POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jan 9, 2011
If Linda Lingle says "Huddle up," how many Republicans will answer the call?
The answer to that may decide the fate of the local GOP.
For the first time in eight years, Hawaii's Republican Party is out of the Governor's Office and back in the bleachers.
The tiny Republican Party is again facing the question of what will become of it.
Across the country the GOP holds the hot hand. The action is definitely with the Republicans in the U.S. House. The very mention of the tea party government protest movement sets off a renewed interest in the phenomenon.
Sarah Palin is guaranteed front-page news and the GOP's new House Speaker John Boehner is everyone's first pick for the weekend network television shows.
Here in Hawaii, the party that controls less than 12 percent of the state Legislature and little of the county offices and none of the federal offices appears more as an evolutionary dead end than a political party in a "rebuilding year."
This does not mean that it is without interest. Party gadfly Eric Ryan last week delivered another blast against the establishment running the Hawaii GOP, saying Lingle's troops have frittered away party money and failed to lead.
"It is going to be a bruising fight for leadership," vows Ryan.
He says the "card-carrying Republicans are disgusted," and there is little movement by the old guard to increase membership.
"It is going to come down to who can register new members and energize the old ones," says Ryan.
Hawaii Republicans hold district caucus meetings between Jan. 25 and Feb. 7 to elect district and precinct chairs and delegates to the county and state convention. At the convention, delegates will select the new GOP leaders.
As of now, Jonah Kaauwai, the GOP chairman, is expected to run for a second term. And if he gets in, he is expected to rename Dylan Nonaka as GOP executive director.
Nonaka, a former Marine who served in Iraq, who admits that in the last election "we got our teeth kicked in," says the party now is all about changing to the post-Lingle environment.
"We are trucking along," Nonaka reports, adding that the party spent more money than it ever has in a local election, $1.3 million, and spent more on local elections than in past campaigns.
"We have to build that new generation," Nonaka says of the party's strategy.
Hawaii Republicans, however, still await a signal from their former party chairwoman and governor.
If Lingle is going to run for the U.S. Senate next year, she needs some sort of viable party base. She cannot run as a lone agent; she must have the party as much as it will need her in any revival.
So if someone is going to start doing CPR on the GOP, it would be wise for Lingle to lend a hand in the chest compressions.