Clinton wows crowd of 1,000

LIHU’E – Former Pres. William Jefferson “Bill” Clinton left a lasting impression on an audience of over 1,000 yesterday at a Democratic Party rally held at the Kauai Veterans Center here.

“I’m basically here because I think Mazie should be your next governor,” said Clinton, referring to fellow Democrat and Hawai’i gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono.

Clinton appeared at a multi-purpose function sponsored by the Hawaii Government Employees Association that was a tribute to the late U.S. Rep. Patsy T. Mink and a campaign stop for Hirono and her running mate, state Sen. Matt Matsunaga.

“I have watched Mazie grow and blossom as a public leader,” said Clinton, governor of Arkansas for 12 years before becoming the 42th president of the United States for eight years.

Clinton, who placed the Medal of Honor on U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye when the war hero with Kaua’i roots was awarded the medal during Clinton’s presidency, said the tougher the times, the more important it is to have a progressive leader as governor.

Hirono is the right choice for a number of reasons, Clinton said. “I like people who don’t give up,” who “get up every day and fight,” said Clinton, who said he remembered not too long that “I was declared dead a dozen times.”

Hirono in challenging times will diversify the economy, improve education, and use technology to “collapse” the distance between Hawai’i and other parts of the world,” Clinton said.

Clinton came on stage to a thunderous standing ovation, and acknowledged with salutes the many veterans in the crowd. When he came on stage, he had a big hug for Inouye.

“It was an honor to give you the Medal of Honor,” Clinton told Inouye. “Thank you for your eight years of friendship and cooperation.”

“I miss the Clinton administration,” Inouye said, before predicting a Hirono victory on Tuesday. “She’s gonna win.”

Hirono introduced Clinton, calling him “a true friend of Hawai’i and a true friend of Native Hawaiians,” for his work in moving to passage a federal resolution apologizing for the overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy over 100 years ago.

“You have been there for us,” said Hirono.

Clinton said he is proud of his efforts to protect the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands’ coral reefs, and that he “worked hard for all Native Americans.”

The former president flew overnight aboard a private Boeing 757 jet from Minnesota to make it to Hawai’i in time for a one-day, four-island swing.

Clinton said that after the election is over next week, the negative campaigning that has taken place in the governor’s race won’t be important.

“How many names were elevated while you were in” is much more important than who won the name-calling contest, he said.

He encouraged all those who have registered to vote to use that right, because a majority of people usually make the right decisions at the polls, but those who do not vote lose out in many ways.

A sampling of Kaua’i people attending the function showed all were impressed with Clinton’s presence.

“That was awesome,” said Aurea Laymon of Kapa’a. “That was amazing. That was my joyous pleasure, because I’ve admired him even since he was a governor,” she said. “And he’s handsome.”

“It’s exciting,” said Dennis Nimkie, an unsuccessful candidate running as an independent for mayor. He said he came to hear what Clinton had to say, and to hear Hirono one last time before election day.

Nimkie, until 1994 a card-carrying Republican, said he finds himself in the position of having not made a final decision on who will get his vote in the governor’s race.

County Councilmember Jimmy Tokioka, a Republican, said party affiliation couldn’t have kept him away from the chance to hear Democrat Clinton speak. “I represent the entire community,” he said. “It was pretty awesome,” said Tokioka, adding that Clinton deserved the attention he received. Tokioka said he was also representing the County Council at the event, and is a candidate endorsed by the HGEA.

“What a boost for the party,” said state Rep. Bertha C. Kawakami, a Democrat representing south and west Kaua’i and Ni’ihau. “His speech was inspiring,” she said.

“It was well worth it” to see a former president speak in person, said Devon Fisher, a Kula High and Intermediate School sophomore, who attended the function with schoolmates.

Clinton should be president again, because he could do a better job than Bush, said Malea Richardson, a Kula senior.

The former president shook many hands before jetting off to another island and another HGEA/Hirono campaign stop.

“It was thrilling,” said Mia Ako, wife of HGEA Kaua’i head Gerald Ako. “He has this aura around him.”

“He’s tall. I didn’t expect him to be that tall,” said Sheri Amimoto, who was also moved by the experience of adorning a former president with flowers.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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