Conventional And Unconventional

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - June 07, 2006

At the beginning of May, a USA Today Gallup poll showed that 31 percent of those surveyed approved of how President George W. Bush was running the country. Sixty-five percent disapproved.

At the end of May, a Quinnipiac poll found that 35 percent of those surveyed approved of Bush’s presidency; 58 percent did not.

Those who choreographed the Hawaii State Republican Convention this past Memorial Day weekend at the Sheraton Waikiki must have been reading the month’s polls. During the GOP’s prime-time speaking, i.e., Saturday morning, May 27, no one - let me repeat, no one - said the president’s name.

Not Kauai Mayor Bryan Baptiste, nor Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa. Second District congressional candidate Bob Hogue, although he would like to go to Washington - presumably - to support the president’s program - couldn’t bring himself to say “George W. Bush.” And neither could 2nd District congressional candidate Quentin Kawananakoa. (Although I do think I heard him say, once, “the president.”)

In the course of the morning, convention chair and - recently outed - Republican Peter Carlisle said many funny things, but Carlisle did not say “George W. Bush.”

Most notably, Gov. Linda Lingle did not say “George W. Bush.” At the state GOP convention two years ago, Lingle devoted 30 minutes of her hour-long speech to George W. Bush - then went off to the continent to campaign vigorously for his re-election. Now ... well, poor George. Now no Republican knows his name.

But, boy, the Republicans know how to put on a convention. It had energy, the best numbers I’ve seen in years, soaring rhetoric (complete, in Hogue’s case, with background music), bused-in and bentoed demonstrators, and a terrific sound system.

Man, what a sound system! Gubernatorial impresario extra-ordinaire Lenny Klompus was at the keyboard (Or what do they call that thing?), and he had a rousing tune to introduce every speaker, to dismiss every speaker - to heighten the pure, unadulterated partisan euphoria.

Three long blocks away, at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, euphoria was hard to come by. Looking at the Democratic convention, you’d never know that Democrats elected officials hold 20 of the 25 seats in the state Senate and 41 of the 51 seats in the state House of Representatives. Nor that four Democrats compose Hawaii’s four-person congressional delegation.

Nope. The Dems looked like a convention in mourning. Oh, they booed and moaned every time Bush’s name was mentioned (and you can bet your booties it was mentioned a lot by the Dems). But if Bush was the dead rat in the middle of the living room floor of the GOP convention, U.S. Rep. Ed Case owned that distinction at the Democrats’.

By challenging incumbent Democratic United States Sen. Dan Akaka, Case forced the Democrats into an interfamilial fight that they find excruciatingly painful - particularly when the issue is Akaka.

Everyone active in the Hawaii Democratic Party loves Akaka. “Loves” him. That’s the word. Case? Well, many Democrats respect him, think he’s smart, articulate, well-educated, certainly more of the alpha male Washington senatorial type. But if you know Danny Akaka the way most of the folk who attend party conventions do, it’s hard to turn on him - and Case has asked them to do that.

So Democrats looked chagrined at this year’s convention. They’d struggled uphill for more than a year to find a couple of candidates to run for governor against the popular Lingle, and now they must deal with an upstart congressman who wants to unseat the first Hawaiian United States Senator.

How painful was the whole affair? Well, Sen. Dan Inouye went so far as to endorse Akaka’s candidacy - something he had never previously done in a contested Democratic primary. So too did a good three-quarters of the elected delegates - with their feet. When Akaka was introduced to speak, they rose en masse and demonstrated in the senator’s behalf.

Akaka gave the best speech I’ve ever heard him give, insisting that experienced leadership was “needed now” to deal with the destructiveness of the Bush administration and the Republican Congress. He also took a gentle swipe or two at Case.

As Case did at him. But neither swung a bat at the other. Even gentle swipes cause uneasiness at a family gathering where the gathered are already on edge.

Particularly when you don’t have music as good as the Republicans to lift everyone’s mood.

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