Just how dominant are Hawaii’s Democrats?
They hold all four of the state’s seats in Congress and 71 of the 76 seats in the Hawaii Legislature.
Saturday’s primary race for lieutenant governor featured five well-known Dems while the race for the 1st Congressional District had six.
Many legislative races in the primary did not even attract Republican candidates, while Democrats in many instances attracted multiple candidates for the same seat — as many as five, for example, in the race to replace Manoa state Rep. Isaac Choy.
The party is so commanding that even candidates in nonpartisan elections, including the Honolulu City Council and Office of Hawaiian Affairs, attended the Democratic Unity Breakfast at Dole Cannery on Sunday morning. All are Democrats, as is the mayor of Honolulu, who was also there, proudly sporting his red palaka-print shirt.
The message of the breakfast was much the same as it is every two years: The Democratic Party has the right values — especially when it comes to taking care of seniors, protecting the environment and supporting immigrants — and its dominance must continue.
In his remarks just hours after celebrating his primary victory, Gov. David Ige said the federal government is “under siege.”
He said that the Trump administration just doesn’t “get it” when it comes to policy priorities.
Two years from now, former Gov. Neil Abercrombie promised, Democrats will “hand Donald J. Trump his okole.”
Sure, there are divisions in the party, possibly serious ones. U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard openly campaigned for U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in the governor’s race, and she was also backed by top leaders in the Legislature. And the super PAC Be Change Now, which supported Hanabusa and lieutenant governor nominee Josh Green (among others), demonstrated that dark money can still shake up local contests.
But there is room for “big differences” in a “big tent,” said former Congressman Ed Case, who is looking to return to D.C. after winning the First Congressional District primary. And Abercrombie rejected the “snarky” assertion of a Honolulu Star-Advertiser columnist that the Unity Breakfast would be a phony get-together.
But then Abercrombie went on to underscore the divisions when he said of the current governor (the one who unseated Abercrombie just four years ago), “After all, David took most of the accomplishments of the Abercrombie administration and ran on them.”
That got a lot of laughs. So did his tease of Josh Green, the lieutenant governor nominee, who he said would be available later “to take your mom to adult day care or something. Busy, busy, busy!”
The crack referenced how heavily Green played up the fact that he is a medical doctor in his campaign messaging.
For his part, Green was less effective than Abercrombie in delivering jokes at the expense of opponents.
Of primary opponent Kim Coco Iwamoto, who is transgender, Green said he “tried to learn to walk in her shoes, but that didn’t work naturally for me.” Of opponent Will Espero, he expressed the hope that he and his fellow state senator — who has supported medical marijuana and has predicted that recreational use will soon be legalized in Hawaii — would “do a doobie together sometime shortly.”
Some in the audience laughed and clapped. Others squirmed.
Still, Democrats are so omnipresent in Hawaii politics that they even tend to generate more spectacular headlines than Republicans. GOP state House candidate Sai Timoteo’s disqualification was in the news cycle for a day or two, but a video of state Sen. Matt LoPresti removing a rival’s campaign flier from a residence went viral and is still the talk around town.
Though lacking much of a bench, local Republicans are not giving up.
Hawaii Republican Party Chair Shirlene Ostrov said in a statement early Sunday that the primaries showed “that a large swath of Hawaii’s voters want change after 60 years of failed one-party rule.”
The GOP is in particular banking on its nominee for governor, House Minority Leader Andria Tupola. She had a statement of her own after the primary: “We are 85 days away from the general election and we have momentum.”
But Democrats are feeling confident and are already on the attack. Democratic Governors Association Executive Director Elisabeth Pearson said in a press release Sunday, “Rep. Tupola proudly took selfies with President Trump and said that ‘we can mirror’ his policies in Hawaii.”
Perhaps the best sign that Democrats really will heal and unite for the general election came from Hanabusa, who spoke last at Sunday’s breakfast, and spoke graciously. She congratulated Ige and his wife, Dawn, several times from the podium, and said that only in the Democratic Party of Hawaii could a “girl from Waianae” ascend to the state Senate, then to the Senate presidency, and finally to Congress.
Hanabusa also gave a “shout out” to the 100th anniversary in 2020 of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that granted women the right to vote. She hinted that, while she does not intend “to fade away,” the future of Democrats lies with the millennial generation.
Hanabusa received a standing ovation, during which she hugged the governor and his wife.
Candidates and officers of the majority party planned to hold a unity gathering later Sunday on Kauai, followed by similar events Monday in Hawaii and Maui counties.
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