Awana switches to Democrats
The Waianae Coast representative says the decision was both personal and political
State Rep. Karen Awana joined the Democratic Party yesterday, making her the second legislative Republican to change parties during the interim.
Awana, who represents the Kalaeloa-Nanakuli House district, said the Democratic Party's values align more with her own and that she feels she can be more effective for her community as a member of the majority.
"It's a blending of both -- to being raised in a Democratic community with family and friends who are Democrats and also knowing that positive change and outcomes can come from the Democratic Party," she said.
Awana made the announcement at Democratic Party headquarters in Kakaako, joined by members of the House leadership, who welcomed her to the party.
"The fact of the matter is, during this past year she's done a tremendous job," said House Speaker Calvin Say (D, St. Louis Heights-Wilhelmina Rise-Palolo Valley). "Her participation in a lot of different caucuses, in the committees and even conference committees reflect Karen's commitment toward her community."
Her switch follows that of Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kalaeloa-Makakilo) in August and drops the number of GOP members in the 51-member chamber to seven.
"Obviously, Karen has had to make a personal decision that shows where her values and loyalties lie," said Willes K. Lee, state Republican Party chairman. "This was not unanticipated, having watched how Karen had voted this past session and hearing some of her philosophies."
Rep. Kymberly Pine, assistant minority leader in the House, was more critical, noting that Awana waited until after the Republicans held their most recent caucus to announce her switch.
"She was included in our most confidential caucus meetings because she looked us in the eye and stated emphatically that she had no plans to switch political parties," Pine (R, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point) said in a statement, noting that caucus discussions focused on the legislative package for the 2008 session.
"It is clear that she remained in the Republican caucus only to obtain this information," she added. "I now wonder how any political party can trust her, let alone her own constituents on the Waianae Coast."
Awana said her level of service to her constituents would be "seamless."
"My doors will always be open," she said. "If they are concerned that I will not be listening to their concerns as closely as a Democratic constituent, that's untrue. I will strongly consider their opinions and their views just as anyone else."