HONOLULU — Pat Saiki, one of the most successful Republicans in Hawaii history, is going to lead the state Republican Party.
The state party’s executive committee tapped her as chairwoman in a meeting Wednesday night, a title the state committee will formalize next week. David Chang, who had led the state party since 2011, resigned the position.
In publicly introducing Saiki as chairwoman Thursday, Chang called her “absolutely a godsend.”
Saiki said Thursday her goal is “to get back to basics,” including recruiting good candidates, getting voters registered and to the polls and winning elections.
As simple as those steps sound, they have eluded Hawaii’s Republicans through most of the state’s history. Saiki, who is 83, has been an exception. She served six years in the state House and eight years in the state Senate. She was elected to Congress in 1986 and served two terms there. After she lost her 1990 re-election campaign, then-President George H.W. Bush appointed her to head the Small Business Administration.
“I’m home now, and I want to share all this experience with the people of Hawaii,” she said. “And try to get candidates who have the same vision that I do, and that is, to make Hawaii a two-party state.”
She said with 10 more Representatives in the state House, the party could brandish some influence in the state legislature. With just seven Representatives there now, and a single Republican senator, the party struggles to affect policy in the state.
House Minority Leader Aaron Ling Johanson, who is 34, said Saiki’s depth of experience will help in recruiting candidates.
“Pat brings a certain gravitas and decades of successful experience in politics that can be difficult to come by when you’re in the Hawaii Republican Party,” Johanson said. “She’s been an inspiration to a generation of leaders who followed her because she proved that it can be done.”
Chang said in an interview that he hopes to be remembered for bringing financial and internal stability to a party that was in “open civil war” when he took over for Jonah Kaauwai in 2011.
“When we had Linda Lingle as governor, the party was flush with cash,” Chang said. “Now we have no statewide offices, seven in the House, one in the Senate. It was tough on me. I’m hoping (Saiki) can definitely turn that around.”
Chang said he is resigning to focus on his duties as an officer in the Army National Guard and to spend time with his wife, Beth Fukumoto, who is serving as the Minority Floor Leader in the House.