At a reception for Hawaii Democratic Party delegates yesterday, Jennifer Chun, a campaign worker for gubernatorial candidate Ed Case, read about Mayor Jeremy Harris' withdrawal from the governor's race. Democratic Party leaders vow to win the race for governor this year despite Harris' withdrawal.

Democrats vow unity
in race for governor

Delegates head into their
convention ready to move on
after Mayor Harris' withdrawal

By Crystal Kua

Hawaii's Democratic leaders, brushing aside political fallout from Mayor Jeremy Harris' departure from governor's race, vowed to win the election for the top state job in November.

"As one of the party leaders, I'm hoping that we will be able to convince our candidates to campaign vigorously but positively and after the dust settles be able to hold hands and campaign together," U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye said. "That will be the secret to our success."

It's a message that likely will be in the sermon Inouye is scheduled to deliver to the political congregation from the pulpit today, the second day of the state Democratic Convention in Waikiki.

Harris stunned Democrats on Thursday, withdrawing from the governor's election because he was far behind Republican Linda Lingle in the polls and his campaign had been stalled by legal questions.

With three announced gubernatorial candidates -- Rep. Ed Case, Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono and businessman D.G. "Andy" Anderson -- and gossip of a few more possibly jumping into the fray, the words "unity" and "choice" were falling out of the mouths of party leaders, convinced that togetherness will help keep Washington Place in the hands of Democrats.

A Mahalo Reception yesterday for Hawaii Democratic Party delegates, alternates and guests brought out a number of prominent politicians. U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye answered questions from reporters during the reception.

"Absolutely. And I say this from experience, not just wishful thinking," Inouye said chuckling. "Obviously there's some of that, you know."

If the public sees delegates as unified in tackling major issues, the convention could end up helping the Democrats maintain their 40-year hold on the governor's seat as well as keep a majority in the state House.

"The appearance is that (the Democrats) are very splintered, and that's not good," said Rick Castberg, a political science professor at the University of Hawaii-Hilo. "You don't see that in the Republican Party. I see a lot more unity in the Lingle camp and the Republicans."

Part of that perception, he says, stems from the fact that Democrats have not held true to the ideals of the party in recent years.

"I think a lot of the candidates work for their own personal ideals," he said. "The Democrats have always helped the little man, and I think they've gotten away from that. There are a lot of Democratic candidates that have their own agenda."

But he agreed that unity, or at least the perception of it, could help the Democrats defeat the GOP at the polls this fall, especially in the governor's race.

"The challenge is to get together on this and not have all these factions," he said. "The Democrats can shoot themselves in the foot if they don't get together."

And some of that damage control already may have begun, with Democrats discounting the public perception that they are splintered.

"I think they may think so, they may hope so, but they are wrong. Just because we have a number of candidates doesn't mean the basic party structure is not strong and defined," said former party Chairman Walter Heen, who is campaigning for Anderson.

Before the start of the convention yesterday, Inouye gathered with other party leaders, including members of the congressional delegation, the state Senate president and vice president, the state House speaker and vice speaker, and party Chairwoman Lorraine Akiba.

Inouye said the discussion centered on the Democrats' long-standing "open-door policy" for candidates.

Former House speaker Henry Peters, left, greeted former Gov. George Ariyoshi and his wife, Jean.

"We have not handpicked anyone," Inouye said of the governor's race. "I have no idea who the nominee will be."

Senate President Robert Bunda said Inouye talked about moving the party forward, past the Harris announcement, and giving all the gubernatorial candidates a fair shot.

"At the end, however, when everything's said and done, we can support the (winning) candidate," Bunda said.

Party leaders also say the effect of Harris' departure may not be all bad.

"There's different ways of looking at it. I think what we are all in agreement on is that we think it could be viewed as a positive thing for the party," said Senate Vice President Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae), "because what the party will do is, the party will pull together. The party is not just one person. The party is made up of many longtime members."

All three gubernatorial candidates are scheduled to address the convention today.

"The challenge to Democrats is to deliver the change that the people want," Case said in an interview earlier this week. "This is the most important year for Democrats in a half a century."

Anderson said the convention will be a coming-out party for him after his switch from the Republican Party.

"I've got to prove to these people that I'm with them," he said. "I've got to meet these people firsthand and get them to trust me."

Hirono also has said her jumping back into the governor's race shows her sincerity in service.

Anderson agreed with Case that this year's election and this convention are as important as the 1954 Democratic revolution, when Democrats posted major political gains at the polls in a predominately Republican establishment.

"This election will set the course for the next 20 years," Anderson said.

Akiba noted another important event with this year marking the 40th anniversary of John Burns being elected, the first in a long line of Democratic governors.

"Nothing happens by chance. It's a very good omen and a very good portending, I think, of what the Democrats will do this year," Akiba said.

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