshman who represents House District 44 in Honokai Hale, Nanakuli and Lualualei, said she has thought about the change for two years but made her decision after her experience in the state Legislature last session.

"It's just a matter of me being able to be more effective at addressing the needs and concerns of the community," Awana said yesterday. "As a freshman legislator, I was quick to learn during the first year that in order for you to be able to pass the bills you need to help the community, I was going to have to make adjustments."

In August, state Sen. Mike Gabbard, D-19th (Kapolei, Makakilo, Waikele), switched parties, citing similar reasons as Awana. Her move leaves seven Republicans in the 51-member state House and four Republicans in the 25-member Senate.

Awana said her decision was based on a blend of practical and philosophical reasons. She often voted with Democrats last session, and her district is predominantly Democratic.

Awana will appear at Democratic Party of Hawai'i headquarters this morning with state House Speaker Calvin Say, D-20th (St. Louis Heights, Palolo Valley, Wilhelmina Rise), state House Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell, D-24th (Manoa), and other House Democrats.

"She is so solid, practical, on-the-ground, no-nonsense. She is the kind of person we want to have in our caucus," Caldwell said. "I think she's going to make a difference."

Awana, a former legislative aide and Navy reservist, narrowly lost to then-state Rep. Michael Kahikina in 2002 and 2004. Despite her performance, the GOP last year chose to favor Tercia Ku in the primary over Awana. Awana defeated Ku and then Kahikina in the general election, one of the few bright spots for Republicans in a year when they dropped two seats in the House.

State House Minority Leader Lynn Finnegan, R-32nd (Lower Pearlridge, 'Aiea, Halawa), said Awana had told her that talk of switching parties was just a rumor. "It would have been nice to hear from her first," she said.

"I don't believe overnight that her values are going to change. Her values were very much Republican when she ran in her district, so I don't think that's going to change much with her votes."

Willes Lee, the state's GOP chairman, said Awana's and Gabbard's decisions are not an indication of the party's status. "Those are individual decisions they have to make based on their own beliefs," he said.

Reach Derrick DePledge at ddepledge@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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