KONA, Hawaii Island — U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa said people often ask her these days why she is running for governor.
After all, she said, a lot of people are telling her she’s doing a pretty good job in Washington, D.C.
“It’s very simple,” she says. “We have the most wonderful place in the world to live. Hawaii is a very special place — when you are in Washington, you realize how special Hawaii is. And I am running because I feel in my heart that unless we have strong leadership, we are going to lose the Hawaii that we all love.”
The person who is not providing strong leadership, she intimates, is the man she hopes to succeed: Gov. David Ige.
It was the second time Hanabusa — the gubernatorial frontrunner, according to polls — addressed delegates at the Democratic Party of Hawaii state convention Sunday at the Hilton Waikoloa Beach Resort.
While the finale was direct and to the point, the first speech was much longer. At one point the conversation from delegates in the back of the ballroom drowned out the congresswoman speaking from the podium.
The earlier remarks came in Hanabusa’s capacity as one of four members of the all-Democratic congressional delegation. She talked about how collaboration with her colleagues had accomplished good things for the state, even though Republicans run Washington, D.C.
Hanabusa also stressed the importance of maintaining a balance of power between the three branches of the federal government.
Between speeches, Hanabusa told Civil Beat that she had not heard Ige’s well-received speech Saturday, but that some had told her it was passionate.
“I guess the issue, of course — and detractors are saying — is that he is taking credit for all kinds of stuff he didn’t do,” she said.
Hanabusa said the main differences between her and Ige are her leadership abilities and record. She said that includes her understanding of the federal government and Hawaii’s geopolitical position in the Asia-Pacific region.
She said she essentially has the support of the Hawaii Legislature, suggesting without directly saying that the governor does not.
In March, the top leaders of the state House and Senate held a joint fundraiser for Hanabusa in the middle of the 2018 session. Ige said the fundraiser illustrated his opponent’s desire to “return to the old days of doing things and the attendant backroom dealings.”
A third Democrat running for governor, former state Sen. Clayton Hee, spoke briefly. He recalled his record as a legislator unafraid to champion controversial issues such as equal rights for gays and lesbians and advocating for a higher minimum wage and better health care.
“Those are the issues, and you need someone with the history who is not afraid to do those things,” Hee said.
There were many highlights on the second and final day of the convention.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said there is a new energy in the Democratic Party, fueled by a “new progressive movement across the nation” that started at the grass-roots level.
In spite of the Trump administration’s best efforts, Schatz said, Democrats have “largely prevailed” in court rulings and elsewhere when it comes to core issues like protecting the environment.
Schatz also denounced Trump’s policy to split up immigrant families at the border, including separating children from parents. The senator described the policy as the “physical manifestation” of bigotry. “
One of the most well-received speeches came from U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. Her message was twofold.
The first was that the world would be a better place if it adhered to the aloha spirit of tolerance and kindness.
Gabbard said no one embodied these principles better than the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, who Gabbard once worked for. While the politics in Washington can be be brutal, she reminded Democrats that Akaka never descended to “talk stink” about others, regardless of their party.
The congresswoman’s other message was about peace. Observing that the convention was held over Memorial Day weekend, she spoke of the tremendous cost borne by military veterans.
If Trump hardliners Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo and John Bolton have their way, Gabbard warned, the nation will be forced to brace for “interventionist, regime-change wars around the world,” particularly in Iran. Instead, she said, the U.S. should invest more dollars at home rather than in places like Yemen and Syria.
Gabbard’s primary opponent, Sherry Alu Campagna, was one of the few candidates to criticize an opponent directly from the podium at the convention.
Party delegates chose a new party chair, denying Tim Vandeveer a second two-year term.
The new chair is Kealii Lopez, director of government relations for the law firm of Alston, Hunt, Floyd and Ing who formerly ran the state Department of Commerce and Community Affairs and Olelo Community Media.
Gloria Borland, a longtime party activist, finished third.
After the vote, Lopez, a Native Hawaiian, told the convention she hoped delegates would work to advance the causes of the state’s indigenous people.
“You are going to see that we are able to make a difference together,” she said, as Vandeveer and Borland joined her on the stage.
“What a crazy ride,” said Vandeveer, smiling broadly and pledging support to his successor.
A subtext to the fight for chair was whether the party would move in the direction of more progressive Democrats (read: Bernie Sanders) like Vandeveer, or more establishment Democrats (read: backed by labor and lobbyists) like Lopez.
The election came after the party certified that the official roll of credentialed delegates, alternates, guests and observers as of Sunday midday totaled more than 600 people.
That was many more than Saturday’s count and was at the core of a dispute over exactly how many people were on hand to deal with party business — especially the vote for chair.
Also speaking at the party convention were leading candidates for the 1st Congressional District, lieutenant governor and the nonpartisan Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
Leaders of the state House and Senate also updated delegates on the passage of “progressive, aggressive” legislation last session to address affordable housing and homelessness, among other issues.
The ultimate measure of the Democratic Party of Hawaii’s influence in Hawaii is how many people it puts into elected office.
On that score, the party has dominated since statehood. And, with one week to go before the June 5 candidate filing deadline, the odds seem in its favor for 2018.
A total of 147 Democrats have pulled papers to run for office, compared with 54 Republicans and a handful of Greens and Libertarians.
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