The Democrat who spoke most passionately at the Democratic Party of Hawaii’s Unity Breakfast Sunday was a candidate who is not actually running as a Democrat this year.

Yet, such is the influence of the party in island politics that Kirk Caldwell did not hesitate to chastise his opponent in the Honolulu mayor’s race — Charles Djou — for not speaking for the people. The people, in the mayor’s view, are descendants of the plantation era devoted to equality for all people.

Party members assembled at a Dole Cannery ballroom listened attentively, some nodding quietly in agreement.

During Djou’s brief tenure in Washington, D.C., Caldwell said Djou did “a lot of damage” to the people of Hawaii because of his record as a Republican. He recited points taken from a recent Caldwell campaign ad that laid out vote after vote (for example, against Wall Street reforms and extending jobless benefits).

Senator Mazie Hirono and Governor John Waihee speak jointly about Democratic party presidential candidiate Hillary Clinton at the Hawaii Democratic Party Unity breakfast held at the Dole Cannery ballroom. 14 aug 2016
Sen. Mazie Hirono and former Gov. John Waihee offered a “tag team” presentation in support of Hillary Clinton, their party’s presidential nominee. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“I still have a race and I want to win really, really badly,” said Caldwell, adding that he also knows what it’s like to lose.

The general election against Djou, he promised, “is going to be tough.”

Caldwell clearly wants the backing of his party in that fight, and for good reason. Hawaii Democrats usually win elections.

Democrats came together as they always do after primaries, to unite as one to keep the forces of evil (that is, Republicans) from winning more offices.

Governor Ige grabs food early and speaks to First Lady Lynn Waihee at the Democratic Party of Hawaii's Unity Breakfast held at the Dole Cannery ballroom. 14 aug 2016
Gov. David Ige grabs food early and speaks to former First Lady Lynn Waihee in the food line. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But it was not just about unity.

It was more about continuity: making sure Democrats keep control of Hawaii (a near certainty) and that Hillary Clinton be elected president over Donald Trump (a less certain proposition).

First-Name Basis

So deep is the bench of past and present politicians that many are recognizable by their first name only: Mazie (Hirono), Colleen (Hanabusa), Tulsi (Gabbard), Brickwood (Gaulteria). Hirono asked every one in the audience who had been active in the party for 20 years or more to stand, and most in the room did.

They included three former governors (George Ariyoshi, John Waihee and Neil Abercromie), the current one (David Ige) and a whole bunch of other Dems, some of them in the Legislature, others on the Honolulu City Council, still others (like Stanley Chang) hoping to return to office.

Among the attendees were victors in the previous night’s contest such Karl Rhoads, seeking to win a state Senate seat in the fall, and losers Kim Coco Iwamoto and Keone Nakoa, who both lost to Rhoads.

Hawaii Democratic Party Chair Tim Vandeveer introduces Brian Schatz at the annual Democratic Party Unity breakfast at Dole Cannery ballroom. 14 aug 2016
Hawaii Democratic Party Chair Tim Vandeveer complimented what he said was a very strong lineup of primary election candidates. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But there were also noticeable absences, in particularly former Gov. Ben Cayetano. Waihee joked from the podium that Cayetano was still welcome in the party, though he is Djou’s most prominent backer in the mayor’s race.

Just two years ago, in the same room, Hanabusa, then a congresswoman, and U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz circled each other uneasily. Less than 1,800 votes separated them in the Senate primary, and a special election awaited them in Puna on the Big Island.

Brother Mark Takai

Schatz won. But two years later, Hanabusa is widely favored to return to her House seat to replace Mark Takai, who died in July. A photograph of their “brother,” as Gabbard described him, was decorated with lei near the ballroom stage.

Democrats held a moment of silence for Takai. His body will lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda Thursday.

Another before-and-after snapshot: Just eight years ago, Hanabusa and the late U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye supported Clinton over Barack Obama in the primary races. Today, Hanabusa said the party is poised to elect the first woman to lead “the greatest nation on the face of the Earth.”

Colleen Hanabusa and Mayor Kirk Caldwell share a light moment before the Hawaii Democratic Party Unity Breakfast held at Dole Cannery ballroom. 14 aug 2016
Colleen Hanabusa, at left, and Kirk Caldwell (at right) share a light moment at the Dole Cannery ballroom. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In brief, some other takeaways from the unity breakfast to ponder:

  • Ige said there has always been a myth about a political machine that keeps things going in the islands. Rather, he said, Democrats’ success is due to the quality of the party’s candidates.
  • Schatz, who hosted the breakfast, warned that there was “no more perfect emblem” of everything the party stands against than Trump. Democrats must “repudiate” Trump’s extreme candidacy.
  • Party Chair Tim Vandeveer asked members to contribute to the cash-strapped party, a moment he called “a commercial break.” He sounded a bit like he was pitching on a Hawaii Public Radio pledge drive, saying contributions could begin at as little as $3 a month.
  • In her support for Clinton, Hirono said she was advised to change her campaign pitch to say that folks will get a raw deal under Republicans and Trump rather than saying that people will get “screwed.”

By morning’s close, with scrambled eggs, Portuguese sausage and coffee helping to ward of any compromised constitution from the night before, candidates for office in 2016 took to the stage as Galuteria led them in singing “Hawaii Aloha.”

Now comes the time for the party to, as Waihee put it, “get off their donkeys” and go to work.

“You get the joke in there,” he said.

Everyone did.

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