Are Dems refighting an old battle?
Once upon a time Democrats in Hawaii were not in the majority.
But they still could fight, and some feel today's concern over open and closed primary elections are a continuation of disagreements starting when the modern Democratic Party was formed after the disastrous 1950 Hawaii Democratic Convention.
Former federal judge and state Democratic chairman Walter Heen reminded me of the 1950 convention when, as Heen put it, "a couple of fellows named Ernest and William Heen led a walkout of Democrats."
Walter Heen said his father, Ernest, and Uncle William were part of a group of conservative Democrats concerned about John Burns' political plans to link the Democrats to the ILWU, a labor union once considered the most powerful in Hawaii.
In a biography of Burns, University of Hawaii-West Oahu professor Dan Boylan said the walkout was triggered when a conservative Democrat attempted to deny accreditation to Democrats who had been cited by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
The congressional committee was established to investigate claims of disloyalty and subversive activity of those suspected of having communist sympathies.
Because of the ILWU's ties to suspected communists, the link between the Hawaii Democrats and the ILWU was opposed.
About one-quarter of the Democrats walked out and held their own convention.
Burns was elected chairman of the remaining Democrats and as one delegate remarked, "This is the new Democratic Party."
Those who remained became the nucleus of the modern Democratic Party in Hawaii headed by Burns, who became Hawaii's first Democratic governor. The fellow next to Burns was Dan Inouye, who has represented Hawaii in Congress and the U.S. Senate since 1959.
Hawaii's Democrats have not been at peace since that 1950 breakup. As one young Democrat told me last week while commenting on the current fight about open and closed primaries, "This is the same fight that has been going on since Burns and Gill time."
If Burns during his time was considered the conservative, his lieutenant governor, Tom Gill, was the liberal, with broad ideas about land use reform and ethical government. The party then struggled when George Ariyoshi was governor and Frank Fasi was Honolulu mayor.
Although appearing petty at the time, the conflicts between Burns and Gill, Ariyoshi and Fasi helped Democrats choose and defend their issues, from whether to develop Kona or leave Oahu's Windward side without urban development.
In the end, a good fight keeps Hawaii's Democrats, even the good old boys, relevant.