CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
State Sen. Mike Gabbard changed his party affiliation to Democratic in a short signing ceremony yesterday at Ward Warehouse in Kakaako. With him were U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka (not shown), state Sen. Norman Sakamoto, Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and Hawaii Democratic Party Chairman Mike McCartney.
Signing ceremony turns Gabbard into Democrat
The state senator gets the required paperwork in order as friends and family stand by his side
Saying that he has always been a politician who followed his conscience, Sen. Mike Gabbard switched to the Democratic Party yesterday, disappointing Republicans and further weakening their presence in the state Senate.
Surrounded by his family, friends and other politicians, including U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, who Gabbard said played an "instrumental" role in the switch, the first-term legislator signed his blue Democratic Party card at the Hawaii headquarters yesterday afternoon.
"My experience over at the Legislature has convinced me that in order to be more effective, it would be best if I were a part of the majority party," Gabbard said.
Gabbard's switch -- while it came as no surprise to many local politicians -- is unusual because he clashes with many of the Democratic Party's values, especially his staunch opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage as highlighted in a widely publicized campaign in 1998.
"There are obviously some things we don't see eye to eye on," Gabbard said. "I'm a social conservative. What I found in talking with Democratic leadership is that there has been mutual respect, and we're never going to agree on everything."
Democrats, including Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, welcomed Gabbard into the party and called him a man who always voted for what he believed in, regardless of party lines.
Gabbard said his daughter, Tulsi Gabbard-Tamayo, a former state representative who now works for Akaka, heavily influenced his decision. Mike McCartney, Hawaii Democratic Party chairman, said Gabbard contacted him about three weeks ago on switching parties, which brings the number of Republican senators down to four.
"Republicans have so few members; it's not like the balance of the Senate is at stake here," said University of Hawaii-Manoa political science professor Neal Milner. "This carries a pattern in the past where people have switched from Republican to Democrat because the Republican Party is so weak."
Many Republicans, including state Sens. Fred Hemmings and Sam Slom, said they were disappointed in Gabbard's decision and question whether it was for personal gain or because his values changed.
"His social views didn't all of a sudden change, which caused him to identify more closely with the Democrat Party," Gov. Linda Lingle said yesterday. "I think it's about personal power as he sees it. I'll treat him like I treat all the other Democrats. I'll try to work with him the best I can, but I think he's let down the people who voted for him, who contributed to him and who really need to have a two-party system."
"He compromised moral principles for convenience," Hemmings said. "Mike's going to get things done, but what's he's going to get done is sustaining the status quo, not making Hawaii a better place."
Star-Bulletin reporter B.J. Reyes contributed to this report.