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Former union chief tabbed for party post


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POSTED: Friday, May 15, 2009

Veteran union leader Russell Okata is expected to be named national committeeman for the Hawaii Democratic Party tomorrow, although some Maui Democrats do not like it.

Okata, who led the politically powerful Hawaii Government Employees Association for 26 years before retiring in 2007, is being nominated by Brian Schatz, Democratic Party chairman. Okata is to replace former Gov. George Ariyoshi, who is stepping down in the middle of his term as national committeeman.

But former Maui County Democratic Party Chairman Jonathan Starr says he also wants the position.

"I'm a realist, and I don't have anything bad to say about Russell Okata," says Starr, who plans to attend tomorrow's party Central Committee meeting, which he notes will be held at the HGEA's Honolulu headquarters. "I have worked to organize and bring back the Democratic Party to Maui. We have tripled membership."

Schatz notes that Okata is a past Hawaii delegate to several national Democratic conventions, served as a party official and is well connected in Washington's labor establishment.

John Lundin, a state Central Committee member from Maui, said, "The Maui delegation will strongly oppose this appointment. We feel the appointment is based on political favoritism by the chair in order to gain support for his upcoming campaign for lieutenant governor."

Schatz called Okata "extremely well qualified." Asked about the complaints that he is attempting to curry favor with the HGEA, Schatz denied it.

"When you chair the party, all kinds of accusations are hurled your way. The best thing I can do it make the best decisions on behalf of the party."