Kaauwai Was Good For GOP

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - October 05, 2011

I am not a registered Republican. More often than not, I find myself siding with the GOP on most issues, both socially and fiscally, and will support the more conservative candidate when given a choice.

So, despite my non-membership, it is unsettling to see the Hawaii Republican Party in such disarray and distraction, culminating with its leader, state GOP chairman Jonah Kaauwai, submitting his resignation. What we are witnessing is political sausage being made, and it doesn’t look appetizing at all.

What led to the demise of Kaauwai? Is it the email where he says that former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona will win (his bid for governor in the 2010 election) because “the church has been with him the entire time operating under the power and the authority of the name of Jesus Christ”?

Or was it the suggestion that “neither Mufi Hannemann nor Neil Abercrombie is righteous, and a vote for either in the general or the primary is succumbing to fear and advancing unrighteousness”?

Was the demand for Kaauwai’s resignation fueled by a fiscally upside down Hawaii Republican Party treasury balance? Some reports say that expenditures were too much, while the contributions were not enough. I asked interim GOP chairwoman Beth Fukumoto if the party was “broke” and she said, “yes.” Is this the reason for pushing Kaauwai off the bus?

Perhaps, it was the lack of representation in the Legislature and the moribund presence of Republicans, in general, in elective state and local politics. Maybe, that was the key to his non-voluntary dismissal.

Here is why Kaauwai was forced out. It’s because he scared key people in the GOP. And that fear was not based on personality or performance, but it was a fear that Linda Lingle, Charles Djou and other GOP incumbents or candidates would not win their contests because Kaauwai was religiously controversial. He was too conservative. He was an extremist. And this did not fit well with a GOP contingent who wants to emphasize “moderation.”

But wait, Kaauwai was elected twice to the chairmanship. You knew what you were getting with him. In the last election, he ran unopposed (which is an anathema to GOP objectives). It seems that would have been the opportune time to run an alternative candidate. Or, was he actually popular because he was doing a good job and the majority of delegates appreciated his accomplishments?

Let’s face it, before Kaauwai the Hawaii Republican Party was facing the worst political condition: irrelevance. Willis Lee, the previous chairman, was assumedly taking a stealth approach to leadership when, in 2008, Democrats ran for 29 seats unopposed by a Republican. In 2010 under Kaauwai, all but three seats were filled with GOP candidates. And although the overall numbers are anemic, there was still an increase in the number of state representatives in 2010 that stemmed the flow of losses over previous chairmanships. Plus, there were overall gains in party membership under Kaauwai’s watch.

So when you hear criticisms of his stewardship of the party, there is a record of performance that many would deem successful.

Was Jonah Kaauwai perfect? Of course not. Who is?

But under his watch his legacy will be one of party revitalization rather than the shamble left in his wake, according to his detractors.

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