State GOP seeks ways to help Lingle
Republicans meeting on Maui are hoping for gains in 2008
Republicans gather on Maui this weekend to elect a new party leader and start planning for the 2008 elections.
So far the only person running for party chairman is Willes Lee, a retired Army officer who has served as the chairman of Councilman Charles Djou's re-election campaign and as a GOP officer.
Lee is expected to replace former state legislator Sam Aiona, who said he would remain a party volunteer.
The question facing Republicans, according to 10-year Senate veteran Sam Slom, is how much effort the GOP will put into winning elections.
Although Gov. Linda Lingle, the GOP's titular head, has made history in first winning the governorship and then being re-elected with more votes than any other candidate for governor, the GOP is still a distinct political minority.
"I question whether we have the political will to become the majority," Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai) said.
Slom pointed out that he is one of a handful of the 13 elected Republican legislators who even plan to attend the three-day convention starting Friday at the Maui Prince hotel at Makena.
"Not just here, but across the country there have been so many Republicans that ran away from their campaign promises," Slom said. "They ran away from their president and their platform."
University of Hawaii political scientist and UH ombudsman Neal Milnor said the GOP is at a disadvantage in Hawaii because the state's politics are Democratic, have been for 50 years and are likely to remain so.
"Unless they are satisfied with such small gains, they need to start with the premise that what they have done in getting candidates elected to the Legislature since the first Lingle administration has not worked and will not work in the future," Milnor said.
The GOP on a national level "is in shambles" today, Milnor said, as President Bush's popularity has dipped below 30 percent and the Democrats have won control of both the House and Senate in Washington.
The Republicans must start to look toward both winning seats in next year's election and developing a plan for the 2010 governorship, he said.
On the Democratic side, rumored candidates for governor include Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, Mayor Mufi Hannemann and former U.S. Rep. Ed Case.
The only candidates mentioned on the GOP side are Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona and Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle.
Outgoing GOP Chairman Aiona says the party has a bright future because of the popularity of Lingle, who is forbidden by the Constitution from running for a third consecutive term.
"We are in great shape because we have a Republican governor like Linda Lingle. It is easier to raise money and attract new people," Aiona said.
The job of the GOP, Aiona said, is to win more seats in the Legislature, which has gone from a high of 19 in the House in 2000 to just eight today.
"If this past legislative session showed us anything, it should be that we need more Republicans in the Legislature," Aiona said.
Slom argues that the party needs to be more disciplined, noting that Republican Sen. Mike Gabbard voted with the Democrats 95 percent of the time. Gabbard, Slom said, cast the vote that let the Legislature override a key veto by Lingle.
"This hurts our credibility as a caucus, and it reflects on our leadership," Slom said.
Slom, who has previously criticized Lingle, said that the governor made all the right moves this year.
"She stood behind everyone this year. She backed them up, and she had to endure indignities from this Legislature as no other governor has but she rose to the occasion," Slom said.
Lee called the party "a great group of people" and said he hopes as chairman he will be able to bring more Republicans into the Legislature.
"I think it is important for Hawaii to have a viable two-party system," he said.