Chad Blair: Hawaii GOP To Decide Whether To Show Cynthia Thielen The Door - 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 cblair@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

She served in the Hawaii House of Representatives for 30 years. She was the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in 2006. And she remains widely admired by many regardless of political leanings because of her willingness to speak out, her accomplishments and her passion.

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And yet, sometime in the early part of the new year, the Hawaii Republican Party may decide to kick Cynthia Thielen out of the GOP.

That’s because a fellow Republican, Kailua businessman Gary Weller, has lodged a complaint with the party accusing Thielen of having violated party rules.

Earlier this month Weller sent an email to party members bemoaning that the local GOP might well have won the District 50 House seat if Thielen — who represented the Kailua-Kaneohe Bay seat from 1990 until 2020 — had backed Republican Kathy Thurston. Instead, Thielen campaigned publicly and aggressively for the Democrat, Natalia Hussey-Burdick, who crushed Thurston in a landslide in November.

“Do we really need to give the Democrats any more help?” Weller asked, apparently rhetorically, in his email, which included social media posts and paid advertisements clearly illustrating Thielen’s embrace of Hussey-Burdick.

“She will be an independent voice for good government, and she is the ONLY candidate running for my former seat who will stand up for equality and women’s rights,” according to a campaign mailer from Hussey-Burdick that quotes Thielen.

A campaign mailer from Natalia Hussey-Burdick.
The Hawaii Republican Party may kick Cynthia Thielen out of the GOP for her support for Natalia Hussey-Burdick. 

Informed about Weller’s complaint, Thielen told me this week that she has no regrets.

“This election forced me to choose between my life-long dedication to civil rights, especially women’s rights, and my lifelong dedication to a Republican Party which once took those right’s seriously,” she said via email. “Natalia Hussey-Burdick is committed to protecting those rights; her opponent, along with the rest of the Republican Party wants to roll them back. It was not difficult for me to choose principle over Party in endorsing Natalia.”

In a follow-up phone call Friday, Thielen explained that by civil and women’s rights, she meant marriage equality and abortion.

I was not able to reach Thurston for comment, and her website emphasizes her concerns about inflation, corruption, the housing shortage and one-party rule. But she also includes a link to the “Insights on PBS Hawaii” forum in which Thurston and Hussey-Burdick appeared together.

Asked by host Yunji de Nies about their stance on freedom of choice and protecting women’s rights when it comes to abortion, Hussey-Burdick said she was strongly in favor of “the right to have body sovereignty” and expressed concern that the right to privacy in the state constitution might now be jeopardized by the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June.

Thurston answered by saying that she is a child of the 1950s, that she grew up in the 1970s when Planned Parenthood “got into our schools,” and that she has experienced the “emotional and mental challenges that come with making very difficult decisions.” She continued: “With that being said, I am proud to say I’m pro-life.”

A screenshot from Kathy Thurston's campaign website.
A screenshot from Kathy Thurston’s campaign website. Thurston lost the race in November by a landslide. 

Thurston said she wanted to see more done “to counsel properly young ladies or people that are put in situations that they find themselves unexpectedly to be in it. I don’t think it should be used as birth control.”

To talk about the viability of a fetus, said Thurston, amounted to walking “on shaky ground.” She also said that the court decision, while unpopular with some, “put things in proper perspective” by transferring the decision on abortion from the judiciary to the state legislatures — “the hands of the people.”

Weller did not mention abortion or marriage equality in my conversation with him. He instead stressed how he was a lifelong Republican who supported Thurston. He admires her small business background and credits her with her work on the Kailua Neighborhood Board, especially trying to get the Kailua Bay boat ramp repaired.

But rules are rules, he argued, and in his email he cited the specific rule that he said Thielen broke.

Asked for response, party chair Lynn Finnegan emailed this statement: “Our State HRP Rules allow for the State Committee to take action to terminate a member for actively campaigning for an opponent of a Republican nominee. This question will be posed to the State Committee during its regularly scheduled 1st quarter meeting in 2023.”

She Liked Ike

Anyone who has followed Thielen’s political career knows that she is described as a moderate or progressive Republican. She voted for same-sex marriage in Hawaii in 2013 and is a champion of industrial hemp.

She has often ruffled feathers in her own flock. During the 2013 special session on marriage equality, for example, GOP Rep. Bob McDermott tried to remove Thielen from the House Judiciary Committee.

Thielen joined the Republican Party at age 17, when she was a freshman at Stanford University — and where her roommate was Dianne Goldman, later Dianne Feinstein, currently a Democratic U.S. senator from California.

Thielen was drawn to Dwight Eisenhower, who would be elected president in 1952. Another hero is Teddy Roosevelt because of his strong record on the environment. She won her House seat in 1990 by defeating a pro-life Democrat.

But Republicans like Thielen, now 89, are a vanishing breed today. So when the District 50 race came down to Thurston versus Hussey-Burdick, it was not difficult for Thielen to decide who to support. And she was not shy about letting her former constituents know where she stood.

The challenge for the local GOP is that it has been mired in the minority for decades. Under Finnegan, Senate Republicans grew from one to two while House Republicans grew from four to six — no small feat.

Rep Cynthia Thielen speaks in support of Hemp during floor session.
Rep. Cynthia Thielen speaking in support of hemp during a floor session in April 2019. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

It will now be up to the GOP’s state committee to decide Thielen’s party status. It includes Finnegan and Rep. Gene Ward, both of whom served with Thielen in the House.

Democrats have also had concerns about prominent party members, including Tulsi Gabbard, the former U.S. representative who recently left the party to join Tucker Carlson on Fox News. And Thielen’s daughter, Laura, encountered resistance back in the day when she wanted to join the Dems — because of her mom’s party and also because she had worked in Gov. Linda Lingle’s administration. Laura Thielen was eventually accepted and served in the state Senate.

But the historic trend line shows far more Republicans leaving for the Democratic Party, including Tulsi Gabbard’s dad Mike Gabbard, Donna Ikeda, Aaron Johanson and Beth Fukumoto. Charles Djou, the former congressman, did not become a Democrat but left the party after getting fed up with Donald Trump.

As for Thielen, here’s what she has to say about Weller’s complaint: “It’s just so important to stand up for women’s rights and civil rights. So let the rest fall where it may.”


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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 cblair@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.


Latest Comments (0)

RE: "Thurston answered by saying that she is a child of the 1950s, that she grew up in the 1970s when Planned Parenthood 'got into our schools.'"I grew up in the 1970s, too. Planned Parenthood never "got into our schools." But the Pearson Foundation, a pro-life "family planning" group, was allowed to speak to us in 10th grade Health class. I'm so tired of watching right-wing Republicans like Kathy Thurston try to rewrite history to suit their narrow-minded purposes.Don't like abortion, Ms. Thurston? Fine. Then you're free to not have one. That's what being pro-choice is all about. But don't presume to take offense at other people's personal decisions which otherwise don't concern you and seek to impose your "choice" upon other women.Honestly, if we all learned to simply mind our own business and not constantly value-troll others as though it's a contest of wills, we'd all be much better off.

DRKoelper · 1 month ago

I liked Thielen when I worked as a Democratic staffer at Legislature. She was a bit too conservative fiscally for my tastes, but on the environment and civil rights and liberties, she was quite progressive.She is also a nice person, willing to engage in conversation with anyone on a range of issues. I recall a discussion we had when I saw her in the coffee shop at Bishop Square. Although she didn't know me, she was open and thoughtful in a wide-ranging discussion we had on policies before the Legislature at the time.

CaptainMandrake · 1 month ago

Far as I'm concerned, Thielen was a Republican in name only. Always has been, like Pat Saiki & Gene Ward. They only ran as Republicans, just to say they were not part of the Democratic Machine. If they were being truthful, they would have run as political independents. In recent memory, Bob McDermott was the one & only real deal GOP in the State House.

KalihiValleyHermit · 1 month ago

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