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Controversy prompts Big Isle Dems to revisit vacancy election rules

KAILUA-KONA » Hawaii County Democrats are proposing new rules for selecting candidates to fill legislative vacancies after some controversy over the process of filling Rep. Clift Tsuji’s seat.

The rules were proposed after text messages between selectors showed them confirming the winning candidates for Tsuji’s seat before votes were cast, reported West Hawaii Today. Democrats recently chose three candidates to fill the two-year term following Tsuji’s death from a heart attack in November. Gov. David Ige will make the final selection.

Ige said Tuesday that the local Democratic Party can establish any selection procedure they want.

“It’s purely an internal process to the Democratic Party,” said Ige, who is also a Democrat.

The party is considering new rules that would forbid candidates from voting for themselves, bar discussion by selectors about favored candidates before the public interviews and make the district chairman a nonvoting member.

Hawaii County Democratic Party Chairman Phil Barnes said he plans to introduce first two changes at a county party committee meeting in January. The rules would then have to be approved at a county convention and the state party convention.

Enforcing the rule barring selectors from talking about candidates would be “easier said than done,” admitted Barnes, but “nobody’s happy about the perception of what’s taken place, obviously.”

Barnes reiterated that no rules were violated in the most recent selection process.

District 2 Chairman Micah Alameda proposed the third rule. It was his text message exchange with Vice Chairman Derek Inaba that caused an outcry from losing candidates and prompted the party to reconsider its selection rules.

Alameda said he was in charge of accepting candidates, organizing their information and coordinating the interviews and votes.

“I was wearing two hats,” Alameda said, “So I asked, how can we make this process less political?”

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