Officials with the Democratic Party of Hawaii say they are going to tweak an email system for party members that appeared to promote Colleen Hanabusa’s gubernatorial campaign.

Representatives of Gov. David Ige’s re-election campaign complained to the party and Civil Beat that an email sent out earlier this week flagrantly promoted a Hanabusa rally at Kalani High School on Thursday evening.

The email includes a large image promoting the rally (“good food, great entertainment and informative speakers”) beneath the banner of the Oahu Democratic Party. The email itself comes from the same party.

Even though the email also states in small print that the Democratic Party “does not endorse any candidate running against any other Democratic candidate” and that the party encourages members “to support Democrats in all elections,” party officials concede that some members might be confused.

A flier for Colleen Hanabusa’s campaign is featured prominently in an email widely distributed by Oahu Democrats. 

“I can understand the concerns that folks might have of the appearance of partiality,” said state party chairwoman Kealii Lopez, who stressed that that was not the intent.

Lopez said Thursday that the party has reached out to the Ige campaign to let them know that the Oahu party’s email system is offered to all candidates, including Ige’s. The governor is the titular head of his party but is also in a tough race against Hanabusa, according to a recent public opinion poll.

The dustup developed when the email in question was sent to party members in three districts in East Honolulu.

“I thought the party was suppose to remain neutral,” Ige’s campaign spokeswoman, Glenna Wong, said in an email to Civil Beat that included the email in question.

Right, UPW State Director Dayton Nakanelua and their membership endorses Governor David Ige 2018 campaign during press event today.
United Public Workers State Director Dayton Nakanelua, right, held a press conference in June with Gov. David Ige to announce the union’s endorsement of his campaign for re-election. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Ige’s campaign manager, Mike Yadao, complained to Oahu County Committee Chairman Rich Halverson, who created the email system. Halverson said that the idea behind allowing any Democratic candidate to avail themselves of the email system is to promote the party and its candidates, and not any single candidate — let alone one running for governor.

But, as of Thursday, only the Hanabusa camp accepted the offer along with Pohai Ryan, a former Democratic state senator running in a nonpartisan Office of Hawaiian Affairs race; and organizers of an unspecified candidate forum held on Oahu.

Hanabusa campaign spokesman Keith DeMello confirmed that Hanabusa was offered the service, and accepted it.

Halverson said he was not clear whether the Ige campaign was informed of the email service before now.

Oahu party member Donald Koelper, who is chair of the region that includes House Districts 17, 18 and 19 (Kalama Valley to Diamond Head), said he believes the Ige campaign was informed of the email offer.

Koelper said the Hanabusa flier was not included in his email blast, which includes this statement: “As noted above, I will let you know if and when Gov. David Ige’s campaign and any other Democratic candidate(s) notify of me of similar events on Oahu.”

Wong did not respond to an inquiry as to whether that was the case, or whether Ige would now accept the offer to promote a campaign event.

Koelper said another email from Oahu Democrats was sent to House Districts 20, 21, 22 and 23, which includes Waikiki, Ala Moana, Manoa, Moiliili, Palolo, Kaimuki and Kapahulu.

All told, the districts that received the email promoting the Hanabusa rally are home to 7,000 to 8,000 Democrats, said Koelper. It is unclear exactly how many received the email with the Hanabusa flier.

Lopez, who was elected party chairwoman in late May, said party leaders would confer to ensure that the email system is “fair and equitable.” It might include, she said, regulating the size of images.

Koelper said he plans to send out a new email blast on behalf of Lt. Gov. Doug Chin, who is running for the 1st Congressional District seat, and for state Rep. Jarrett Keohokalole, who is running for the state Senate.

Koelper added that the email system was used four years ago by Ige and his then-opponent, Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

The 2018 primary is Aug. 11.

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