Over Memorial Day weekend, thousands of visitors will be enjoying Hawai`i's beautiful natural environment and even more beautiful native culture. Meanwhile, local Democrats will be hard at work on some major business - deciding who will lead the party and helping to decide who will be the Democratic Party's nominee for President. The state party's convention at the Hilton Hawaiian Village will be highlighted by the election of three new superdelegates: the party chair, the party vice-chair, and an at-large superdelegate.
Illustrating the significance of these decisions (as well as showing a natural concern for his native state), Barack Obama has taken time away from campaigning in Pennsylvania to announce his endorsement of Brian Schatz for Chair of the Hawai`i Democratic Party.
I think Sen. Obama has made a wise decision, as I'll explain below.
As Congressman Neil Abercrombie frequently says, leading Hawai`i Democrats is about as easy as herding cats. As a Hawai`i Democrat myself, I take that as a compliment. We have a diverse party, with a lot of independent thinkers. But there's no doubt it's a tough job to organize our party and ensure that diversity isn't divisive. And the task has become more difficult (but also more exciting) as the party's size has grown enormously just within the last couple of months.
Brian Schatz has always shown a willingness to take on challenges and to bring people together for a common purpose.
Brian first became known to me back in the '90s when I participated in a couple of volunteer projects organized by Youth for Environmental Service, a non-profit organization he co-founded.
Shortly thereafter, I happened to have a conversation with reform-minded Hawai`i Democrat Marilyn Bornhorst, who was then chair of the state party. She volunteered that Brian Schatz was the most promising young leader in Hawai`i. Marilyn has been proven prescient. After launching YES, Brian jumped into electoral politics, knocking off a GOP incumbent in the State House in 1998 at the age of 26. Notwithstanding his youth, Brian quickly became known as someone willing to challenge the status quo, advocating for ethics reform and environmental protection. Yet, with his congenial personal manner and hard work, he managed to win the respect of many of those in the House leadership. He eventually assumed leadership positions himself. Outside of politics, he continued to provide leadership in the non-profit sector. He currently serves as CEO of Helping Hands Hawai`i, a well-regarded social-service agency.
I got to know Brian during the historic 2006 campaign in Hawai`i's Second Congressional District, which featured 10 Democratic candidates, most of whom were current or former office holders. Brian lost to the candidate I was supporting, current Congresswoman Mazie Hirono. But he distinguished himself by mounting a substantive, issued-oriented campaign. And he won my admiration by endorsing and campaigning for Mazie immediately after the primary. His excellent webmaster (wife Linda Schatz) even added a link to Brian's campaign website to direct people to Mazie's site. Brian is the second from the right in this picture taken shortly after the primary:
Brian showed continued good judgment later in 2006 by becoming an early advocate for Barack Obama's presidential run. Brian became spokesperson for Obama's Hawai`i campaign. Along with local campaign manager Andy Winer and Barack's sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, who lives in Honolulu, Brian helped to engineer a shockingly large turnout in Hawai`i's Feb. 19 caucus, which Barack won handily.
Despite Barack's strong win, Brian has pointed out that even if only Hillary Clinton supporters had turned out on Feb. 19 Hawai`i would've had record caucus participation. So he aptly recognizes that there's a lot of enthusiasm for both Barack and Hillary here in the Islands. When he visited Maui recently to announce his candidacy for party chair, Brian said he's committed to working inclusively with all Hawai`i Democrats, regardless of who they support in the presidential race.
Still, with the presidential primary still contested, his position with the Obama campaign is an important factor. Electing Brian as party chair (and therefore as superdelegate) on May 25 will help to capture one more vote for Barack in the delegate race.
But Brian isn't touting his Obama connection as the basis for his campaign. Rather, he's fittingly referencing his experience in day-to-day, unglamorous work of managing organizations - which is of course required to ensure organizational effectiveness. He promises to modernize the party's apparatus and to focus on the nuts-and-bolts tasks needed to ensure that Hawai`i Democrats have the tools needed to win now and in the future. And the future is important. Mazie's first re-election campaign is an important race this year. But there aren't a lot of other major races in the state. But in just two years, we'll have a U.S. Senate race and a Governor's race happening at the same time.
Mahalo for reading.
Imua Schatz! Imua Democrats!