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Hemmings' refusal to run again could erode GOP's Senate ranks


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POSTED: Thursday, August 20, 2009

Already on the verge of extinction, Republicans could be left with just a single member in Hawaii's Senate after next year.

Veteran state Sen. Fred Hemmings told the Associated Press that next year's legislative session will be his last and that he won't seek re-election in 2010.

Unless the GOP can hold onto Hemmings' Windward Oahu district or pick up seats elsewhere in the 2010 elections, Sen. Sam Slom would become the only Republican left in the 25-member Senate.

The 63-year-old Hemmings, a former world surfing champion, serves as minority leader.

“;Life is too short to be on a monolithic political crusade. I've done my time,”; said Hemmings, who fought for smaller government, lower taxes and the environment. “;We need to have a two-party system, so it's frustrating being a Republican.”;

One of the reasons Hemmings is stepping down was due to the “;tremendous strain”; created by the legal troubles of his wife, Lydia, he said.

Lydia Hemmings has pleaded not guilty to charges that she stole at least $300 on several occasions from Blueprint for Change, a nonprofit organization where she was executive director.

Hemmings, who has been a senator for Lanikai and Waimanalo since 2000, said he would complete the final year of his term. He also served as a state representative from 1984 to 1990.

Hawaii Republicans, outnumbered 9-to-1 overall by majority Democrats in the state Legislature, don't intend to give up more ground in next year's elections, said Hawaii Republican Party Chairman Jonah Kaauwai. There are six Republicans in the state's 51-member House.

“;He's irreplaceable. ...

We certainly are looking for someone with the same character and stature,”; Kaauwai said. “;We're planning on gaining seats no matter what. We're not going into the next election season thinking we're going to come out with only one senator.”;

Only Rhode Island has a more lopsided state Legislature than Hawaii, with Republicans making up less than 9 percent of state lawmakers. Nationwide, Democrats control about 57 percent of state house seats and 53 percent of state senate seats.

Democratic Party Chairman Brian Schatz said that while his party will compete for all local seats, its priority will be winning Hawaii's congressional and gubernatorial offices.

“;Hemmings was an articulate spokesperson for conservative values and a local boy, who, whether you agreed with him or disagreed with him, he performed effectively in the Legislature,”; Schatz said.

Slom, the potential last Hawaii Republican senator standing, said he's used to speaking for the minority on the floor of the Senate despite having the numbers stacked against him.

Hemmings “;was just tired of it,”; said Slom (Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai). “;He got sick of banging his head against the wall.”;