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Election further shrivels Hawaii GOP

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    Rep. Beth Fukumoto Chang, shown during the opening of the Legislature in January, will become the highest-ranking elected Republican in the state next year.

Even as Republicans nationally celebrated the election of billionaire Donald Trump as president, Hawaii Republicans this week continued their slide into near-oblivion on the state political scene.

State Sen. Sam Slom, who is the last Republican left in the Hawaii Senate, lost his bid for re-election Tuesday, which means the 25-member Senate will now be made up entirely of Democrats.

In another setback for the GOP at the state Legislature this year, the small Republican caucus in the 51-member House was whittled down to just six members in the general election with the loss of Rep. Feki Pouha to Democratic challenger Sean Quinlan in the race to represent Waialua, Kahuku and Waiahole.

And perhaps the most disappointing race for Hawaii Republicans this year was Charles Djou’s loss to Democratic Mayor Kirk Caldwell in the race for Honolulu mayor. That was officially a nonpartisan contest, but Djou is a former U.S. representative and one of the most prominent Republicans in the state.

A mayoral win by Djou would have boosted the party image and might have helped to grow the party by opening up patronage slots at Honolulu Hale for promising Republicans, but that won’t be possible now.

Exactly what has gone wrong with the ailing state GOP is a subject of bitter internal party debate. The party has splintered into factions that engage in sometimes savage attacks on one another, and even the surviving six Republican members of the state House are locked in a 3-3 split within the GOP caucus.

Illustrating some of those divisions is a group called the Hawaii Republican Assembly (HIRA), which issued a press release after the Tuesday election calling for the entire state and county Republican leadership to immediately resign.

“The time for change is now overdue for Hawaii’s beleaguered, mismanaged, corrupt and out-of-touch Republican Party,” the statement said. “The few brave Republican challenger candidates on ballots across Hawaii got slaughtered last night by shocking proportions at the hands of their own party leadership.”

Eric Ryan, president of HIRA, said in an interview that party leaders were to blame for Tuesday’s GOP losses because they spent party funds on office expenses and overhead, leaving too little money to support Republican candidates for office.

State Rep. Bob McDermott, (R, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point) has clashed with HIRA, and dismisses the organization as “three guys sitting in a basement eating Doritos and watching ‘Star Trek’ reruns.” He said HIRA’s allegations have hurt the party’s efforts to raise money.

However, McDermott recalls when there were 19 Republicans serving in the state House in 2002. He said the party was stronger when then-GOP Chairwoman Linda Lingle aggressively recruited candidates and raised funds to help them run for office. That isn’t happening now, he said.

TODD Belt, a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, said it is important to have a viable minority party — no matter how small — to act as “the loyal opposition.”

“It puts limits on what the majority can do, particularly ethically,” he said.

Republicans in Hawaii have failed to replenish their bench, and don’t have enough young people running for office, he said. Many offices are left uncontested by the Hawaii GOP each election year.

“Whether they win or not, it is extremely important for the party to get young people out there and learning how to campaign,” Belt said.

House Minority Leader Beth Fukumoto Chang, who will become the highest-ranking elected Republican in the state next year, said one major problem is that party members “keep discrediting each other.”

“I’m sensing that there’s less and less room for diversity, and there’s more of a call for ideological oneness, and that’s not something that’s going to produce a healthy party,” she said. “If we can learn to accept that we don’t all agree, then I actually think that we can make a lot of progress, but I don’t know how to get us there.”

She also said there has been a problem with the Republican message in Hawaii.

“Republicans as a group in Hawaii have failed to recognize what the population wants from us,” she said. “I think we keep trying to sell the population and the residents in Hawaii on something that just isn’t resonating.” She added that “I think we all have different opinions on what would make us more relevant … and I think that’s where all of the division is coming from.”

McDermott has accused Fukumoto Chang of being too “cozy” with the majority Democrats in the House, and contends her political approach “undermines our role as watchdog and loyal opposition” to the Democrats. He also said she failed to recruit Republican candidates and raise money for them.

McDermott predicted Fukumoto Chang will be removed as minority leader before the Legislature reconvenes in January, but Fukumoto Chang said she plans to remain in that job.

Republican Party Chairman Fritz Rohlfing said Wednesday the election of Trump offers new opportunities for the party, noting that local Republicans worked phone banks from Hawaii to reach out to voters in swing states to help elect Trump.

“We’re happy to have been a part of that on the national level,” he said. “Locally there are a few setbacks, and we can learn from those.”

Rohlfing said he expects the party will attract new members and talent during the Trump administration.

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  • On a local level, the Republican Party requires some major CPR.

    The leadership requires fresh blood, with a new direction.

    Otherwise, Hawaii will always be famous, as a politically democrat state.

    • There is no GOP in Hawaii. Hawaii has the largest percentage of government union employees, per capita, of any state in the country. It’s all about: “how much can we get, for doing as little as possible”. Local politicians run to dip their beaks whenever and wherever. We are like a third world country.

  • High taxes in Hawaii results in poor roads, record numbers of homeless, poor sewers, poor infrastructure, poor education system, largest per capita boondoggle in US history (the rail) all thanks to a one party democratic rule.

      • Lies! Texas for example has no state income tax, lower corporate taxes too. Show your sources proving your massive tourist tax. Secondly, if the tourists contributed so handsomely to the tax base why is the state so dependent on state income taxes, GET surcharge tax and countless other BS taxes?

  • I think the local republicans running for office were hurt by Trump’s trumpeting. The associations with the word republican this year in Hawaii were very negative.

  • I remain a HIRA member and we don’t meet in the basement to eat Doritos watching Star Trek movies. The leadership and members of HIRA should replace the leadership in the HRP. Would the current HRP leadership call a transition meeting with the leadership of HIRA. End January will be the 2017 Caucus and the HRP must be organized today for the success of the Party. Let’s see what happens. Oh, was a member of the HRP Executive Committee in 1995 and we organized the Party to have qualified candidates in every political race in 1998. Mr. Orson Swindle was the leader who brought positive recognition in carrying the “R”.

  • Mr. Rolfing states “Locally there are a few setbacks, and we can learn from those.”

    Those few setbacks have turned into a giant snowball and each election cycle gets bigger and bigger, and you and your predecessor have done nothing to fix it. Your party keeps doing the same things over and over expecting different results.

    You allow so called Republicans like Councilwoman Pine to openly support Democrats against Republican with no consequences. You’ve allowed Rep Fukumoto, Pat Saiki and Charles Djou to get away with disparaging the Republican nominee with no consequences. And with all the problems Democrats have caused over the last 60 years, your party has no message.

    Rep Fukumoto’s comments parrot Rep Johannsen’s comments right before he jumped to the other side. There is no fight of ideological oneness, the fight is the fact that our Republican Representatives do not adhere to the basic tenants of our party (liberty and freedom) and vote for legislation that is inherently unRepublican i.e. GET increase, driver licenses for illegal immigrants, bloated budgets, etc….

    Lastly what’s your excuse for allowing our one Republican Senator to be defeated? Especially since you stated that his race was one your party was going to target to ensure you defeat the challenger. Or is this just a setback!


    • Republicans like Pine and Fukumoto have the courage to stand on principle rather than the ideology and lies of the Republican Party.

      You should thank them for their courage to support the truth.

  • Sam Slom should have been grooming his replacement for the last several years. ALL Republicans need to groom their replacements EARLY and the party as a whole needs to start recruiting and training new talent. Fact is that we will all eventually succumb to Old Father Time. Throw in the possibility of illness and there goes your continuity. The party needs a strong leader that will bring the party together so that a solid strategy can be formed to take back the seats in the House and Senate. There should be no reason why ANY candidate should be “uncontested”.

  • I’ve told the Hawaii Republican leadership directly to their faces how their marketing is atrocious and incapable of getting the basic Republican message to the everyday people: Lower taxes, less regulation, better roads and zero corruption. If they can’t sell these basic principles, they deserve to be replaced ASAP with fresh youth that possess marketing skills!

  • What a poor performance these people gave. Their main guy Djou was a kook and he would had beaten Caldwell had they done a better job of campaigning. Caldwell the forever poor performer was ripe to be beaten.

  • The HGOP has experienced so much infighting and lack of decisive leadership for so long that they have gone to the point of oblivion with this election cycle now done. It does not help that the infighting has nothing to do with how to promote local conservative values in the state. Instead, it is laced with so much “hate” from HIRA to the party, and in turn the party cowering on the attacks. Even when the HGOP does whip out some effort to tell these Doritos-eating basement dwellers to get lost, they can’t hold the ground long enough to get HIRA to actually shut up.

    Have Eric Ryan become the chair of the party, and really folks it is game over for the Party as a political destination for anyone outside of the politically novice and campaign inept people who just want to run to hear themselves speak. Until a new message that actually resonates (and not the nonsense that HIRA spills out – which is really based on a sordid history of one-way hate from Eric Ryan to his one-time mentor Miriam Hellreich)

    Lets see, when Eric and the party respond to all this, whether they will continue with the spin-down the drain that has been happening or actually come up with some new vision. There is the challenge folks.

  • Hawaii is so out of step with the rest of the nation. Hawaii is a majority of minorities. Minorities are insecure, want security. Tax & spend Democrats offer security through entitlements. Hawaii is like a 3rd world country, so backwards.

  • This is not a healthy situation for our state. With Sam Slom out, Beth Fukumoto is the only shining star who’s young enough to be the face of the party but they need an influx of young, energetic, and smart individuals to make this state and it’s Democratic majority accountable. I’m saying this and I’m not even a Republican.

    • Beth Fukumoto is a religious ideologue and extremist like Duke Aiona, and the reason people will not vote for the Republican brand. Their only agenda is impose their religious beliefs on others.

      • You are sooooo clueless! Conservatives in general wish for less regulation, free trade and zero corruption – especially in positions of power. More jobs, less regulatory BS. Yet, the Socialist Republic of Hawaii can’t fathom anything but lock step (D), and that is slowly strangling the ability for upward mobility of our youth.

        • Only regulation most Republicans love is regulation of people’s private lives. We are in upside down bizarre world where less government means more government. No I am not a Democrat. Too conservative to believe the place of government is to manage individuals or other countries. In order for Republicans to succeed, they need to knock off the Bible thumping, and desire to create the Christian equivalent of Sharia law. Sticking to fiscal responsibility and staying out of legislating morality is how they can become relevant again. The answer to questions about abortion or same sex marriage, as two examples should be “it is none of the government’s business”. I also suggest that controlled substances either no longer be under government control or if control is desired, the penalty for involvement with such is death. Might as well not do things half way. Prison and fines do not cure a compulsion to poison oneself or others.

  • What this story fails to mention is that all of the HIRA endorsed candidates lost badly while the the candidates they savagely and libelously attacked, such as Fukumoto Chang, McDermott, and Ward won by wide margins. The HIRA endorsement is a kiss of death in this state.

    If anyone needs to go away, it’s Eric Ryan and his hate-filled associates with no aloha for anyone. They are more responsible than anyone else for destroying the Republican brand in Hawaii. They can’t win elections for state GOP leadership positions, either so they act like spoiled brats, despite trying for years.

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