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Young leaders of GOP want value-added campaigns

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Meet the new Hawaii Republican Party. This is the "After Lingle" party.

For eight years the GOP pitch was that with Linda Lingle’s capable hand on the tiller, common-sense government, a two-party political system and fiscal accountability were all here.

Well, Gov. Lingle is going, the GOP in the Legislature is down to one of its lowest levels, Democrats are beating the Republicans in every independent poll of the governor’s race and the national news media is writing off Republican chances of holding their one Hawaii congressional seat.

The Hawaii GOP is closer to being an endangered species than a representative political movement, except for the insertion of new conservative blood.

If politics were a country song, it would something of the "been down so long, it looks like up to me" strategy.

Two new young local guys are now running the party and are attempting to change it from personality-driven politics to a values campaign.

Dylan Nonaka, 29, a Marine combat veteran, is the executive director. He’s a former University of Hawaii at Hilo student body president who was rejected by the state Senate when Lingle nominated him to the UH Board of Regents.

Jonah Kaauwai, 37, is GOP chairman, a Kamehameha Schools and Boston College graduate with strong connections to the Christian community.

Both are smart, energetic and spoiling for a fight.

"We are actually giving people a choice," says Kaauwai.

Nonaka points to the restructuring of the party in the usually conservative Kona district on the Big Island.

"It was dead, but it is coming back. A change in leadership has helped, and the whole tea party movement helped get a lot of conservatives involved," Nonaka says.

While not singling out any past party members, Kaauwai says the local GOP has strayed and he represents a course correction.

"We are drawing a line in the sand as far as conservative values go … as far as family values go.

"The Republican Party has watered down its message. It really hasn’t had a conservative stance. Our values are conservative American values, and naturally we will attract more conservative people, not just Christians," Kaauwai says.

The faith-based community, however, is a big part of the new Hawaii GOP.

Back in the 1980s, religious forces aligned with the Rev. Pat Robertson took over the local Republican Party, essentially driving out liberal members. Today’s conservative Christians appear to have found a kindred spirit in the GOP.

The pair say that House Bill 444, the civil unions legislation vetoed by Lingle, also helped bring out church members.

"The faith-based are a part of our core coalitions. We have tried to contact local churches and a lot of our candidates are coming from local churches," says Nonaka.

The new GOP is also firmly rejecting the political power of the local public worker unions. They feel they are going to win races in state House and Senate districts with a conservative, pro-faith, pro-business message.

For Hawaii Republicans, this year is defiantly a "win or go home" kind of election.

Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at


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