One of the things that I love most about Daily Kos is that, every day, I pick up my phone, make calls, and speak to Democratic candidates and state party workers and let them tell me what is working for them, and what message they want to send on.
Over the last year, I’ve been taking time to visit numerous state party and county organization meetings all over the country. Sometimes, I attend to watch, sometimes I’m a guest and sit on a panel, and in other states, I have the pleasure of seeing Democratic activists work hard to try and improve their party and our country.
Last weekend, I spent time in Waikoloa, Hawai’i with the Hawai’i Democratic Party, reaching out and discussing with them the issues that face their party — and in what ways we all need to work together.
Hawai’i is, to say it mildly, a Democratic anchor; there are no elected Republicans in the state Senate, Federal elected or statewide official. As a result, the races that tend to matter in Hawai’i are the internal party races, and this has led to state meetings with a lot at stake, as well as an opportunity to really get into the philosophical nature of what it means to be a strong Democrat.
With federal elected like Sen. Hirono and Sen. Schatz on hand to discuss the issues that face Hawai’i, the floor was left open for a debate about the future, not just of the Hawai’i Democratic party, but of their state in general, and how Hawai’i can influence the future.
Speaking to the crowd, Gov. Ige pointed out that Hawai’i has been at the forefront of the discussion on the treatment of immigrants and the environment. “Erosion is real — not just of our land, but also in our values,” Ige told a crowd at the back of the meeting all.
Governor Ige faces a primary opponent — one who currently, at least according to all members in attendance, would be seen as the favorite, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who also took time to speak to the crowd. “We must move forward.” Rep. Hanabusa, who held court at the meeting repeatedly was easily the largest presence in the room, even when she wasn’t “in the room”.
The meeting ranged from joy to sorrow, as all in attendance mourned the passing of Senator Daniel Akaka, culminating in a song and dance performance by his son, Daniel Akaka Jr. and his spouse.
For progressives, the state meeting also set the stage for a fight over the direction of the party. In 2016, Tim Vandeveer, a Bernie Sanders advocate, union organizer, and environmental activist was elected State Party chair. In 2018, however, the Sanders following was simply out-organized, and in a fairly close election, Keali’i Lopez became new state party chair.
In a joint statement released to the community, both outgoing chair Vandeveer and incoming Chair Lopez praised the work of all who attended:
From State of Reform:
“The amount of enthusiasm and excitement at this year’s Convention was simply phenomenal,” said Lopez. “We have so many amazing members of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i and I look forward to working with all of them to ensure we move Hawai‘i forward by supporting the many values that we all deeply care about. We must continue to support working families, protect the environment, advocate for the rights of the LGBT community and most importantly support our guiding principles found in the platform of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i. ”
“It’s been an honor serving as the Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i these past two years, and I look forward to working with Keali’i as she takes on her role as the Party’s new Chair,” said Vandeveer.
Leaders of the Hawai’i Progressive Caucus, however, indicated there were things to cheer as the day went on, and rules and resolution proposals went their way.
For many, these meetings are boring acts of internal party. For those who want hope, however, Hawai’i Democratic members offered plenty.
On the opening night, the convention opened with a tribute to the history of the community, the party, and the fights ahead for their survival.
“Those (nature) are things no technology will take the place of; people are very excited about big machines that can convert carbon dioxide to oxide — we have them. They are called trees! We talk about all these processes to clean the water and get fresh water. Well, keep the forests alive! That is your cleaner! Love this land, and it will be here forever to come.”
Buried in meetings was a state deeply concerned about what is going to happen to the rest of our country. On a Thursday night, young people met — thinking about the future of their state, but also prepared to work on behalf of others. They were Hawai’i Democrats in Support of Stacey Abrams for Governor of Georgia.
“We have a responsibility to each other; to do the best for each other,” one activist said in a group meeting. “Everyone in this room can be a leader.”
With so many having original roots in the rest of the nation, the concern over what happens elsewhere and how it would impact Hawai’i became a discussion point in their environmental caucus, young Democratic caucus, and progressive caucus.
Wearing a Daily Kos “Build Community” shirt, I was introduced by then chair Tim Vandeveer to some of the senate district leaders. Juanita Kawamoto, a representative from Oahu County to the State Central Committee, asked me where I came to Hawai’i from — typical small talk. “I came here from Kansas.”
“Kansas! What a joy it must be to be somewhere surrounded with so much life all the time.”
”I hadn’t thought about it that way.”
Having some family in a small town in Kansas — which I knew, she added, “Every place on earth is beautiful if you realize life springs from it and it needs you to care for it.”
That, she noted, is the heart of all Democratic values — caring about the future as much or more than the present, making sure that you pass down something that has value.
Thank you to the Hawai’i Democratic activists and members for your kindness, and to all of those who talked about how you can share your stories with those of us here at Daily Kos.