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Isle Republicans Tout Party Unity

Former Big Island state Sen. Richard “Scotchy” Henderson had the best line at the recent state Republican convention. It was part of an interview with him in a video titled Honoring Our Past and Winning the Future that was shown to convention delegates.

According to Henderson, two young Democratic colleagues, Neil Abercrombie and Ben Cayetano, approached him following a floor vote on a controversial piece of legislation. Henderson had supported it, Abercrombie and Cayetano had opposed.

“How could you vote for that bill?” asked one of the aggrieved Democrats.

“I don’t know,” Henderson replied. “I guess I was blinded by reason.”

Reason and its uses were hallmarks of Hawaii Republicans who served with Henderson in the 1970s and ’80s, among them Andy Poepoe, John Henry Felix, Fred Rohlfing and Pat Saiki – all of whom appeared in the video – and Wadsworth Yee, who died a day after the convention adjourned.

Sweet reason was the byword of the Republicans’ marquee candidate in Hawaii’s 2012 election contest. Former Gov. Linda Lingle, seeking to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Danny Akaka, told the delegates that “breaking the gridlock in our nation’s Capitol will require common sense, the ability to compromise in making tough decisions, and experience in making tough decisions …”

Lingle invoked New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s 2011 warning against uncompromising, ideological politics: “We watch a Congress at war with itself because they are unwilling to leave campaign style at the Capitol’s door. The result is a debt ceiling limitation debate that made our democracy appear as if we could no longer effectively govern ourselves.”

Lingle pronounced her race difficult but “winnable,” and she labeled former U.S. Rep. Charles Djou’s attempt to retake the 1st District congressional seat “winnable” as well.

In his remarks, Djou made clear that he runs on his recent service in Afghanistan. He recognized veterans and wives of veterans among the delegates, and he identified himself as the only former congressman to have been deployed to Afghanistan, sent to “the middle of nowhere in the heart of Taliban country.”

Djou told a moving story of a lieutenant who insisted on checking the safety of a bridge before ordering his outfit to cross. A Taliban insurgent killed him, leaving a widow and young child. “We do not need to accept the gridlock in Washington,” Djou orated. “Ending it is not as difficult as facing down Taliban insurgents. I never want to say to a widow of the Afghanistan war that the status quo in Washington is good enough.”

The delegates listening to Lingle and Djou appeared, like political party activists of both of Hawaii’s major political parties, old. They also appeared pale compared to those who will gather in the Hawaii Democratic convention this coming weekend.

But neither their leadership nor many of the legislative candidates paraded before the delegates. Chairman David Chang is a 40-year-old businessman who ran a spirited, although unsuccessful, campaign for the state House in 2010. Marching across the stage in a “Parade of Hawaii Republican Candidates” was a decidedly young, multi-hued crowd that included a Narcissus Queen and a Miss Hawaii.

In a post-convention interview, Chairman Chang admitted that the legal uncertainty that hangs over reapportioned districts has caused the Republicans to lose “a few good candidates,” but that the party apparatus had been strengthened, starting with its treasury.

“Our Lincoln Day Dinner was the most successful we ever had,” says Chang. “National Committeeman Ted Liu met face-to-face with possible donors. They gave generously. We had a $110,000 debt. We’ve cut it down to $59,000, and we have $100,000 in the bank.”

The key to Republican victories, according to Chang, is unity: “When we don’t win as a party, we starting picking at each other on issues. My message to everyone is that we must remain unified behind the common goal of electing Republicans.”