Keali’i Lopez, the former chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, is expected to take the reins of Hawaii’s AARP.

Lopez will start as AARP Hawaii’s new director Friday, according to a letter circulated to party members. The party will elect a new chair Saturday, party vice chair Gary Hooser said.

Lopez was elected to chair the party in 2018. She will replace former AARP state director Barbara Kim Stanton, who retired in July. Lopez wrote in her letter that taking a position with AARP, a traditionally nonpartisan group, meant she had to give up her position in the party.

Hawaii Democratic Convention Chair Kealii Lopez2.
Former Hawaii Democratic Party Chair Keali’i Lopez is expected to become the next state director for AARP. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“In my time as your Chair, it has been my great privilege to work with Democrats who are passionate and fearless advocates of the most pressing social and economic issues of our time,” Lopez said in her letter.

Lopez did not respond to phone calls Tuesday.

Her departure comes at an inopportune time for the Democrats. The party is set to conduct its revamped Presidential Preference Poll in March, and hoping to allow voting by mail and ranked choice voting, if the Democratic National Committee approves.

The DNC will consider these proposals at its next meeting later this month. Having a permanent chair is important to show the DNC that Hawaii can commit to its plans, Bart Dame, a national committeeman with the party, said.

Gary Hooser, the party vice chair, is filling in as interim chair. He’s not fretting over the party’s future.

“The party has a pretty deep bench in terms of experienced, competent, capable people who have been involved with the party in the past,” Hooser said. “We’ll miss Keali’i, no question about that.”

In 2018, party delegates elected Lopez over former chair Tim Vandeveer, who represented the more progressive faction of the party. Lopez worked as a lobbyist with Dentons.

This past legislative session, she was paid $9,014 by companies contracted by Dentons including Expedia, Hana Health and the Western Plant Health Association.

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