Democrats gather on eve of primary

Editor’s note: This story appeared in the Aug. 11 edition.


Tribune-Herald staff writer

The theme of the Democratic Party of Hawaii’s Grand Rally in Hilo was “Forward with Aloha,” and for the most part, candidates complied.

The political heavyweights of the state, including two congresswomen, the governor and lieutenant governor, and four current and former Hawaii County mayors, gathered at Mo‘oheau Bandstand on Friday with one eye on today’s election and another eye on keeping the state as blue as the ocean.

The rally is a remnant of an earlier time, when instead of campaigning by sign waving, candidates brought their message to plantation villages along the Hamakua coast and through Puna, Kohala and Kona, appearing on whistle stop tours in the weeks before the election.

The modern incarnation of Hilo’s grand rally goes back to 1954, on the eve of the historic election that had swept the Territorial Legislature into the hands of the Democratic Party, which has held it ever since.

Out of a sense of tradition, or perhaps to keep the good luck going, Democrats have held the rally at the bandstand on the eve of every election and invited everybody from U.S. senators to County Council political novices to energize the troops.

This was the last time before the election that former U.S. Rep. Ed Case would meet U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono before today’s nominating contest to replace U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka.

Case wasted little time reminding the friendly audience about his Hilo roots, and waxed eloquent about the values that Democrats share.

“Tonight is a validation of those values. Tonight is about saying we are proud of those values as Democrats. Tonight is about talking about the next generations, and saying that we have a responsibility, a duty, an obligation to pass those values along.”

“Let us remember that we are united by these values,” he said. “We are united as Democrats. Let’s get up together, let’s get through this primary, and as we come out of this primary, let’s keep fighting for those values because they’re worth fighting for.”

Even the Hirono people politely applauded Case’s speech.

Speaking next, Hirono said that “it’s those values that are the underpinnings of what we fight for. Our next United States senator must share our values,” including “taking care of our kupuna,” the children and those less fortunate.

Hirono took her shots at former Gov. Linda Lingle, the likely Republican opponent for the Senate. “We are Democrats, and after tomorrow, we are going to come together and we are going to make sure that the people of Hawaii win because our values are what keeps the Democrats strong in the state.”

The evening was rife with homages to the late U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink, a beloved liberal lion, from County Council candidate Chelsea Yagong, who said she was blown away by a fiery speech at a Grand Rally 16 years ago, to congressional candidate and former Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann, who once ran against her in a primary election.

“What was I thinking then?” he asked, telling the audience that “we want someone (in Congress) in the tradition of Patsy Mink.”

Dozens of Democrats were given their chance to speak, and while some introduced themselves, others had more imaginative uses of the time.

State Rep. Faye Hanohano sang a Hawaiian song about loving one another. State Senate candidate Wendell Ka‘ehu‘ae‘a led the audience in three cheers of “Banzai!” for U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.

“Aloha!” said Council Chairman Dominic Yagong, candidate for mayor. “If you think your candidate is going to win tomorrow, let me hear you scream!” He asked the audience to give a standing ovation for U.S. service members and said that “today is not a day for political speeches. Today is a day for celebration.”

He was joined by current Mayor Billy Kenoi and former Mayor Harry Kim. Former mayor Dante Carpenter, now the state party chairman, served as emcee, and former mayor Lorraine Inouye is a candidate for the state Senate.

There were predictable applause lines in favor of re-electing President Obama and boos for Lingle, and homages to Akaka. Although neither senator was present, Akaka’s son Danny Akaka Jr. gave the opening invocation, and Sen. Akaka’s granddaughter Kalei Akaka spoke as a candidate for the 6th state House District.

“I will work hard to continue the legacy of my grandfather and my family through the years,” said Akaka, one of six candidates for the seat.

Candidates spent time thanking their supporters and reaffirming their support for the party.

The only candidate who took aim at another was Hilo attorney Robert Marx, trailing in the polls and the money race, who spoke while congressional candidates Hannemann, Tulsi Gabbard and Rafael Del Castillo sat behind him.

“None of these candidates here even live in this district,” he said, his voice rising to a shout. “All the money they raised, all the fancy ads you see come from Honolulu interests, interests across the country. They say one day that they’re going to represent you the people, the Big Island, neighbor islanders, but you look at the Federal Election Commission report, and it’s name after name of banks, big corporations, big interests. So they talk one game and they play another again, and again, and again!

“If you want change in America, it starts here in little Hilo. It starts here on the Big Island. It starts looking and opening your eyes, not listening to what people say and all their pretty things.”


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