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Richar Borreca

On Politics

BY RICHARD BORRECA

Sunday, June 30, 2002


Mainland advisers
offer aid, comfort
to local Dems


THE weakening of the 40-year Democratic dynasty in Hawaii has driven political action in the state for the past two years.

Since the Republicans' surprising seven victories in House races in 2000, the Democrats have warily approached 2002 with a concern that it could prove to be a watershed year for political change. Although Hawaii does not appear on any national radar screens, the message that the Democrats' control of state government might slip has finally reached the mainland.

The Associated Press in a national report this spring called Hawaii "the most dramatic Republican opportunity," and Hotline, the daily Internet service for political junkies, warned, "Don't assume another Democrat is going to walk into the governor's mansion in Hawaii."

The locus of that concern is Linda Lingle, the former Maui mayor and GOP chairwoman who almost beat incumbent Ben Cayetano in the gubernatorial election four years ago. She has won positive mentions in forums ranging from the Rutgers University-based Center for American Women and Politics to Parade magazine and USA Today.

Perhaps more telling is that the Democratic National Committee has put two campaign experts on the ground in Hawaii to help with the fall campaigns. In previous years, the Demo-crats pointed to the Republicans, saying it was the GOP that needed mainland help. In the past, however, the Democrats have gotten some brief assists from Kam Kuwata, a California-based Democratic political consultant.

Republicans contend that while they have been visited by campaign consultants, the local campaigns are operating without mainland help.

Now, while Cayetano grouses that the Republicans are staffing their House offices with mainland political operatives, the Democrats have Bridgette Leininger and Kim Devlin here to help with media and campaign organization for the local races.

"They are here to supplement the existing team and they will be taking direction and input from them -- they aren't going to be running anybody's campaigns," says Lorraine Akiba, Democratic Party chairwoman.

Akiba adds that while "we didn't request them," any help from the national party will be significant.

For her part, Leininger is marveling at what she describes as the way local Democrats have "such a proud history for social justice."

"I can't think of another state that has done as much."

It is still an open question if what was done during the past 40 years will resonate with voters in November.





Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at rborreca@starbulletin.com.



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