Gabbard may switch parties
The Republican from Makakilo often votes with the Democrats
Speculation swirls around whether Sen. Mike Gabbard will switch from the Republican to Democratic Party.
Gabbard yesterday declined to say if he would leave the GOP, but is expected to make an announcement Saturday at Democratic Party headquarters.
Small-business man Gabbard (R, Kalaeloa-Makakilo) became widely known for his successful campaign to block the legalization of same-sex marriage through a 1998 constitutional amendment.
Mike McCartney, Democratic Party chairman, confirmed that he has had several discussions with Gabbard about joining the Democratic Party.
"We are just having a dialog and discussing what the party is about. We are at the conversation stage now," McCartney said yesterday.
Willis Lee, GOP state chairman, said he has tried to reach Gabbard but has been unable to talk to him.
"It is a matter between Mike and his constituents," Willis said.
McCartney acknowledged that the possible switch is controversial among Democrats because of Gabbard's opposition to same-sex marriage. For instance, during Gabbard's unsuccessful campaign against former U.S. Rep. Ed Case, Gabbard charged that Case favors "teaching homosexuality in public schools."
The liberal Interfaith Alliance hand-delivered a letter to Senate President Colleen Hanabusa on Monday asking her to "distance yourself from Sen. Gabbard's record of inciting fear and prejudice, especially against gay, lesbian and transgendered members of our diverse Hawaii community."
Hanabusa was not available to respond yesterday.
GOP Sen. Gordon Trimble (Downtown-Waikiki) said Gabbard has voted with the Democrats most of this year and said he has not been a strong GOP supporter.
"He has not spoken or voted consistently with the minority leadership. ..."I think that people were surprised when they looked at his voting record," Trimble said.
Sen. Fred Hemmings, GOP leader, also said he has been trying to persuade Gabbard to stay within the party, but added that Gabbard usually votes with the Democrats anyway.
"Gabbard had just six 'no' votes against the Democratic majority. There are Democrats that have more no votes than he does," Hemmings said.
Past political switches have not always worked in Hawaii.
The most disastrous political switch was in 1985 when City Council Chairman George Akahane and cohorts Rudy Pacarro and Toraki Matsumoto switched to the GOP, giving it control of the Council.
The trio faced the first recall in city history and lost, despite a radio and television campaign featuring President Ronald Reagan.
The switch was the scheme of former Mayor Frank Fasi, who was then a Republican. Fasi had been a Democrat and later became an Independent after joining the GOP.
City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi switched from the GOP to the Democratic Party in 1988 along with former Sen. Donna Ikeda. Both felt the GOP was becoming too conservative. Kobayashi noted yesterday that she did it as an election was coming up so constituents would have the chance to chose her and her new political party.
If Gabbard leaves the GOP, it will be in mid-term.
On Kauai in 1994, lifelong Democrat Maryanne Kusaka switched to the GOP and served two terms as mayor.
Sen. Will Espero, now a Democrat, ran for office in 1992 as a Republican. In 1998, GOP Rep. Bob Herkes switched to the Democratic party and won re-election. The reverse wasn't as successful for former state Rep. Harvey Tajiri, who switched to the GOP in 2000 to run for Big Island mayor and lost.
Most recently, state school board member Lei Ahu Isa, who had been a Democrat, switched to the GOP to run for the Senate in 2002 and lost.