The chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii was warned that a candidate didn’t have to have its approval to run for office under the party’s banner.

But he didn’t tell that to the party’s State Central Committee before it voted last week to reject Laura Thielen’s candidacy for the Hawaii Senate.

Attorney Eric Seitz, representing Thielen, laid out his legal opinion in a March 29 letter to Chair Dante Carpenter.

“Once Laura files her declaration the Party would have to either expel her utilizing the process set forth in its Constitution, or file a petition in Circuit Court objecting to her candidacy,” wrote Seitz. “Under HRS Section 12-8(f) the only legitimate ground for such an objection is that ‘the candidate is not a member of the party pursuant to the party’s rules,’ but that objection seems to be foreclosed.”

By “foreclosed,” Seitz explained to Civil Beat Thursday, he was referring to the fact that Thielen was already a party member, having registered Feb. 21.

Carpenter, however, did not pass Seitz’s letter on to his party’s State Central Committee before it voted on whether to allow Thielen to run.

“There was nothing in that (Seitz’s letter) that said I should address it to the State Central Committee and nothing to prevent Laura from presenting it either,” Carpenter said. “Seitz was with Laura at that time — they could have presented it themselves.”

But Seitz said, “I didn’t want to distribute that letter because it was important for them to decide how to handle it. … We wanted to give them the best opportunity to make the right decision without this becoming a public issue first.”

Just two days after the letter was written, on March 31, the committee sustained the vote of Oahu Democrats to reject Thielen’s candidacy because it did not meet party rules.

“We have a process, and that process is actually pure and simple,” said Carpenter, who described the Seitz letter as confusing. “We were operating from the standpoint of a document which is the party constitution adopted in May 2010.”

Hawaii GOP Allows Anyone To Run

Rex Quidilla of the state Office of Elections confirmed that state law does not prevent candidates from filing to run in partisan races, and that parties can challenge the filings in court.

Debi Hartmann, the party’s executive director, said six candidates registered to run as Democrats in the 2010 elections who were not Democrats. The party granted one of the candidates a waiver to run but denied the other five.

Hartmann said four of the five ran as Democrats anyway but lost, as did the party-approved candidate. No court action was taken.

David Chang, chair of the Hawaii Republican Party, said the GOP has no rules for denying candidates.

“The only time we would sit down with them is if there are questions of criminal activity or something,” he said. “But if they are a regular person and they want to run as a Republican, even if they did not have a lot of Republican values, we think they would run for good reasons and we would support them.”

Party May Amend Rules

In a strong sign that many Democrats are upset about what happened to Thielen, Carpenter sent a letter this week to members recapping why the party voted the way it did.

He also suggested changing party rules.

“I won’t try to go through the pro’s and con’s here,” he wrote, noting that the story had played out in calls to party headquarters, blogs and Facebook. “I will say that there are good people and reasonable arguments on all sides of this ‘issue.’ Increasingly the conversation is focusing on why we have these provisions in our Constitution and how they might be improved. So, let’s check it out.”

Carpenter wants county parties to review party rules leading up to the statewide convention at the Sheraton Waikiki May 25-27, and “then make recommendations for changes by amending or deleting these provisions.”

“This is your Party and your Constitution,” wrote Carpenter. “We will continue to encourage an open and participatory democracy! So, welina, join in please.”

The deadline to file candidate papers is June 5.

Asked if she would file to run as a Democrat given that state law allows it, Thielen told Civil Beat in an email, “This issue is now larger than any one candidate. A small number of people who are not accountable to the public do not have the right to arbitrarily and secretly restrict ballot access and voters’ right to choose who represents them.”

She continued: “The Party leadership has not provided a reason why my application is different from the multiple waivers they granted to other new members in the past. In fact, because the entire process is secret, and new candidates can be approved or rejected at the County level, the reality is the Party leadership itself can’t explain or account for all the waivers that have been granted, or denied, in the past.”

Thielen will be a delegate at her party’s convention.

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