Hawaii Democrats discovered last week that they have another superdelegate for the party’s national convention in Philadelphia this summer. The news comes as pressure builds on Hawaii’s superdelegates to support U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
That new superdelegate will be Lt. Gov. Shan Tsu-tsui, who said he has not yet decided whether he will support Sanders or former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Tsutsui will be the 35th Hawaii delegate and the 10th superdelegate.
“I’m very excited to have been recently named a superdelegate for the state of Hawaii and truly honored to have this unique opportunity to help make a difference in the future of our nation,” Tsutsui said in an emailed statement. “Having never before served as a superdelegate, I take this responsibility very seriously and will take time to research and better understand the process and my responsibilities before casting my vote at the convention this summer.”
Last year the party posted a Hawaii Delegate Selection Plan that explained — incorrectly, as it turned out — that the state had a total of 34 delegates. That original count included 25 delegates who will vote according to the results of Saturday’s Presidential Preference Poll, and nine superdelegates who are free to support the candidate of their choice.
Stephanie Ohigashi, chairwoman of the Hawaii Democratic Party, said she learned late last week that the party actually has 10 superdelegates, not nine.
“I don’t know if it was always there and they failed to tell us, or some kind of lapse in communication, but I just found out recently” from a media report, Ohigashi said. She said she contacted the national party after noticing the discrepancy in news media reports, and was told about the 10th superdelegate.
Ohigashi said the extra superdelegate apparently was added by the national party after the Hawaii party submitted its Delegate Selection Plan listing 34 delegates. That selection plan was approved by the Democratic National Committee, she said.
Ohigashi said she wasn’t told exactly when the extra superdelegate was awarded to Hawaii, “but it must have been after we had it all clarified with the rules and bylaws committee, so it must have been at a meeting someplace where that puka existed. I don’t know how they did it, but this is what I’m getting from them on Saturday.”
Tsutsui said he learned on March 25, the day before the Hawaii Democratic Party presidential preference voting, that he had been named a superdelegate. Tsutsui said he was chosen because of his status as chairman of the Democratic Lieutenant Governors Association.
The superdelegate issue is politically sensitive because Sanders dominated the Hawaii party preference polling Saturday by winning 70 percent of the popular vote. That earned Sanders 17 of the 25 delegates that were at stake in that voting, while Clinton was awarded eight delegates based on the voting.
However, Clinton is supported by almost all of the Democratic establishment in Hawaii, including former Govs. George Ariyoshi, Ben Cayetano and John Waihee; former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka; and state Senate President Ron Kouchi.
Half of Hawaii’s 10 superdelegates have already publicly committed to Clinton, while U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is the only superdelegate who has publicly supported Sanders.
The superdelegates who announced they support Clinton are U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono, U.S. Rep. Mark Takai, Democratic National Committeewoman Jadine Nielsen and former Hawaii Government Employees Association leader Russell Okata.
If all five of those superdelegates remain true to their pledge to support Clinton, that would deliver less than 70 percent of the total number of Hawaii delegates to Sanders. That does not sit well with some Sanders supporters, who want the superdelegate voting to reflect the popular vote by party members.
If Tsutsui or any other additional superdelegates also decide to support Clinton, critics argue that would further dilute the results of Sanders’ overwhelming popular vote victory among Hawaii Democrats.
In a commentary about the superdelegates published in the Star-Advertiser on Thursday, former Gov. Neil Abercrombie made an “appeal for renewed allegiance to the democratic process.”
“Superdelegates would do well to assure the Democratic voters they are open to and listening to their preference, especially those feeling the Bern,” Abercrombie wrote.
The remaining uncommitted superdelegates are Gov. David Ige, Tsutsui and the incoming chairman and vice chairman of the Hawaii Democratic Party, who will be elected at the state convention May 28-29.
Tsutsui said in an interview he has been a Clinton supporter dating back to her 2008 presidential bid, but he made his endorsement “as an individual,” adding, “I didn’t know I was a superdelegate at the time.”
When asked whether the superdelegates should reflect the Hawaii party vote, Tsutsui said he is still “trying to understand this thing as best I can, too. A lot of this is new to me. I can see both sides of it.”
The candidates all knew the rules and understood the superdelegates have the freedom to vote as they choose, Tsutsui said. However, Tsutsui also said he is well aware of Sanders’ overwhelming popularity in the Hawaii voting, and said it was the people of Hawaii who elected Tsutsui lieutenant governor and made it possible for him to become a superdelegate.
“I’m open at this point,” he said. “I support her, I think she’d be a great president, so it’s not an easy decision for me to make right now, being a superdelegate and understanding that there are some complexities to this.”
Sanders supporters have started an online petition that has collected more than 2,400 signatures urging the superdelegates to “honor the votes of your constituents.”
The petition, posted by Deren Ash of Makawao, Maui, takes a hard line on the issue.
“It is up to you to decide if you want 70 percent of Hawaii’s Democrats to stand with you, or against you,” the petition reads. “If you do agree to support Bernie, and hopefully soon, we will be pleased to continue to stand behind you as proud members of your electorate. If not, we will find someone who will follow the principles (of) democracy and represent the will of the people. We will also work tirelessly to spread word of your choice to the 70 percent of Hawaii Democrats who voted for Bernie Sanders.”
Bart Dame, authorized representative of the Sanders campaign in Hawaii, said he doesn’t believe the superdelegates “should be allowed to overrule the vote of the Hawaii Democratic members who overwhelmingly chose Bernie Sanders as our nominee over Hillary Clinton.”
In other words, if Clinton were to get half of the Hawaii delegates, “that would be improper, and I think the superdelegates are aware of that,” he said.
Dame said the campaign is not encouraging the online petition, but has no control over what Sanders supporters decide to do on their own.