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Activists raise uproar over state GOP’s finances

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Some activists within the Hawaii Republican Party contend it is financially strapped and might need to sell its headquarters at 725 Kapiolani Blvd. Party Chairman Jonah Kaauwai has denied the state GOP has money trouble.

Weeks after a lackluster performance in the November election, the Hawaii Republican Party is undergoing turmoil over its finances and whether it should sell its Honolulu headquarters.

Some GOP activists, including current party leaders, have insisted that the recent commotion is not uncommon after a major statewide election in which Republicans made minimal political gains.

But other activists said the situation is more dire. They said they are concerned that the party will be operating in the red next month and want to know whether money it spent on political operations this year was done so properly.

They also contend that state party officials recently discussed selling the office as a way to lower expenses.

Party leaders "have blown so much money and have raised so little money during their failed tenure that the party is now broke, and we’ll probably lose our headquarters in January when we won’t even be able to pay our bills," party gadfly Eric Ryan said in a recent press release.

That led party Chairman Jonah Kaauwai, in an e-mail, to deny the state GOP was financially troubled.

"The party is not in financial distress," he wrote. "We have been and will meet all financial obligations and there is absolutely no truth to this claim."

Similarly, he said there was "absolutely no truth" to Ryan’s contention that the party might move from its current offices.

Kaauwai’s e-mail fueled criticism anew.

"Your attempt to once again brand (Ryan) as a ‘loose cannon’ doesn’t hold much water, especially among those of us who have been paying attention throughout the past campaign season, and who have openly questioned many of the actions of the state GOP leadership all along," Rhonda Glass, a tea party activist on Maui, said in an e-mail.

The state party’s top two candidates in November—gubernatorial contender James "Duke" Aiona and U.S. Rep. Charles Djou—were both handily defeated by their Democratic rivals. Aiona lost by a surprisingly large margin of 17 percentage points.

The GOP won a net gain of one seat in the Legislature, but it still holds only nine out of 76 seats.

Ryan’s vehement e-mail kicked off the recent dust-up when he cited a proposed 2011 state GOP budget that showed the party with a $12,500 deficit in January but operating in the black for the remainder of the year.

He also asserted that party leaders had discussed selling the headquarters, a space in a larger office building that it jointly owns with the Oahu League of Republican Women.

In an interview, party Executive Director Dylan Nonaka dismissed Ryan’s comments.

"Nothing that Eric Ryan writes is truthful or based in fact. The party’s fine," Nonaka said. He said later that the party will carry over about $50,000 from this year that will more than cover the projected January deficit.

Recent discussions about a new office are simply an extension of long-running debates about the overhead costs of the current headquarters, Nonaka said.

But other activists said the party’s finances are worrisome.

"I’m concerned as I would be if it were my own business, and that is, we’ve got to make some smart decisions," said Kay Ghean, acting chairwoman of the Maui County Republican Party.

The fact that a sale of the office was again being discussed disturbed others.

"We will be looking for ways to save money, but we’re also going to be looking for ways to raise money," said Miriam Hellreich, a member of the governing boards of the state and national Republican parties. "So as far as I’m concerned, selling the headquarters is not on the table."

Adrienne King, who recently became president of the Oahu League of Republican Women and who in September lost a bid for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor, said her group is not interested in giving up the office.

Still, she added, "Everyone’s got a dilemma when you don’t have money and you have bills. So you have to look at what to cut."


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