Coalition supports Thielen's Senate bid
Republican state Rep. Cynthia Thielen has been endorsed by a coalition of state environmental groups in her bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka.
The endorsement of Thielen by the Hawaii Coalition of Conservation Voters comes after the Hawaii chapter of the Sierra Club endorsed Akaka, despite its criticism of his vote supporting oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Republican groups have criticized the Sierra Club's endorsement as partisan politics, citing Thielen's history of advocacy in the Legislature and as a land-use attorney.
The Hawaii Coalition of Conservation Voters, which represents seven local environmental groups, said it supported Thielen because of her efforts to support alternative energy and her past work representing organizations that opposed bombing on Kahoolawe and the construction of the H-3 freeway.
"We don't make decisions based on party, it's not relevant to us," said Mary Protheroe, the coalition's chairwoman. "What is relevant is the concern about the environment, and Rep. Thielen is just way ahead of everybody else when it comes to that."
Thielen has focused her campaign on renewable energy and environmental conservation, repeatedly criticizing Akaka for his vote on the drilling issue.
"I would never cast a vote to drill for oil in the Alaska Wildlife Refuge," she said yesterday. "I don't believe that our future is in oil. We need leaders in Washington, D.C., that are going to move us away from oil dependency."
Elisa Yadao, a spokes-woman for the Akaka campaign, deflected the criticism, noting that the senator has an environmental record that speaks for itself.
"Sen. Akaka has been given a 100 percent rating by the League of Conservation Voters, he has been endorsed by the Sierra Club, the Council for a Livable World -- he's very proud of his environmental record," Yadao said. "The senator has a very good environmental record, which has been recognized by other organizations."
After receiving the Sierra Club endorsement, Akaka said he would revisit the Alaska drilling issue. He has defended his vote, noting that he previously spoke with Eskimo tribes who said drilling would provide much-needed funds for their villages.
Lance Holter, political chairman of the local Sierra Club, said Akaka's willingness to take another look at the issue won the group's support.
Chuck Burrows, a member of coalition group Aha Hui Malama I Ka Lokahi, said he had hoped Akaka would take a stronger stance.
"We had wanted Sen. Akaka to make a public statement that he no longer supports oil drilling in the arctic refuge," Burrows said. "Rep. Thielen has made that public statement. She has come out strongly for that and this is the reason why we endorse her."
The Hawaii Coalition of Conservation Voters also has endorsed Democrat Mazie Hirono over Republican Bob Hogue in the 2nd Congressional District (rural Oahu-neighbor islands), but has made no endorsement in the 1st Congressional District (urban Honolulu), where incumbent Rep. Neil Abercrombie faces political newcomer Richard Noah Hough.
In the race for governor, the coalition had backed Waianae harbormaster William Aila in the Democratic primary. It has not made an endorsement in the general election race between Republican Gov. Linda Lingle and former Democratic state Sen. Randy Iwase.
The general election is next Tuesday.