By PETER SUR
Tribune-Herald staff writer
When Fred Blas was running for the state House of Representatives in 2008, he called for bipartisan cooperation.
“Democrats and Republicans must work together with the county and state levels,” he said as a Republican candidate seeking to oust Rep. Faye Hanohano in 2008.
Today, he no longer identifies with the GOP.
By 2010, Blas called himself a fiscally conservative Democrat. He defeated another Democrat, Emily Naeole, in the general election and has represented the lower Puna district since.
“I am a Democrat,” Blas said Thursday, as he seeks to represent the 4th Council District in Puna. He had explained in the past that a sour experience with the Republican Party in his 2008 campaign had prompted him to switch sides.
But the state GOP executive director says he’s still registered with the party.
“He is still in our records. He’s listed as a member,” said Nacia Blom. “There’s no (indication) that says he asked to be removed as a member.”
Moreover, the Hawaii Republican Party Web site has listed him as one of the few Republicans in office, along with Maui Councilman Don Couch and Honolulu Councilman Tom Berg.
It’s not unusual for politicians to jump party lines in the course of a career. Virginia Isbell, the former Kona state representative and County Council member, began as a Republican and became a Democrat in 1988.
Longtime Rep. Bob Herkes was a Republican on the County Council; he now seeks the Democratic nomination to the state Senate.
Oahu State Sen. Mike Gabbard, founder of the Alliance for Traditional Marriage and Values, made the switch in 2007 from Republican to Democrat to improve his relations with the majority party.
And Harry Kim ran as a nominal Republican to get on the general election ballot for mayor in 2000; he shed the party label soon after getting into office and in 2006 contemplated running for governor as a Democrat.
Today, all county offices are run on a nonpartisan slate. Any candidate for mayor, the County Council or the prosecutor who receives a majority of the valid votes cast in the primary election is deemed the winner; if there is no outright winner, there is a runoff in the general election between the candidates who have received the most votes.
Candidates for state and federal offices, on the other hand, participate in partisan primary elections.
Ken Goodenow, treasurer of the Hawaii County Democratic Party, and a 2nd District County Council candidate, did not have any information on whether Blas had registered with the party locally or with the state organization.
According to the database maintained by the state Democratic Party, Blas is not a member, said administrative assistant Jason Kamalu.
“It doesn’t look like he is listed in our membership database,” Kamalu said. “Nope, I’ve got nothing.”
James Weatherford, one of Blas’ opponents in the 4th Council District race, has no idea whether the incumbent is a Democrat.
“I find that he doesn’t say enough on the issues to see where he stands,” said Weatherford, an independent and a former member of the Green and Democratic parties. “He doesn’t have anything to say, except, ‘Just do it,’ or ‘Leave it alone’ … There’s not enough there to make a determination.”
Daryl Smith, the GOP’s Hawaii County chairman, believes Blas is a Republican, but “not an active Republican.”
“Some people don’t know what they are, even though they’re registered as a Democrat.”
Email Peter Sur at firstname.lastname@example.org.