Aiona challenges 'old guard'
• Photo gallery: Republicans rally at GOP convention
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona told Republicans yesterday that they are a balancing force to the "old guard of Hawai'i politics" and challenged them to stand up for their beliefs and help their party keep Washington Place.
"We cannot stop now," Aiona, a Republican candidate for governor, told delegates at the state GOP convention at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikīkī. "We cannot hold our state and our people back any longer by allowing the Democratic political machine to put a rubber stamp in the governor's office."
Aiona said he would expand state investments in alternative energy and in science, technology, engineering and math at public schools if elected. He said he would cut state fees, reduce government regulation, prioritize government spending and order an independent audit of the state Department of Education.
He criticized majority Democrats in the state Legislature for not doing more during the past session to promote job creation and help with the economic recovery. He also accused state House Democrats, who brought a civil-unions bill to the floor on the last day of session, of "circumventing the will of the people through last-minute political maneuvering to establish the equivalent of same-sex marriage."
Aiona said his two potential Democratic challengers — former Congressman Neil Abercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann — would be an extension of a political machine that has largely controlled the Islands since statehood.
"On jobs, the economy and education, the political machine has made bad decision after bad decision for decades," he said. "And they will continue to do so until we rise up as a community and stop them."
Laurie Au, a spokeswoman for the Abercrombie campaign, said voters want change after eight years under Gov. Linda Lingle and Aiona.
"The message is clear. We want a change from the gridlock and politicking that is leaving people cynical and disillusioned," Au said. "People are tired of hearing what can't be done; we want to know what we can do."
Dean Okimoto, a volunteer for Hannemann's campaign committee, said it is about more than change. "It's about rebuilding Hawai'i so that we hold public education as a priority, so that we can send our children back to school," he said.
"We need to send our people back to work," he said. "We need to understand that in everything we have to do there needs to be a balance.
"So it isn't just about change, it's about making things better."
Republican delegates, in a departure from past state conventions, adopted a party platform that is centered on five core values rather than specific positions on public-policy issues.
The party's platform, circulated on signed scrolls to resemble the U.S. Constitution, is based on liberty, limited government, individual responsibility, fiscal accountability and equality of opportunity.
Mark Moses, a former state lawmaker, said a traditional issues-based platform is often not read or followed by Republican candidates and can provide fodder for Democratic attacks.
"This is a platform that all Republicans can agree on and believe in," Moses said.
Republicans did take a position on one public-policy issue, however. Delegates approved a resolution urging Lingle to veto the civil-unions bill.
While Republicans were unified yesterday, GOP leaders were concerned that disagreements over the platform would erupt during the convention, and had initially considered closing the platform debate to the news media.
Several delegates, for example, wanted the party to formally address issues such as the Native Hawaiian federal recognition bill pending in Congress, which many conservatives oppose as discriminatory.
Some Republican candidates were also upset by what they saw as favoritism. John Carroll, an attorney and former state lawmaker running in the Republican primary against Aiona, was disappointed that Lingle talked about the importance of passing the baton to Aiona and by Aiona's prominent speaking role.
"This basically ended up being a rally for Duke Aiona," Carroll said.
Lingle, addressing her last convention as governor after two terms, said Republicans should not be afraid of being labeled the "party of 'no' " if it means defending the GOP's core values.
"Let me tell you, if you want to raise taxes, what are we the party of?" Lingle asked delegates.
"No!" they shouted back.
"If you want more regulation on individuals and businesses in our state, we're the party of?" the governor asked.
"And if you want bigger government, more bureaucracy in your life, we're the party of?" the governor asked.
In a surprise, Aiona was introduced by former state senator David Matsuura, a Big Island Democrat who as Senate Health and Human Services Committee chairman in 2002 sought to block a vote on a physician-assisted suicide bill because of legal concerns and his religious convictions.
Aiona said that, despite Lingle's eight years as governor, he has detected what he described as a "troubling undercurrent" among voters afraid to publicly support a Republican candidate for fear of retribution by majority Democrats.
He challenged Republicans to stand up for their beliefs.
"This system, based on fear and intimidation, is not something we can allow to remain and fester," he said.