Hawaii Democrats open convention amid discord
HERBERT A. SAMPLE
HONOLULU — One week after internal bickering partially cost Democrats a Hawaii congressional seat they had held for two decades, the state party will convene its biennial meeting Saturday with the prospect of more discord right around the corner.
Hawaii Democratic Party leaders weren't stunned that Republican Charles Djou handily won the 1st Congressional District seat in a May 22 special election, since it had been clear that Democrats Colleen Hanabusa and Ed Case would split their party's vote.
But within days of the congressional race ending, the state's political focus shifted to the Democrats' gubernatorial primary in September between Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Neil Abercrombie, who in February vacated the U.S. House seat that Djou won.
And if the first days are any indication, their contest will be scrappy — not unlike the acrimonious campaign the two men waged 24 years ago for a U.S. House seat.
At a rally Thursday where he announced his candidacy, the 55-year-old Hannemann repeatedly referred to the level of stamina he has for the governor's office — an apparent reference to the gap in age between he and Abercrombie, who is 71.
"It's going to take a leader, a leader who has executive experience, a leader who has lots of energy," Hannemann told Thursday's campaign rally. "Lots and lots of energy," he said at another point.
He also skewered Abercrombie for resigning from the U.S. House seat that Djou won. "He bailed out," the mayor said.
Abercrombie, in response, threw a brush back pitch. "I think you know the negative campaign is a hallmark of the mayor's approach. It's typical of his campaigns," the former congressman said Thursday.
Abercrombie has broached the airwaves first.
Having briefly aired a biographical TV ad earlier this year, Abercrombie took to the airwaves again Monday with a new ad about education and another, more atmospheric commercial two days later.
Hannemann made it clear his ads would not wait until July 20, when he said he would file candidacy papers and then, by law, resign from the mayor's post.
Abercrombie and Hannemann are scheduled to speak Saturday afternoon at the state Democratic convention at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. The party's proposed platform is to be voted on Saturday, as well as a proposed resolution in support of HB 444, a bill pending on Republican Gov. Linda Lingle's desk to allow same-gender couples to enter into civil unions.
U.S. Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka are to deliver speeches on Sunday, as are Colleen Hanabusa and Ed Case, who split the Democratic vote in last week's special election that Djou won. Dante Carpenter, the interim party chairman, is expected to be elected to the post Sunday as well.
The expected crowd of 750 will not hear speeches from Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor, including state Reps. Lyla Berg and Jon Riki Karamatsu, Sens. Robert Bunda, Gary Hooser and Norman Sakamoto, and former state party Chairman Brian Schatz.
But the contenders will be glad-handing and distributing buttons and bumper stickers in an effort to raise their profile with party activists.
"These are the organizers of their own communities," Schatz said. "You're not just reaching 1,000 people, but 1,000 people who have their own spheres of influence."
Whatever the acrimony among the Democratic candidates for state and federal offices, many Democrats expect the party to coalesce after the primary.
"In any campaign...some people need more than a day to go beyond it," said Sakamoto. "In the past, people work their hardest, fight their hardest and then they come together afterward. ... That'll be my hope."