Tuesday, February 23, 1999

GOP loyalists
worry about
Lingle aide

Some are leery about his
bid to be the Hawaii
party's chairman

By Mike Yuen


Three months ago, isle Republicans were demoralized when former Maui Mayor Linda Lingle fell just 5,200 votes short of becoming the state's first GOP governor since 1962.

Now the mood of many party loyalists has turned to bewilderment and concern. They fear the likely candidacy of Lingle campaign manager Bob Awana for party chairman is geared more toward furthering Lingle's political ambitions than toward party building.

The fissures in the party, slowly emerging into public view, also come as the reasons for Lingle's narrow loss are still being debated. Was the party, long perceived as dominated by Caucasians in multiethnic Hawaii, to blame? Or did missteps in the final days of the campaign, including not responding to the media blitz by Gov. Ben Cayetano and unions backing his re-election, doom Lingle's campaign?

State Democratic Party Chairman Walter Heen said he has no doubt that Lingle is attempting to establish a party mechanism to help her in future elections.

"If the party core or structure loses out to Lingle in this power struggle, it would appear that her efforts to divorce herself from the party in the past election would accelerate the weakening of the Republican Party, while leaving her strengthened individually," Heen said.

Awana's apparent bid for the party chairmanship became evident several weeks ago, said several GOP regulars, when Lingle supporters who have never been involved in party activities participated in precinct caucuses to elect delegates to the state convention on Kauai in May. The convention delegates will select the successor to Donna Alcantara, who surprised many with her decision not to seek a second two-year term as party chairwoman.

Kawananakoa may run

Alcantara, who with her husband each contributed the maximum $6,000 to Lingle's gubernatorial campaign, confirmed that she asked former Senate Minority Leader Michael Liu and former House Minority Leader Quentin Kawananakoa to seek the chairmanship of the 24,400-member party. Liu said he won't. Kawananakoa said he might.

Before he becomes a candidate, Kawananakoa said, he needs to talk with Awana "to see who would benefit the party the most." He prefers that there not be a contested race, he added.

"I agree with Linda that we need to embrace the entire community and broaden the party as best we can, whether with Democrats, independents or nonvoters and get them active (in the party)," he said.

Lingle supports Awana

Awana, a former Democrat who became a Republican Party member in July 1997 shortly after joining Lingle's campaign, confirmed that it was Lingle who urged him to seek the party chairmanship.

"If I were to do it, it would be for a cause much bigger than the Linda Lingle campaign organization," said Awana, who was chief of staff under a Democratic mayor of Honolulu, Eileen Anderson.

"This would be to put balance in government, a two-party system, and getting Republican candidates elected in the year 2000. That's step one. Helping Linda Lingle (who has her eyes on another gubernatorial bid) and others in 2002 is the next step. This has to live on long after a Lingle administration."

Lingle said she would support an Awana candidacy -- no matter who else might be a candidate.

As party chairman, Awana would not only be a boost for her but also for "all other (Republican) candidates," said Lingle, who has spurned appeals that she herself seek the party chairmanship.

Sen. Sam Slom (R, Kalama Valley) said it is obvious that the Democratic support Lingle attracted did not trickle down to GOP legislative candidates.

So if the isle GOP is to be revamped to make it more comfortable for disenchanted Democrats, "it seems to me what you're making is a pseudo-Democratic Party and you're abandoning Republican principles and philosophy. If the party does not stand for something very direct and apart from the Democrat Party, then it can never hope to be successful."

Slom also noted that when supporters of Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson took over the isle GOP in the late 1980s when Robertson was seeking the presidency, there was an excitement in the air because party rolls were bolstered. But those new members eventually left.

Liu said that if he were running for the party chairmanship, he would be talking with the party faithful about learning from the mistakes from last year's campaign "rather than trying to sell that everything was done perfectly at all levels."

"We have to go through a rational discussion internally and to some degree publicly so there's confidence that we don't have our heads stuck in the sand," Liu said.

Jesse Yescalis, a Lancaster, Pa., native who's been the executive director of the isle GOP since January 1998, said since his arrival here from Arizona, where he was the state's GOP political director, there have been internal discussions as to whether the local party should have people from the mainland in leadership or staff positions. Another issue has been what role should the party play in campaigns, he added.

But Yescalis said political parties are not deciding factors in whether a candidate wins or loses a race.

Slom said he thought the Lingle campaign should have responded to the 11th-hour claim made by unions on Cayetano's behalf that if Lingle were elected, union workers would lose jobs and pensions.

Asked whom he would support for party chairman, Slom replied: "I would like to see somebody who is not specifically identified with a particular candidate or a particular campaign."

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