Candidates running as Democrats in Hawaii this year must pay $500 a minute to address party delegates at the annual convention this week.

So far, only one contender — U.S. Senate candidate Mazie Hirono — has accepted the fee. She’ll speak for eight minutes Saturday at the Sheraton Waikiki, setting her back $4,000.

It won’t hurt her campaign much; she had $1.6 million in cash on hand for her 2012 race, according to her most recent campaign finance reports.

But her primary opponent, Ed Case, who had only about $211,000 on hand, said he has better uses for his limited resources.

Case expressed bewilderment at a press conference Tuesday that his party would not allow top candidates for office to address the party faithful, as has been customary. Two years ago, the top candidates for governor, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House addressed the delegates.

But party spokesman Chuck Freedman told Civil Beat that the money will be used to offset the costs of the three-day convention, which begins Friday. The pay-to-speak fee is “something new” for Democrats, he said.

“We’ve got way too many candidates this year, and we need the revenue,” he said, adding that the fee only applies to what’s known as the “rally” portion of the convention.

GOP Didn’t Charge Candidates To Speak

Nacia Blom, executive director of the Hawaii Republican Party, which held its convention at the Hilton Hawaiian Village May 11-12, said the GOP did not charge candidates to speak.

They included U.S. Senate candidate Linda Lingle and U.S. House candidate Charles Djou — both were invited to address delegates — and several candidates for the Legislature who were part of the convention program.

Another House candidate, Matt DiGeronimo, showed a promotional video, for which he was charged $150 by the party. Candidates also paid for table space outside the Tapa ballroom.

The GOP isn’t likely to field nearly as many candidates as Democrats, who have mostly dominated Hawaii politics for more than half a century.

Freedman is correct that Democrats have fielded a lot of candidates thus far, and with the matter of reapportionment finally settled, more are sure to file election papers by the June 5 deadline

In addition to Case and Hirono, at least three other Democrats have expressed interest in the Senate race.

Meantime, six Democrats are running for the Hawaii Second Congressional District seat being vacated by Hirono, including former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Honolulu City Council member Tulsi Gabbard. At present, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa does not face a primary challenger.

Freedman said there would be “meet and greet” opportunities at the convention, and that the CD2 candidates will be part of a forum Saturday night but won’t be charged.

But the CD2 forum just frustrates Case, who wonders why a similar forum wasn’t allowed for the Senate candidates. He has tried in vain to push more debates or joint apperances between him and Hirono than she has allowed for.

“Imagine that,” said Case. “The most important election this year, certainly one of the most important in a generation, and for our party at its state convention the principal candidates are not speaking as a result of her refusal. But, she had time to pay $4,000 to buy herself some time to speak to the convention.”

Paying to avoid a debate, Case said, was “pathetic.”

Hirono’s camp issued a prepared statement in response to Case’s comments:

“As for the former congressman’s remarks relating to the upcoming state Democratic convention and debates, the people of Hawaii want a senator like Mazie Hirono who attacks Hawaii’s and the country’s challenges with personal determination and a cooperative style. Not someone who attacks other people with personal pettiness and a divisive approach.”

Other Dems Will Speak Free, Too

At least two other 2012 candidates will have speaking roles at the convention: Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi, who is running in a nonpartisan contest, and state Rep. Chris Lee.

Both will emcee a dinner Friday night that features Gov. Neil Abercrombie and initiates the convention’s theme: “I am a Democrat because …”

To that end, the tentative schedule calls for periodic “Why I am a Democrat” mini-speeches “to reflect on what connects people to Democratic values and why it makes a difference for the future.”

“You could say we have two challenges on our hands,” Party Chair Dante Carpenter explains in a press release Tuesday. “One is to fight as hard as we can to carry local seats and of course our all Democratic Congressional Delegation. Remember Hawaii is Obama Country. The second is to strengthen the voices of the next generation within the Democratic Party by listening to them and being guided by their views of the future.”

U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, who is retiring, will also address delegates Sunday morning.

None of the speakers will be required to pay a fee, as they are a featured part of the convention program.

Asked about the speaking fee Tuesday, Abercrombie said he was not aware of it.

“I suspect that it’s to try and meet expenses,” he said, adding, “I’ve always thought it was important for the candidates to try to help support the party.”

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