KONA, Hawaii Island — In the opinion of Hawaii Gov. David Ige, the United States is at a crossroads and it’s all Donald Trump’s fault.
Calling the president’s policies “hateful and hurtful,” the governor said Saturday at the Hilton Waikoloa Beach Resort that “there has never been such clear division, clear-cut differences between Democrats and Republicans.”
Ige, who is in an uphill re-election battle this year, went on to list some of his differences with the White House (opposition to the travel ban, support for combating climate change, and so forth).
The governor — not usually an inspired speaker — was forceful and passionate, and he earned consistent whoops and applause from his audience, which happened to be the attendees at the state convention of the Democratic Party of Hawaii.
Frequently repeating the phrase, “we can be proud as Democrats,” Ige tossed chunk after chunk of red meat into a hungry sea of blue: Immigration reform. Renewable energy. Doubled food production. Affordable housing. Gun control.
Party conventions are, of course, the place for stump speeches, and Ige appeared to have his down (with the help of notes). He boasted about putting air conditioning in 1,300 classrooms (“and counting,” he promised) and the fact that Hawaii has, as he put it, the lowest unemployment “ever reported” by any state since statistics have been collected.
Ige’s main primary challenger, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, will give her speech Sunday, the second and final day of the two-day convention at the glitzy Big Island resort where a Longboard Island Lager sells for $9.
The main theme of the convention, as Party Chairman Tim Vandeveer put it, is that Democrats are united in moving forward.
Not that there aren’t internal tensions.
The 2018 election is the second in four years in which an incumbent governor may lose his job. The Civil Beat Poll this week showed Ige trailing Hanabusa by 6 percentage points. A third prominent Democrat, former state Sen. Clayton Hee, was far behind.
Two years ago, supporters of Bernie Sanders were in force at the state party convention, having defeated Hillary Clinton in the state’s presidential preference poll the prior March. It helped catapult Texas native and Bernie backer Vandeveer to the party chairmanship.
On Sunday, in the only real drama of the 2018 convention (aside from the usual disagreements over party platform positions and rules), Vandeveer will seek another two-year term.
His opponents are Kealii Lopez and Gloria Borland, and on Saturday there was debate about whether the vote to pick a new chair was scheduled too late in the afternoon Sunday.
That’s because many delegates — and there were well over 400 on hand Saturday — have planes to catch back home. And the reason for that is because, for the first time in 30 years, Hawaii Democrats held their convention somewhere besides a hotel in Waikiki.
Stephanie Ohigashi, the previous chair and a Maui resident, said the last time the party met on a neighbor island was in Lahaina in 1988.
“A change was long overdue,” Vandeveer told Civil Beat.
The Big Island was chosen for several reasons.
It’s the fastest-growing county with 200,000 people. Its residents have joined the party in droves. The party’s Hawaii County chairwoman, Margaret Wille, lobbied for the island’s selection for the convention.
Besides, Maui and Kauai were too expensive. Vandeveer said the Big Island offered a deal on hotel space.
The volcanic eruption on the other side of the island has drawn the attention of the world. Despite its geographic distance from Puna, Waikoloa was cloaked in vog Saturday. Wille, who has represented Waimea on the Hawaii County Council, encouraged party members to donate to ongoing relief efforts.
Some delegates privately griped about lack of organization. The agenda unfolded off schedule. And there was the occasional outburst of outrage from the audience.
In short, it was democracy in action.
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono said at the convention that Trump acts more like a dictator than a democratically elected president. He lies all the time, she said, and it can be wearying to get “beat up by this guy” so much.
To counter that, Hirono coined a new term: “Trumpitized,” meaning that, when Trump is getting Democrats down, Democrats must get Trumpitized — that is, fight even harder against him — “every single day!”
Hirono, who attended her first state party convention in 1972 and is running for re-election, promised that there would be much more to come from the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. Trump’s allegation that it amounts to a “witch hunt,” she said, is Trump’s biggest lie of all.
In the meantime, Hirono called for the establishment of a new congressional caucus for “kicking ass for the middle class.”
Politics aside, the convention had its share of chicken skin moments.
One came from Daniel Akaka Jr., who strummed ukulele and led the audience in singing his late father’s favorite song, “Hawaiian Lullaby” (“Where I live, there are rainbows …”).
Another came from Hawaiian practitioner and cross-cultural facilitator Kalani Souza, who spoke of the power of relationships and discovery.
The four concerns for Democrats, Souza said, must be making sure the children are fed, the elderly are comfortable, women are unafraid and that we all live with the “earth mother” in “balance, harmony, respect and aloha.”
The convention concludes Sunday afternoon.
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