Editorial | Our View Isle Democrats earn black eye By Star-Advertiser staff April 6, 2012 Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! Read more Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser! You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription. Subscribe Now Read this story for free: Watch an ad or complete a survey Log In Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story. Activate Digital Account Print subscriber but without online access? Activate your Digital Account now. The preamble to the platform of the Democratic Party of Hawaii includes pledges to uphold a range of "ideas and values." No. 9 on the list is a commitment to government reform, "supporting transparency in government and free, fair, and democratic elections." It is ironic that a current clash over the candidacy for office of a relatively new party member has led the Democrats afoul of this goal. There are reasons to have rules about candidacy, but the Democratic Party has been less than transparent, free or fair about the ones it’s adopted. Laura Thielen, who headed the state Department of Land and Natural Resources during the administration of Republican Gov. Linda Lingle and is the daughter of a GOP state House member, said that she nevertheless has always been a Democrat. She joined the Democratic party Feb. 21 and applied and was accepted as a delegate to the upcoming state party convention. But she also wanted to file to run for state Senate, and here is where she seemingly has hit a brick wall. The party’s top brass has informed her that she joined too late under the current party constitution to fulfill its candidacy requirements and has declined her application for a waiver. Never mind that reapportionment meant the new district boundaries weren’t even set until recently; the party has insisted on being rigid about this. In 2008 (with further revisions in 2010), the party amended its constitution to require candidates to be members for six months before they apply for nomination with the state Office of Elections. The purpose was to avoid last-minute carpetbaggers, opportunists who, regardless of alignment with party values, seize on the advantage of running as a Democrat. And the advantage is significant. Although candidates can run in the primary as nonpartisans or independents, state laws make it very difficult for candidates outside the major parties to get onto the general election ballot. In particular, the Democrats have been overwhelmingly dominant in the state, so much so that there have been many people who confess privately that they’ve opted into this party more out of a desire to win than fealty to its principles. Even Republicans who manage to secure an office in the state Capitol find it hard to get much done there. State Sen. Mike Gabbard, who switched parties from the GOP in 2007, said openly that his experience in the Legislature "convinced me that in order to be more effective, it would be best if I were a part of the majority party." This nearly parliamentary control of government means that the only way competing ideas get into the public marketplace is if the party behaves as a truly big-tent organization. What’s happened in the Thielen case suggests otherwise. The decision, originally made by Oahu Democrats, was upheld on appeal to the party’s State Central Committee — in executive session. Thielen was not given a reason for the denial. Debi Hartmann, the party’s executive director, confirmed that there are no criteria set for making the decision, made behind closed doors. In the absence of a compelling reason why a candidate is unsuitable, the party should opt for giving voters as much choice as they can on the primary ballot. Hartmann, as chief of staff, did not have a vote in the decision, but she said the issue of whom Thielen would be running against — Democratic incumbent Pohai Ryan — was not raised in the discussion. In fact, the party has approved one waiver: In 2010, Jason Pascua was cleared to run for a state House seat against longtime incumbent Rep. Ken Ito. State law permits Thielen or any party member to file for candidacy; the party would have to go to court to challenge her. Still, making it difficult for newcomers to seek office can have the effect of intimidating potential candidates, discouraging public engagement in government. That is not in line with stated party principles. State Chairman Dante Carpenter sent an email to the membership yesterday indicating that the party will revisit its constitutional language, starting with the first county convention tomorrow on Kauai. But it surely would be smarter to waive them in the meantime, especially given the upheaval of the recent redistricting, and give voters the widest array of choices this year. Previous Story Letters to the Editor Next Story He 'ōlelo kūhelu kā?