by Andrew Walden
Kaneohe, April 16, 2013: Four hundred Hawaii Republicans gathered for the Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner at Ko’olau Ballroom in Kaneohe this evening. With the 2014 election season warming up, Linda Lingle, Charles Djou, and Duke Aiona addressed the party faithful with a single message best summed up by the former Governor: “Get to know our new young leaders.”
Young Republicans-including legislators, young professionals, and students at Lincoln Dinner.
In her keynote address, Lingle told Republicans her future path would lead to “opportunities yet to be discovered” pointing out that former Governors are “in demand for corporate and non-profit positions.”
A congressional hint came from State Party Chair David Chang who told the rally, “seven of 51, one of 25, and zero of four is not good enough.”
Charles Djou spoke of “the privilege of interacting with a whole range of elected officials in my career” drawing laughter from the crowd when he contrasted his service alongside Rod Tam and Jeremy Harris with his months in Congress serving with Paul Ryan and John Boehner. For dedicated political tea leaf readers, it wasn’t difficult to know where Djou would rather be.
But in speeches remarkable for what they didn’t say about their plans for 2014, all three of the GOP’s recent top statewide candidates urged GOPers to look toward the legislative caucus for leadership.
Touting “the first bi-partisan coalition since Pat Saiki” House Republican Caucus Chair, Aiea Rep Aaron Ling Johanson, pointed out, “Half of the caucus is under 30 and we are trying to convince many others to run…. Imagine how much more can be done with just a few more.”
Duke Aiona told the audience, “We’re going to have to get behind them.”
Lingle told listeners, “I can live with the (2012 election) loss … what I can’t live with is throwing in the towel on the goal of a strong two-party system of government for Hawaii.”
Countering the idea that “people in Hawaii just won’t vote for Republicans,” Lingle read off a list current and former of legislators and council members who had been elected as Republican only to then switch to Democrat. She compared the party-switchers to adolescents who snub lifelong friends to “hang out with the cool kids.”
With Democrats deeply divided under Cayetano, Hawaii Republican legislative caucus numbers peaked at 19 in the House and three in the Senate after the 2000 elections. Two years later, Lingle was elected the first Republican governor in 40 years and the GOP caucus was 14 and five. But in subsequent cycles, Democrats, shocked by how much damage they had done to themselves, set aside some of their internal factional differences and began chipping away at Republican seats. Some Republicans were defeated, others switched parties. Republican numbers today stand reduced to seven House seats and one Senator.
Without the threat of a Republican Governor, Democratic factionalism has reemerged and in parallel, so has bipartisanship. In the current legislative session, Republicans formed an alliance with the former House ‘dissidents’ to elect Joe Souki Speaker. New Senate Democratic leadership has signaled more openness to initiatives from lone Republican Senator Sam Slom. In the previous session, Republicans signaled support for then-speaker Calvin Say as he fought to maintain his speakership. In spite of—or perhaps because of--their low numbers, Democratic factionalism may be starting to play a role in Republican legislative campaigns.
It is time for Republican legislative numbers to grow again? Lingle says, “I’m optimistic because of the caliber of today’s young Republican leaders.”
PR: Evoking Lincoln
Background: Political Future? Djou Speaks, Lingle on Tap