Republicans urged to unite
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
WAIKOLOA, Hawai'i — Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona told Republicans yesterday they do not need to act like Democrats to get elected in the Islands and must return to their core beliefs of lower taxes, smaller government and greater personal freedom.
"Let's be honest. Republicans did not lose in the last election cycle because of differences with our opponents," Aiona, a Republican candidate for governor in 2010, told delegates to the state GOP convention at the Marriott Waikoloa Beach Resort & Spa on the Big Island. "We lost because we abandoned our core principles."
Aiona portrayed majority Democrats in the state Legislature as bereft of new ideas, falling back on tax increases to help solve the state's budget deficit.
"Sometimes the truth hurts. And the truth is the Democrats have run out of ideas," he said. "So I ask you, what was the last great Democratic idea in Hawai'i? Well, the biggest idea they had this legislative session was to raise taxes."
Gov. Linda Lingle and other Republican leaders used the annual gathering to plead to splinter factions within the party to come together for Aiona and other GOP candidates in 2010.
Lingle, who will complete her second term next year, said it is unrealistic to expect Republicans to gain balance with Democrats in the state Legislature in a single election cycle. But the governor said the party could maintain its leverage by electing Aiona and keeping Washington Place.
The governor told Republicans there would be time after the election for ideological debates about their internal differences.
"In order for us to have the kind of Hawai'i we want, we've got to work harder than we ever have before. No one is going to hand this election to us," Lingle said. "So for those of you who want to focus attention on where we disagree, I ask you to give it a rest for awhile."
Even the most hopeful Republican recognizes the challenge. The GOP is down to eight seats in the state Legislature — six in the state House and two in the state Senate. After some promise of growth on the Neighbor Islands because of Lingle, a former Maui mayor, the party now holds no seats outside of O'ahu.
Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou, who is running in the Republican primary for Congress in urban Honolulu's 1st Congressional District, said the party has to recruit quality candidates.
"I think the Republican Party does have a good message about diversifying our economy, about trying to keep more money in the pocketbooks of consumers, but we need more messengers to carry that message," he said. "The last election, we left too many seats uncontested, and I think that's got to be a top priority for the GOP next year."
Delegates yesterday elected Jonah Ka'auwai, a state corrections administrator and former deputy chief of staff to Aiona, as party chairman. Ka'auwai, who, like Aiona, is a social conservative, replaces Willes Lee as chairman.
Delegates also approved a resolution that would move the party toward a presidential caucus system in February 2012. Republicans will study how to apportion delegates to presidential candidates and whether to allow same-day voter registration.
SHIFT TO THE RIGHT
The party now elects delegates for presidential nominees at state conventions. A presidential caucus, many Republicans believe, could bring new people into the party and attract presidential candidates to the Islands. Thousands of new Democrats, for example, joined the Democratic Party of Hawaii last year to vote for Hawai'i-born Barack Obama.
Party officials also announced that the Republican National Committee's winter meeting would be held in Honolulu in January 2010.
With Aiona and Ka'auwai as the main public faces of the party going into 2010, the signs are the GOP is shifting more to the right.
Brian Schatz, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, said Republicans appear to be struggling to find a voice.
"They've chosen to rally the base and I'm not sure that's where the mainstream of Hawai'i is," he said. "Mainstream Hawai'i voters want people who have moderate and tolerant views, and this move to the right will very likely hurt them in 2010."
Schatz believes Republicans are moving to the right both locally and nationally. "It's what you do when you don't have a plan," he said, "you rally whoever remains in your shrinking tent."
Ka'auwai said he believes the state GOP is "going big tent. Definitely. And the reason why I believe that is everyone has a different opinion, and we're going to welcome every single opinion into the Hawaii Republican Party.
"And I think the unique thing about myself is the spirit of aloha that I understand and that I embody," he said. "And because of that spirit of aloha, it's one that we're going to agree to disagree, but we're going to be able to come together and agree on several things — not just things on the right or things on the left or things in the middle."