Tuesday, April 17, 2001

send up Akiba
as party chair

The former labor chief
replaces Walter Heen
at a turbulent time

By Richard Borreca

In preparation for next year's big election season, Democrats in Hawaii brought in a new party leader, 44-year-old Lorraine Akiba, a former state labor director and national committeewoman.

Akiba mug Walter Heen, 74, stepped down as party chairman, noting that he had not wanted to run for re-election last year but did so to set in place a coordinated campaign for the 2002 elections.

Akiba is a partner in the law firm of McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinnon.

Last night, Akiba was nominated by the Democratic Party Central Committee to take over as Heen resigned.

"I'll be spending more time with my grandson and be able to catch up on my surfing, maybe some golf," Heen said.

The former legislator, city councilman and state jurist said the party is aware of the new challenges mounted by the Republican Party.

"What will motivate us is fear," Heen said. "We are realizing we will have to work together more than we have in the past decade."

Heen leaves the party as the state's majority Democrats negotiate through a period of politically damaging labor turbulence with the pro-Democrat public worker unions either on strike or fighting Democratic Gov. Ben Cayetano.

"I believe Democrats have been able to reaffirm their support for working men and women and working families. As Democrats we have actually protected working men and women's right to strike," Akiba said.

"As Democrats many have visited the line and shown their support to continue dialog and resolve their differences. The Democrat Party, the Young Democrats, delivered water to the teachers and the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly," she said.

Akiba described herself as part of the state's "new Democrats."

She has not been actively involved in local Democratic politics, although she served as national committeewoman last year and was a delegate to the National Democratic Convention. In 1995, Cayetano appointed her labor director.

Before working for the state, Akiba was a partner in the law firm of Cades Schutte Fleming & Wright and headed its environmental practice. She graduated from the University of California-Berkeley and Hastings College of law and Punahou.

Akiba said she would continue to practice law while serving as party chairwoman. The firm already lists several political figures among its members, including former state Associate Supreme Court Justice Robert Klein and former city Corporation Counsel Darolyn Lendio and Stanley Mukai, a former chairman of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents.

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