Critics are frustrated by controversial staffing decisions and the party’s dwindling cash reserves.

Prominent Democrats including more than two dozen members of a key Hawaii Democratic Party committee are calling on state party chair Dennis Jung to resign, citing lackluster fundraising and other problems during his yearlong tenure.

Critics say Jung should not have fired executive director Erynn Fernandez and another key staffer last month without consulting other party leaders. They’re also alarmed that Jung suggested the party may not have enough money to carry out plans for a presidential preference poll next year.

Last week 29 members of the Democrats’ state central committee and a half-dozen other prominent state Democrats including Hawaii National Committeeman Bart Dame signed a letter to Jung asking him to resign.

The Sept. 6 letter cited the firings of Fernandez and state party data director Marlo Ting along with other changes Jung is seeking in the state party leadership as evidence that “you can no longer be trusted to fulfill the obligations of the position of Chairperson.”

Democratic Party Chair Dennis Jung and Lt. Gov Josh Green talking at the Democratic Party of Hawaii Unity Breakfast on August 14, 2022. CivilBeat Photos Ronen Zilberman.
Gov. Josh Green and Hawaii Democratic Party Chair Dennis Jung, right, at the Democratic Party of Hawaii Unity Breakfast after the primary election last year. Jung’s critics say two-thirds of the Democrats’ state central committee are in favor of removing him as chairman. (Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2022)

The letter continues: “We are obliged to entreat you to relinquish the position, so that DPH members can rededicate themselves to the cooperative spirit that is needed to realize our shared goal of a more sustainable and prosperous future for our state.”

When asked to comment on the letter Sunday afternoon, Jung replied that he was “kind of tied up right now.” When asked if he would be able to discuss the issue later, Jung said: “I’ll see what I can do.”

Democratic Party Treasurer Larry Meacham, who signed the letter calling on Jung to resign, said the party under Jung basically failed to raise funds during the year after Jung became chairman in late May 2022.

The party’s cash reserves dwindled at a rate of about $11,000 per month for a year, from about $201,000 to $61,000 in June, Meacham said.

Fernandez then “confronted (Jung) with the fact that we would run out by the end of the year. He had been obstructing and delaying other fundraising until then, but at that point he sort of gave us the green light,” Meacham said.

Fundraising within the last three months has allowed the party to grow its reserves slightly, to about $68,000. “We’re still on thin ice, but at least we’ve stopped the losses,” Meacham said.

According to internal party emails, Jung announced at a party executive committee meeting earlier this month that he intended to cancel the planned 2024 mail-in presidential preference poll next spring because the party cannot afford it.

Jung suggested the state party could still send delegates to the national convention next year, but only the state’s handful of super delegates would be able to vote for the presidential candidates.

The party held a mail-in presidential preference poll in 2020 to allow Hawaii Democrats to cast ballots for their favorite Democratic presidential candidates, but repeating that process next year would cost the party about $250,000, Meacham said.

“We would have problems raising that even if we hadn’t had the problems with him,” Meacham said of Jung. Given the low level of party cash reserves today and the impact of the Maui fire disaster on any other fundraising, “it would be very, very difficult for us to raise that money now,” he said.

The rules and bylaws committee of the Democratic National Committee will consider the Hawaii Democrats’ plans for a presidential preference poll at a meeting on Thursday, but it is unclear what action the committee will take.

Dame said in an email last week that Fernandez was a key player in organizing and running the Democrats’ 2020 presidential poll, and described her firing as “sudden and ill-timed.”

Under party rules, Jung had the authority to fire the staff on his own, but Meacham and others objected to Jung firing Fernandez and Ting without at least consulting with the party executive committee first.

Jung then proposed replacements for Fernandez and Ting, which were also questioned by some party leaders.

As Meacham put it in a Sept. 1 email, “was the Executive Committee consulted? No. Was a reason given for the staff terminations? No. Were the staff positions advertised to get the best qualified people? No.”

Fernandez did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

Dame said in an interview that former top party officials and former elected officials are prepared to step in to run the party on an interim basis. Dame declined to name those volunteers.

Meacham and Dame said two-thirds of the members of the state central committee are prepared to vote to remove Jung, but Meacham said the SCC cannot meet to do so unless both the executive committee and the SCC agree to meet.

It is unclear if the executive committee will agree to such a meeting, Meacham said.

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