Heen to challenge
Gill for party chief
Some see the Democrat vote asBy Mike Yuen
a referendum on same-sex marriage
Retired state appellate Judge Walter Heen, who was instrumental in the Democratic Party's rise to power in the 1950s, will be challenging former Lt. Gov. Tom Gill for the chairmanship of the 29,000-member party.
The election will be a clash of party titans from the past and, many believe, something of a referendum on same-sex marriage.
Heen, 70, also has been a territorial and state representative and a state senator.
Gill, 76, also served as U.S. representative and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1970.
In 1993, when Heen was a substitute associate justice, he authored the dissenting opinion when the Hawaii Supreme Court rejected the state's request for a reconsideration of an earlier ruling thatmr6 Walter
Heen would set the groundwork for legalizing gay marriages.
"I believe the rights of homosexuals can be protected, as I said in the dissent, without destroying that basic, fundamental concept of marriage," Heen said yesterday when confirming his candidacy.
He added: "I see the same-sex issue as one of the divisive issues that has splintered the party. It's my view that the party cannot afford to get splintered over a single issue."
Gill was chairman of the state Commission on Sexual Orientation and the Law. He was part ofmr6 Tom
Gill the 5-2 majority recommending that same-sex couples be allowed to marry.
An attorney, Gill now heads Protect Our Constitution, a local political action committee organized to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment, on the ballot in November, that would allow lawmakers to ban gay marriages.
Gill said he doesn't want the race to divide the party.
His goal, Gill said, is having the Democratic Party achieve the strong identity the party previously had when it was identified as standing for the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Nowadays, the differences between Democrats and Republicans are blurred, Gill added.
The nearly 1,000 delegates to the party's state convention next month will choose their new leader.
Two years ago, Heen unsuccessfully sought the party leadership after Richard Port resigned as chairman before his term was finished. But the party's Central Committee voted 31-28 to tap former City Council Chairwoman Marilyn Bornhorst, who's not seeking re-election.
Since 1994, the party has been under the control of its liberal wing. Moderate Democrats in recent months have been searching for someone to challenge Gill.
Heen last year co-authored the harsh critique of the Bishop Estate that sparked a state investigation.
"The Republicans smell blood," Heen said. "I'm reminded that this (year's gubernatorial) election for the Democratic Party is as crucial as 1962 was."
In that year, John A. Burns, with a united party behind him, was elected the state's first Democratic governor.
Three years earlier, when Hawaii achieved statehood, Burns lost the gubernatorial race because Democrats "were split and reconciled too late," Heen said.
In the past, he and Gill were "pretty much allies," Heen said. But during the 1968 Democratic state convention Heen headed the Eugene McCarthy for president delegation, while Gill led those favoring Robert Kennedy.