By NANCY COOK LAUER
VOLCANO — Former state Rep. David Tarnas on Saturday took the helm of the Hawaii County Democratic Party, replacing Steve Pavao, who is stepping down after four years.
Tarnas was named chairman of the county party after no one ran against him at the party’s annual convention in Volcano. The convention, attended by almost 200 people, featured speeches by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, state Sen. Brian Schatz and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.
A Waimea resident and state lawmaker from 1994 to 1998, Tarnas is now an environmental and government affairs consultant.
“My main goal is to facilitate communication among party members, party officials and elected officials,” Tarnas said. “My goal is to grow the party and to increase public participation in the political process.”
Pavao lists among the party’s accomplishments during his tenure suing to ensure the population was correctly counted during the reapportionment process, resulting in Hawaii Island getting a fourth state Senate seat.
“I think that was one of the major accomplishments,” Pavao said.
He added the strengthening of the party to his list, saying there are now more than 5,000 registered Democrats on the island, and Democrats fill every Big Island seat in the state Legislature.
An inspired Abercrombie, as always, fired up his fellow Democrats while lambasting the political partisanship that’s taken over Washington, D.C.
“If we think we get hit with vog here on the Big Island, the smog that’s hitting Washington right now … Never, ever, have I seen in the 10 terms I served, the depth of political depravity that’s happening now,” Abercrombie said.
Abercrombie said when President Barack Obama took office, he tried to use ho‘oponono, the traditional Hawaiian process of achieving consensus through forgiveness and reconciliation. But that went nowhere with his political foes, Abercrombie said.
“The president has been under assault from the very moment he was elected,” Abercrombie said.
In a speech punctuated with applause and a “that’s right” or two, Abercrombie urged convention-goers to be bold and take the offensive.
“I think we need to be a little more like Harry Truman in this country,” he said. “I’m telling the truth, and they think the truth is hell.”
Turning to his own first term in office, Abercrombie, who is running for re-eelction, gave his administration credit for turning $200 million-plus of red ink into a $300 million to $400 million cushion. He said he’ll be addressing the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems annual conference Monday in Honolulu about Hawaii’s success coming out of an economic slump stronger than it went in.
Abercrombie used a combination of employee furloughs, tough negotiating with public employee unions and refinancing the state debt while interest rates were low to turn the state’s economy around.
He acknowledged not all his decisions were popular.
“We’ve had to make some hard choices,” Abercrombie said.
“Forgive me my shortcomings and failings,” he said, adding that they were “teeny-tiny” ones.
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