Who Will The Democrats Support?

Neil Abercrombie

Two categories of people served as delegates to Hawaii’s 2010 Democratic convention: true believers and believers of the moment.

The true believers included aging union leaders, long-retired legislators, envelope-stuffing women from campaigns as long ago as the 1960s and – of course – the truest believer of them all: the state’s 85-year-old senior United States Sen. Daniel K. Inouye.

Those of the moment included delegates new in 2006 and 2008: the faces of those grown angry to the point of action by the presidential administration of George W. Bush – by its endless wars and its general incompetence – and energized by the presidential candidacy of keiki o ka aina Barack Obama.

The true believers (health permitting, it is an aging group) will be back in 2012. Some of the moment will be as well, but some of the classes of ’06 and ’08 were already truant.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann

The drama of the 2010 Hawaii Democratic Convention came last Sunday when former U.S. Rep. Ed Case announced that, after his third-place finish in the special election, he would not pursue his quest for the 1st Congressional District seat. The gathered Democrats rose in exaltation and relief, Colleen Hanabusa gave him a lei and raised his hand, and Inouye pronounced him “a Democrat.”

In truth, Case had no other choice. He lacked party support, money, endorsements and grassroots workers. Without them, his chances of winning both primary and general elections looked slim indeed.

On Saturday, delegates worked their way through the mind-numbing process of approving the party’s platform. They argued endlessly and passionately over policy and grammar. The same tiresome people, it seemed, rose to speak on every point. It looked and sounded distressingly like a college faculty meeting run amok.

Delegates also listened to their candidates for governor. Former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie spoke in an unaccustomed spot for him. Usually the late Patsy Mink and Abercrombie – the Democrats’ two certifiable stem-winding orators – took the last two speaking slots on Sunday. Abercrombie always stole the show. He’d make the delegates laugh, he’d make ’em cry and he’d excoriate the villainous Republicans as no one else could.

The party regulars always loved his show, and at this 2010 convention white Abercrombie shirts adorned the elected delegates by a good 2-1 margin over those of Mayor Mufi Hannemann.

But Abercrombie’s speech disappointed. It was short and uncharacteristically solemn. Even his condemnation of the “collapse of leadership by Republican Gov. Linda Lingle” seemed muted. He argued that the campaign was “not about budgets and programs. It’s about a renewal of values.” Abercrombie promised a commitment to education and energy and food self-sufficiency. He said that as governor he would use his ties in Congress “to leverage every single Washington dollar for Hawaii.”

Later in the afternoon, Hannemann spoke. He gave the better speech, invoking for the audience of true believers all the sacred Hawaii Democratic names and numbers: the Democratic Revolution of 1954, the achievement of statehood in 1959, John Burns, George Ariyoshi, John Waihee, Mink, Sparky Matsunaga, Danny Akaka, Inouye and Obama. And to each he acknowledged lessons he’d learned, from Burns’s warning about Hawaii’s “subtle inferiority of the spirit” to Akaka’s “aloha” and Inouye’s “your word is your bond.”

Hannemann promised “to build upon the legacy of these Democratic elected officials” by adding his “business background” and listening to any good idea from any source so long as it “helps us to do what we need to do as a community.”

With that, the delegates – new and old – went back to arguing policy and grammar.

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