Hawaii Dems Heading To Denver

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - August 20, 2008
| Del.icio.us

Sometime this week, 36 Hawaii Democrats will pack their bags for Denver. There, they will spend four of summer’s waning days sealing the nomination of Barack Obama as their candidate for president of the United States.

It will be a week of speeches, caucuses, more speeches, much gossip and even more speeches. They’ll hear two Clintons, Virginia Senate candidate and convention keynoter Mark Warner, and a passel of lesser orators.

But most important, they will hear Obama’s acceptance speech. Four years ago, of course, his electrifying speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention launched an Obama boomlette that, this past year, turned into presidential thunder.

Obama will have to do it again, because far more than Hawaii’s 36 Democrats will be watching. His audience will include a nation - a nation that, if the polls are correct, prefer him to Republican John McCain by only 2 or 3 percentage points.

Twenty-seven members of the Hawaii delegation favor their native son Obama, nine stand behind Sen. Hillary Clinton. Obama’s supporters include three-quarters of the state’s congressional delegation Daniel Akaka, Neil Abercrombie and Mazie Hirono; Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann; and the three co-chairs of Obama’s Hawaii campaign: Chuck Freedman, Brian Schatz and Andy Winer.

The former chief justice of Hawaii’s Intermediate Court of Appeals, James S. Burns, is also going to Denver as an Obama delegate. Burns is, of course, one of the most famous names in the history of Hawaii’s Democratic Party. His father, John A. Burns, led the post-war growth of the party, served as Hawaii’s last nonvoting delegate-to-Congress, and won three terms as governor.

But this is Jim’s first DNC. “I’m an Obama supporter,” he says, “and he asked me to be his candidate for superdelegate at the state party convention.” There, Burns edged out Sen. Dan Inouye aide Jennifer Sabas for the national convention slot.

“Like so many other people, I was impressed by Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, but my wife (television personality Emme Tomimbang) met Obama first,” Burns says.

“On one of his trips to Hawaii he was hitting balls at Olomana Golf Course, and he was in her camera shoot. She asked him to move. Then she asked him why was he golfing there. Why not at Waialae? He said he didn’t know anyone who belonged there. She said her husband did. Two days later Obama, two of his friends and I were were playing at Waialae.”

Burns liked the Illinois senator: “He’s an ordinary guy, down-to-earth, but smart as hell. The computer in his head is one of the best I’ve ever been around.”

Burns harkened to Obama’s message as well. “I just don’t like how Washington’s been working. It’s all about what’s in it for me in terms of power, money or prestige. Too few are concerned with what’s best for the country now or in the future.”

Jadine Nielsen is going to Denver as a Clinton delegate, but she got there via a circuitous route. Nielsen began 2008 as the Hawaii chair of the John Edwards presidential campaign. When the former North Carolina senator dropped out, Nielsen switched her allegiance to Clinton.

“My husband and I moved to Hawaii six years ago,” she says. “In 1992 I was the Northern California campaign manager for Bill Clinton.”

When Clinton won the White House, Nielsen took a job in his administration and worked for it in some capacity for the next eight years. When her 2008 first choice - Edwards - dropped out, it was “natural for me to swing my support behind Sen. Clinton. I knew a lot of people in the Clinton campaign.”

But Nielsen goes to Denver intent on voting for Obama.

“I’ve been active in Democratic Party politics all my life, and I’m keeping my eye on the larger goal - to make sure that we don’t have a third Bush administration.”

That’s the goal for her and at least her 36 Democratic colleagues from Hawaii.

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