Chad Blair: Hawaii Democrats pledge unity and commitment in upcoming election

Gubernatorial candidate Kai Kahele failed to show up for the Hawaii Democratic Party’s breakfast on Sunday morning. So was Vicky Cayetano, who event organizer Linda Chu Takayama said was absent because husband Ben Cayetano didn’t feel well enough to attend.

But the ballroom on the fifth floor of the Japan Cultural Center in Moiliili was filled with dozens and dozens of winners and losers, past and present, including those from Saturday’s Democratic primary.

Party leader Dennis Jung set the tone early in his remarks when he told attendees that they might want to have their photos taken for possible use in general election mailings.

This line drew laughs as intense negative campaigning overshadowed the race for lieutenant governor and the 2nd congressional district.

And yet, the morning after – and fueled by plates of eggs and bacon and fruit and plenty of coffee – CD2 winner Jill Tokuda graciously acknowledged her opponent Pat Branco, while LG winner Sylvia Luke did the same for Ikaika Anderson. The two runners-up were in attendance, and the morning was marked by lots of hugs, lei, a few tears, and palaka-print shirts.

And laughs. Lots of laughter. Perhaps the biggest surprise from the event – which was canceled two years ago due to Covid-19 – was that Luke, the state house treasurer, may have missed her calling as a standup comedian.

Luke repeatedly pinged House Speaker Scott Saiki, her friend and colleague, for narrowly leading to his seat in reelection. The Hawaii Elections Bureau was still trying to finalize results Saturday, including more than 35,000 votes from Oahu.

“There’s still 30,000 out there,” Luke said from the podium as the crowd cheered. “Oh my goodness if that’s from Kakaako.”

In fact, as late Saturday afternoon, Saiki held a lead of just 143 votes over Kim Coco Iwamoto for the District 25 seat, which includes Kakaako.

Saiki-Iwamoto is one of several elections too close to announce.

U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono gestures with her hands while speaking at the Hawaii Democratic Party's Unity Breakfast Sunday, May 14, 2022.  Civilbeat Photos Ronen Zilberman.
US Senator Mazie Hirono at the Hawaii Democratic Party’s unity breakfast on Sunday. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2022

What Luke was addressing in her funny but scathing remarks was the essence of the breakfast of unity, where bitter opponents work to put differences aside and work to defeat the Republicans in November.

With the large number of votes for their party locally and the historic legislation just passed in Washington to tackle climate change, lower inflation, achieve tax justice and reduce drug costs, local Democrats feel they are on the right track.

“The world is on fire, but we always persevere,” said US Senator Mazie Hirono. “We need to keep both the US House of Representatives and the Senate up because, as I put it very succinctly, if we don’t do that, we’re screwed.”

Rep. Ed Case, who flew back to DC to vote and returned to Honolulu for primary night, told the audience his first Unity Breakfast was 36 years ago when Brian Taniguchi defeated him in a campaign run.

Case recalled Taniguchi – who is retiring this year – telling him at the time that he still had a future in the party, a compliment Case then gave to his main opponent that year, Sergio Alcubilla. He also reminded his colleagues that Donald Trump still has many supporters in Hawaii.

Congressman Ed Case gives Shaka at the Hawaii Democratic Party's Unity Breakfast.  Sunday the 14th, 2022. CivilBeat Photos Ronen Zilberman.
Congressman Ed Case gives the shaka at breakfast unit. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2022

“We stand for equality, opportunity, compassion and tolerance,” he said, adding, “We have always believed that ours is the bigger tent. We have always believed that the door is open to anyone who shares our values.”

This tent is so big that Jung asked his party to also recognize all candidates for Honolulu City Council and the Bureau of Hawaiian Affairs in the audience, even though they are bipartisan contests. Many stood up, including Council lead candidate Tyler Dos-Santos Tam and OHA lead candidate Brickwood Galuteria.

Local Republicans don’t host a one-size-fits-all breakfast. However, GOP party leader Lynn Finnegan said in a statement that 69 candidates emerged from the primary to advance to general election, including 22 candidates for the Senate and 42 for the House of Representatives.

“As Republicans in Hawaii, we know we’re the underdogs,” she said. “But this cycle, we’re climbing that hill with an army of volunteers and supporters ready to fight for every seat in every district.”

The GOP cut their work for it. Democrats hold the governorship, the lieutenant governorship, all four seats in Congress, and a large majority in the legislature.

And his bank is deep and growing. Lt. gov. Josh Green, who easily defeated Kahele and Cayetano, presented his own gracious note to former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

Democratic candidates raise hands together during the Hawaii Democratic Party's unity breakfast.  Civil Beat Photos Ronen Zilberman.
Top Democrats raise their hands and sing “Hawaii Aloha” at the conclusion of the breakfast of unity. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2022

“I whispered in his ear,” he said. “I was grateful when he made that decision not to pursue that seat because he would have kicked my butt multiple times during many debates for knowing so much. And so I wanted to mahalo and applaud you.”

Looking ahead, Green concluded, “Let us pledge to put aside all our differences and rivalries for the good of the people of Hawaii.”

And then Galuteria led everyone, holding hands, chanting “Hawaii Aloha.”

Ritual. Obligation. Unit.

About Gloria Skelton

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