Monday, April 16, 2001


go up to bat
burdened by
school strikes

Party elders worry that
primary election bloodletting
next year will help Republicans

By Richard Borreca

The fact that the phones won't stop ringing at Republican Party headquarters is setting off alarms down Ward Street at the Democratic Party offices.

UHPA HSTA strike logo The combined teachers and university faculty strike is making members of Hawaii's majority party nervous.

Add to that the prospects for a divisive primary fight in next year's race for governor, and party leaders are nervous.

U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, one of the founders of the modern Democratic Party, is trying to pull together the various groups and factions to build a coordinated campaign for next year's important elections.

"About six years ago, I addressed the party's Central Committee and said we had numerous signs and events that should have given us concern; I don't want to say 'I told you so,' but the last election should have been our wake-up call," Inouye said.

Part of the party's problems, Inouye says, may be the perception that it should be replaced because the state needs new blood.

"We have been around for a while, so it is easy to say, 'It is time for a change.' It is a catchy phrase.

"So we have to present to the public a program. ... I know I am proud to be a Democrat," Inouye said.

But Inouye cannot do anything about the two strikes hurting the party.

Maui Democrat Sen. Avery Chumbley said, "The strikes are damaging to all Democrats."

"I think the public at large feels that because the Democrats are the majority," the Democrats will be blamed for whatever goes wrong.

Walter Heen, Democratic Party chairman, who is expected to step down, said it "is always the public perception to blame Democrats when they are upset at the governor -- even though he is not the entire Democratic Party."

At GOP headquarters on Kapiolani, however, the strike has meant dissatisfied voters calling looking for another political party.

"I would say we are getting in the neighborhood of between 100 and 50 calls a day," said Micah Kane, GOP executive director.

"It is obvious that people are looking for leadership, and Linda (Lingle, the GOP chairwoman and candidate for governor) is that," Kane said.

Kane said people are also blaming the Legislature for not doing more to end the strike.

Although controlling Democrats in both the House and Senate are looking for money to pay for whatever raises are agreed to, Kane says the Democrats should be doing more.

"Just passing a bill from chamber to chamber is not standing in opposition to what your governor is doing," Kane said.

Once the strike ends, Democrats still must deal with what Inouye considers to be another potential problem: having two strong candidates opposing each other for governor.

Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris made his long-rumored campaign official last week when he announced for governor.

The move clears the way for him to legally start spending and raising money for a race for governor.

Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, the other major Democrat in the field, has yet to formally announce, but when asked she says she also plans to run.

Inouye contends that having just one candidate going through the primary and readying for a general election battle with Lingle would be "the ideal situation."

"The other way is to have a bloodletting in the primary," Inouye said.

"I am sure the Republicans will not have a contested primary, but in our case we will have two major groups using up resources," he said.

The party and the two candidates are only able to raise a certain amount of money for the governor's race, Inouye contends. If the two raise and spend the money fighting each other, there will be less to battle the GOP.

Inouye, Chumbley and Heen all agree that while one candidate would be better for the Democrats in 2002, it is not likely that a race featuring Harris and Hirono will kill the race for the Democrats.

"I tend to agree with the view that it is best to avoid a primary fight, but experience has shown that the (primary) battles create such a large amount of interest among Democrats and Democrats at heart that the results in the general election are overwhelming," Heen said.

>> HSTA Web site
>> UHPA Web site
>> State Web site
>> Governor's strike Web site
>> DOE Web site

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