Chad Blair: Hawaii Democrats Pledge Unity, Commitment In Election Ahead - Honolulu Civil Beat

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Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

Gubernatorial candidate Kai Kahele was a no-show at the Democratic Party of Hawaii’s Unity Breakfast Sunday morning. So was Vicky Cayetano, who event organizer Linda Chu Takayama said was absent because husband Ben Cayetano was not feeling well enough to attend.

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But the fifth floor ballroom of the Japanese Cultural Center in Moiliili was filled with dozens and dozens of the winners and losers past and present, including those from Saturday’s Democratic primary.

Party Chair Dennis Jung set the tone early in his remarks when he told participants that they might want to get their photos taken for possible use in general election mailers.

That line got knowing laughs, as the race for lieutenant governor and the 2nd Congressional District were tarred by intense negative campaigning.

And yet, come the morning after — and fortified with plates of eggs and bacon and fruit and plenty of coffee — CD2 winner Jill Tokuda graciously recognized her opponent Pat Branco while LG winner Sylvia Luke did the same for Ikaika Anderson. Both second-place finishers were in attendance, and the morning was marked by lots of hugs, lei, a few tears and palaka-print shirts.

And laughs. Lots of laughs. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the event — which was canceled two years ago due to Covid-19 — was that Luke, the state House Finance Chair, may have missed her calling as a standup comedian.

Luke repeatedly tossed zingers at House Speaker Scott Saiki, her friend and colleague, for narrowly leading in reelection to his seat. The Hawaii Office of Elections was still trying to finalize results on Sunday including tallying more than 35,000 votes from Oahu.

“There are 30,000 still out there,” Luke said from the podium as the crowd guffawed. “Good grief if that’s from Kakaako.”

Indeed, by Sunday afternoon Saiki had a lead of just 143 votes over Kim Coco Iwamoto for the District 25 seat that includes Kakaako.

The Saiki-Iwamoto is one of several elections too close to call.

U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono gesturing with her hands while speaking at the Democratic Party of Hawaii Unity Breakfast on Sunday the 14th, 2022. Civilbeat photos Ronen Zilberman.
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono at the Democratic Party of Hawaii Unity Breakfast on Sunday. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2022

What Luke touched on in her funny yet biting remarks was the essence of the Unity Breakfast, when bitter opponents work to put aside differences and pledge their commitment to defeating Republicans in November.

On that, local Dems feel they are on a roll, given the big vote total for their party locally and the just-passed historic legislation in Washington to combat climate change, lower inflation, achieve tax equity and ease drug costs.

“The world is in flames but we always persevere,” said U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono. “We need to maintain both the U.S. House and the Senate because, as I put it really succinctly, if we don’t, we’re screwed.”

Rep. Ed Case, who flew back to D.C. for the vote and returned to Honolulu for primary night, told the audience that his first Unity Breakfast was 36 years ago, when Brian Taniguchi defeated him in a legislative race.

Case recalled how Taniguchi — who is retiring this year — told him at that time that he still had a future in the party, a compliment that Case then extended to his primary opponent this year, Sergio Alcubilla. He also reminded his colleagues that Donald Trump still has a lot of supporters in Hawaii.

Congressman Ed Case giving Shaka at the Democratic Party of Hawaii Unity Breakfast. Sunday 14th, 2022. CivilBeat Photos Ronen Zilberman.
Congressman Ed Case giving the shaka at the Unity Breakfast. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2022

“We have stood for equality, opportunity, compassion, tolerance,” he said, adding, “We have always believed that ours was the bigger tent. We have always believed that the door was open to anybody who shared our values.”

So big is that tent that Jung asked his party to recognize all the Honolulu City Council and Office of Hawaiian Affairs candidates in the audience, too, even though those are nonpartisan contests. Many stood, including council frontrunner Tyler Dos-Santos Tam and OHA frontrunner Brickwood Galuteria.

Local Republicans do not hold a unity breakfast. But GOP Party Chair Lynn Finnegan said in a statement that 69 candidates emerged from the primary to go on to the general including 22 state Senate and 42 state House candidates.

“As Republicans in Hawaii, we know we are the underdogs,” she said. “Yet this cycle, we are climbing that hill with an army of volunteers and supporters ready to take on the fight in every district for every seat.”

The GOP has its work cut out for it. Democrats hold the governorship, the lieutenant governorship, all four seats in Congress and huge majorities in the Legislature.

And its bench is deep and growing. Lt Gov. Josh Green, who handily defeated Kahele and Cayetano, offered his own gracious note to former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

Democratic candidates raising hands together during the Democratic Party of Hawaii Unity Breakfast. Civil Beat photos Ronen Zilberman.
Top Democrats raising hands and singing “Hawaii Aloha” at the conclusion of the Unity Breakfast. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2022

“I whispered in his ear,” he said. “I was grateful when he made this decision not to pursue this seat because he would’ve had my ass kicked several times during a lot of debates, because he knows so much. And so I wanted to mahalo you and give you a round of applause.”

Looking to the road ahead, Green concluded, “Let’s commit to putting aside all of our differences and rivalries for the good of Hawaii’s people.”

And that’s when Galuteria led everyone, holding hands, in singing “Hawaii Aloha.”

Ritual. Commitment. Unity.

Read this next:

Danny De Gracia: GOP Candidates Need To Get Serious And Fight — Now

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About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

Latest Comments (0)

The party that runs everything and has no opposition whatsoever pledges unity. Now there's a news story.

CSH · 1 year ago

Following in a tradition established via his former office Kai Kahele did not show up. Sad story for a potential "public servant" in the future.

Nana · 1 year ago

Victory was won by the best Candidate for Governor who ran an honest, Campaign who didn't have to stoop lower than a snakes belly with " Lies, and false information " for the absolute first time since we moved here back in the mid 90s you can honestly feel Hawaii getting ready to move forward regardless of who our new Governor will be , I'm always going to be a "Greeniac" and do my duty as a Resident of Hawaii to cast my vote for the person who is willing to do what it takes to move the State in the right direction and I also want to say Duke Aiona has always been very good to Hawaii also which just confirms Hawaii for the 1st time will have a Governor who will do what's best for the entire State and NOT just to pad their pockets first then maybe address the State's need.

unclebob61 · 1 year ago

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