Some Republicans expect infighting at convention
The annual state Republican convention is usually promoted as a time for unity and party-building, but GOP veteran state Sen. Fred Hemmings said there will be fighting this weekend.
"There's a right-wing cabal that, instead of building a party that is bringing people together, is instead trying to make a radical turn to the right," said Hemmings (R, Lanikai-Waimanalo). "We cannot afford to polarize ourselves on straight political lines with the wacko right that is saying, 'It is our way or no way.'"
There are concerns this year that Gov. Linda Lingle's moderate Republican style has provoked conservative factions to try to change the platform.
Party officials had hoped the platform would remain the same as in 2006, but some Republicans meeting in the state platform committee last month tried to add planks condemning federal legislation for native Hawaiian recognition sponsored by Democratic U.S. Sen. Dan Akaka.
At the Hilton Hawaiian Village today through Sunday, the party meets in what new GOP Chairman Willes Lee said he wants to be an "opportunity to showcase our candidates and take care of business."
Hemmings said he fears that the Hawaii GOP, representing a dwindling minority in the Legislature, is vulnerable to being taken by over a special interest group as happened during the 1980s, when supporters of televangelist Pat Robertson took over the party and drove out strong GOP vote-getters including Ann Kobayashi, Donna Ikeda and Virginia Isbell, who became Democratics.
Another longtime party leader, Rep. Barbara Marumoto, describes the opposition as "an aberrant thing."
"I don't know where they are coming from. They are really negative and I have no idea how big they are. I would guess small and rabid," said Marumoto (R, Kalani Valley-Diamond Head).
The state GOP platform, according to loyalists like Marumoto, should be "an umbrella we can all run under."
Hemmings said Eric Ryan, a graphic artist, has been sending anonymous e-mails to local Republicans attacking Lingle, Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona and Lee. Ryan did not return phone calls or e-mails and has not confirmed that he is the source of the attacks.
However, he has written on the Hawaii Reporter Web site that "Lingle and her handmaiden and puppets are still more interested in personal political popularity than in helping defeat Democrats."
Critics point to the flagging number of Republicans in the Legislature; the inability of Lingle to carry anyone else besides herself across the finish line; and the defection of two GOP lawmakers, Sen. Mike Gabbard and Rep. Karen Awana, in a year. GOP members in the Legislature have dropped to 11 from 22 since 2001.
One critic, Garry Smith, a retired Navy officer, said the party is in trouble and not helping itself recover.
"I have put in a lot of time, energy and mental energy into the party, so I didn't leave the party, the party left me," Smith said. "We are not going to win any more seats in November. We might even lose some more."
Sen. Paul Whalen, one of four GOP senators out of 25, is retiring and could be replaced by a Democrat.
Republicans across the country are suffering this year, said Sen. Sam Slom (R, Hawaii Kai-Diamond Head). The problem, he figures, is deeper than just public disdain for President Bush.
"People are asking, 'What happened to the Republican brand?' The policies, values and issues are under siege," Slom said.
He points to the Lingle administration's "embrace of the Akaka Bill, rail transit and the excise tax, ceded-lands settlement and the general policy of the executive branch."
For his part, Lee said the party is accepting of different points of view.
"We have a bigger umbrella and consider ourselves to be more inclusive, so it is natural we have vocal members from the right, middle and left," Lee said. "For those who want to consider themselves more Republican than others or more conservative than others, or folks who want to prove they are more moderate, I find that not a good sense of what the party is."