Hannemann, Abercrombie sum it up Hawaii Democrats facing contentious primary fights
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
Former congressman Neil Abercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann wooed delegates at the state Democratic convention yesterday, with Abercrombie framing his campaign for governor around values such as protecting public education and Hannemann vowing to serve as a collaborator who will get results.
The two rivals in the September primary were given only brief windows to address the convention, so their remarks were more about branding for the rank-and-file than full-throated campaign appeals.
Abercrombie said the election will be a referendum on leadership. He described challenges such as the state's budget deficit and teacher furloughs not only as public-policy issues, but as a chance for Democrats to declare their values and set priorities.
"This is not about budgets. It's not about programs. It's about our values, and the priorities that come from our values," he said.
He said he would focus on moving more education spending decisions down to the school level, promote sustainability through food and energy security, and invest in state programs for children and the elderly.
Abercrombie said he would also try to restore public confidence in government and appealed to Democrats to join him in what he described as the "re-establishment of a public conscience."
"Unless you put your values first, then you don't know where your priorities should and need to be," he told reporters afterward.
Otherwise, he said, "numbers replace people, and priorities get lost and your values disappear into infinity."
Hannemann took the opportunity to place himself, his family's immigrant roots and his childhood growing up in Kalihi into the lineage of Democrats who have dominated politics in the Islands since statehood.
The mayor concedes that Abercrombie's strength is among traditional Democrats and union workers. But he reminded delegates that he, too, was inspired by and wants to build on the legacy of former governors such as John Burns, George Ariyoshi and John Waihee. The only former Democratic governor he did not mention was Ben Cayetano, an ally of Abercrombie.
"There are those that would like to suggest that somehow we are this monolithic structure, a structure that perhaps has grown too tired, too weary, too old," Hannemann said. "We beg to differ.
"Ours is a party of diversity. Ours is a party that welcomes all people. Ours is a party of a big tent."
CIVIL UNIONS BACKED
Hannemann said he expects healthy debates and disagreements during the campaign but believes Democrats must work toward solutions. He cited his alliance with the three other county mayors on budget and labor issues over the past year as an example of how he can serve as a collaborator.
Jonah Ka'auwai, the chairman of the state GOP, said in a statement that Abercrombie and Hannemann "both talked about the values of the Democratic Party but failed to mention what those values are.
"By the actions taken today by their party it is clear they believe in larger government, a higher tax burden, destroying human life and disrespecting the vote of the people. Are these the values that Abercrombie and Hannemann want to bring to the governor's office?"
Delegates adopted a broad, wide-ranging platform along with resolutions on dozens of international, national and local issues.
Delegates reaffirmed the party's belief in equality for gays and lesbians and inserted specific language into the platform supporting a civil-unions bill pending before Gov. Linda Lingle.
Religious conservatives and allies of Hannemann — who has not taken a position on the bill —sought to remove the language, but the amendment was defeated. Abercrombie supports civil unions.
Democratic candidates are expected to follow the party's platform, so the language on civil unions could be used as a wedge against Hannemann.
Earlier this month, state Republicans approved a resolution urging Lingle to veto the bill and equated civil unions with same-sex marriage.
Abercrombie, speaking to reporters, warned of the dangers of a contentious primary. He said it was Hannemann who turned their 1986 battle for Congress so negative.
Republican Pat Saiki won the general election after a nasty fight between Abercrombie and Hannemann in a special election and primary.
"In terms of instruction for civics, you can look at that election and you see what happens when you run a negative campaign," Abercrombie said. "You see what happens when you concentrate on trying to tear people down rather than trying to concentrate on issues that will build people up."
Abercrombie also doubted Hannemann's pledge to serve out a full four-year term if elected. He predicted Hannemann would seek another office, such as a U.S. Senate seat, "in a nanosecond."
"Intention isn't a commitment," he said. "You know, my intention was to get to be 6 feet tall at one point. How did that work out?"
Hannemann told reporters he is committed to Washington Place. "That's why I took awhile to make up my mind," he said. "I wanted to really be sure that this is where I'm going to go."
The mayor said he believes his executive experience sets him apart from Abercrombie and Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, the leading Republican candidate for governor.
Hannemann also said he has a blend of both labor and business support.
"At the end of the day, it's who can effectively manage and implement?" he said. "And that's where I think I'm a quantum leap ahead of Neil and Duke."