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Local GOP poised for mix of religion into politics


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POSTED: Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The pieces are coming together for a new coalition to assist in Lt. Gov. James “;Duke”; Aiona's 2010 run for governor.

Aiona, a Catholic, has carefully tended to the support and encouragement of churches and Christian groups. Now the Republican Party is being revived with new workers who share much of the same religious beliefs.

The groups are different from the 1988 Pat Robertson takeover of the local GOP, says Garrett Hashimoto, head of the Hawaii Christian Coalition, who says he is carrying a Republican Party card for the first time in his life.

If there is a GOP revival, it may revolve around Jonah Kaauwai, the 36-year-old state corrections official, who GOP insiders say has a lock on the party chairmanship.

Kaauwai says he is backing Aiona for governor as long as no one else enters the field; if there is another candidate, Kaauwai says he will remain neutral.

Interestingly, Gov. Linda Lingle, titular head of the Hawaii GOP, has stayed out of the selection process, according to Linda Smith, Lingle's senior policy analyst and a GOP member. Smith, however, did nominate Malia Gray for Honolulu District chairwoman and Gray is running with Kaauwai to control the party.

Asked about there being a faith-based connection to the GOP, Gray said it is just one of many things the new party members have in common.

“;Jonah is a Christian, as am I, but I am also Hawaiian and a mother and it is all part of who we are,”; Gray said.

Kaauwai says he is a supporter of Christian values and also “;cultural values and family values.”;

Hashimoto reports that the issue that has galvanized the Christian community is the civil-unions bill in the Legislature and the whole issue of same-sex marriages. Interestingly, Aiona was the lead-off speaker in opposition to civil unions, and Democratic candidate for governor U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie headed up the speakers in favor of civil unions.

Others in the GOP fear the mix of religion and politics, recalling how the 1988 Robertson grab had a momentary increase in party membership — but the fights were so bitter that even the party chairman, Howard Chong, failed to win a seat at the state convention. And by 1993 the GOP had dwindled to its all-time lowest rank in the Legislature with just seven members.

Today the party hovers at that level with only eight legislators.

The next year will show whether igniting the culture wars will revive the GOP or push it over the cliff.

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Richard Borreca writes on politics every Wednesday. You can reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).