Big Isle lawyer will lead Democrats
The attorney hopes the presidential race will still be up for grabs
The Hawaii Democratic Party has named the Big Island's Jeani Withington as its new chairwoman to guide the party through its presidential selection process.
Withington, a family law attorney from Paradise Park, took over leadership of the party Tuesday as interim chairwoman until the state party convention in May.
She succeeds Mike McCartney, who resigned his post so he could become executive director of the 13,000-member Hawaii State Teachers Association.
She said one of her goals is to sign up more voters with the party so it has a strong turnout at its Feb. 19 presidential caucus.
"Hopefully Hawaii will get a little bit more attention from the mainland presidential contenders because they're going to want our four votes," Withington said. "I think on the national level, there's not going to be a clear front-runner as there was in the past."
If earlier primaries and caucuses in other states don't narrow down the field of presidential candidates to one, Hawaii could play a decisive role, Withington said.
"By the time we have our caucus, there may still be at least a couple of people in contention," she said.
At least five presidential contenders have active organizations in Hawaii: Hillary Clinton, Barrack Obama, Dennis Kucinich, John Edwards and Bill Richardson, she said.
Withington, 71, becomes the first party chairperson from outside Oahu in the history of the state party, she said.
She isn't taking sides in the presidential race, because her job is to promote all the Democratic candidates.
"I'm quite enthusiastic," she said. "I've listened to all the Democratic contenders speak, and any one of them would be an excellent president."
McCartney was originally going to stay on as chairman until the middle of the month, but the party decided to hasten the transition so Withington could get to work, she said.
McCartney has said the high point of his term was the 2006 elections, when Democrats held onto their big majority in the state Senate and picked up two seats to add to their equally lopsided majority in the state House. He served as chairman since May 2006.
Withington didn't rule out trying to stay on as chairwoman after next year's state party convention, but she said she would have to wait and see how the next few months go.