Thursday, April 19, 2001

chief pro-union,
critic says

The new party leader has a past
that should 'scare' businesses,
a GOP official says

By Lisa Asato

STATE DEMOCRATS are touting their new party leader as pro-business, but that's not the case, says a Republican Party official.

Micah Kane, executive director of the state GOP, said yesterday that Lorraine Akiba's April 16 election as Democratic Party chairwoman will continue the party's pro-union sentiment that's shaped government here for 40 years.

"We don't see her appointment as any change from the old regime," he said.

Kane said Akiba, while state labor director, carried out retribution tactics against supporters of Linda Lingle's 1998 campaign for governor. He pointed to audits aimed at businesses owned by Kitty Lagareta and Linda Smith, who had ties to Lingle's campaign and the GOP.

Akiba, appointed labor director by Gov. Ben Cayetano in 1995, countered that those allegations have never been supported and dismissed them as "partisan rhetoric."

Akiba added that in her first year as labor director, she initiated workers' compensation reform that cut costs by 40 percent.

"I think my actions speak for themselves," she said.

Akiba, a former Democratic national committeewoman, is a partner with McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinnon. In that post, she counts herself a businesswoman, saying, "I definitely have awareness of and (am) sensitive to concerns of business people, being one of them, and I'm very concerned about the economy, just like everybody else is."

She called Kane's criticisms premature, as she's only been on the job for 24 hours.

Kane, however, says Akiba's track record shows her union leanings. He points to a Labor Department investigation of a nonprofit organization that was sparked by a union complaint.

"If I'm a private business owner or employee, this appointment scares me," said Kane, a former lobbyist for Building Industry Association of Hawaii. "It's important for the public to know who she is and what her background is."

As chairwoman, Akiba sets party initiatives, serves as party spokeswoman and identifies candidates.

She said she'll be searching out candidates who "are able to make tough decisions with compassion and are able to rise above politics to do what's good for all people."

Referring to Lingle's near win in the governor's race and GOP victories in the state House last year, Kane said: "It's just business as usual for the Democratic Party. After all they've been through in 2-1/2 years, you'd think they'd have a different selection."

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