DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
A group supporting Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign waved signs yesterday outside the Democratic Party of Hawaii's convention at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
Dems show a united front
Presidential politics fail to create a rift within the state party
It was a joke, but the offer by the children of two of Hawaii's oldest warring political families to run for governor and lieutenant governor on a unity ticket tells the story of how the sudden popularity of Sen. Barack Obama made this weekend's state Democratic convention at the Hilton Hawaiian Village a lovefest.
Gary Gill, former City Council chairman and son of Democratic liberal standard-bearer and former Lt. Gov. Tom Gill, and former Intermediate Court of Appeals Chief Justice James Burns, the son of former Gov. John Burns, who helped form the modern Democratic Party in Hawaii in 1954, jokingly said they would run together in 2010.
"Our only disagreement," said Gill, "is we both want to be lieutenant governor."
An estimated 600 to 700 delegates who voted in the February caucus for Obama's presidential nomination showed up to first cheer on Maya Soetoro-Ng, Obama's half sister, and then U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie as they heaped praise on Obama.
"We have got to teach the rest of the world to ride the big waves of change," Soetoro-Ng said.
Abercrombie extended the analogy of the Hawaii-born Obama, who says he enjoys bodysurfing at Sandy Beach, as a wave of change in the presidential campaign.
"I have been carrying in my heart the memory of his mother and father, and the result of this union brought us the first world citizen who can cross over not just this nation but across the world to bring the message of Hawaii, the message of aloha, of togetherness, openness, tolerance and diversity," Abercrombie said in his speech.
Abercrombie, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor when Gov. Linda Lingle's term is up in two years, told the delegates that the unity they show today will be reflected in the party of the future.
"2008 is just a prelude to 2010. We are going to have fusion in 2010 and it is going to put the Democratic Party out front," Abercrombie said.
Party officials had been concerned that the fierce primary and caucus battles between Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton would spill over into the convention, but that was not apparent.
Abercrombie, however, did say that Clinton's comments Friday mentioning the assassination of former Sen. Robert Kennedy in June of a presidential year as a reason why she is still in the race, was a fatal mistake for Clinton's campaign.
"It is unfortunate and fatigue does set in, but it is also unfortunate for her because I think this will put the seal on anything. That was simply not something that can be easily set aside," Abercrombie said.
Also speaking about party unity was first-term U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, who said the split between Obama and Clinton should not hurt their chances of winning against Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP candidate.
"An election of John McCain would be a third term of George W. Bush's failed policies and mistake-prone stewardship," Hirono said.
One state issue not smoothed over was the attempt to push support for a constitutional convention into the party platform. The Republicans did it at their convention last week and Senate GOP leader Fred Hemmings yesterday sent out a press release saying, "Their failure to take a strong stand to bring our state constitution into the 21st century underscores the Democrats' inability to do what is best."
But independent Democrats such as Rep. Della Au Belatti said there is strong support among Obama delegates for a constitutional convention.
"There is frustration within the Democratic Party, and if you listen carefully to Obama's message, you can't help but think that the message of change should translate into a yes vote on ConCon," Belatti said.