Dems: Tribute to Mink GOP: Political rally

LIHU’E – Just as the funeral service of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone (D, Minnesota) earlier this week turned into a campaign rally for his potential successor, the first Kaua’i visit of former Pres. Bill Clinton Wednesday morphed from a tribute to the late Congresswoman Patsy Mink into a campaign rally for Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, the Democratic nominee for governor.

That’s what Hawai’i Republicans are claiming.

On Thursday Hawai’i Republicans called for the Hirono campaign to foot a $100,000 bill for Clinton’s four-island, one-day visit to Hawai’i, according to news reports from KITV in Honolulu, while the Hirono campaign is contending that the events were first and foremost tributes to Patsy Mink and planned to promote a full ticket of Democratic candidates.

Clinton’s whirlwind tour Wednesday was billed by Democratic Party organizers as “A Tribute to Patsy,” complete with a video presentation and kind words for her.

In addition to the tribute Clinton early on in his remarks made on Kaua’i left little doubt as to a key purpose for his visit. “I’m basically here because I think Mazie should be your next governor,” he said.

Hirono and her running mate state Sen. Matt Matsunaga stood alongside Clinton at the stop here and in Honolulu, Hilo and Kahului as the former president touted their campaign.

Clinton spoke before a packed crowd of about 1,000 at the Kaua’i Veterans Center.

Democratic Party of Hawai’i spokeswoman Bridget Leininger, who at one time worked for Clinton, said the state party is paying about $100,000 for Clinton’s expenses.

That doesn’t include Clinton’s standard appearance fee, which he agreed to waive. The fee normally runs between $75,000 and $350,000 per appearance.

Representatives of the Hawai’i Government Employees Association provided logistical coordination for Clinton’s four-island visit, and invited Democratic candidates and office-holders to attend, Leininger said.

Republicans are also contending that the Democratic Party paying the expenses for Clinton’s visit is the same as making a donation to the campaign of Hirono and Matsunaga, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, said another Hawai’i Democratic Party spokesman.

“The focus of this was not for their campaign. It was actually a tribute to Patsy,” said Chris Ovitt. “He (Clinton) came here as a tribute to Patsy, and I think he mentioned that at all of the different events that he went to.”

The cost of the Clinton visit includes airfare for a jet, security, rentals and other expenses.

Russell K. Okata, HGEA executive director, said Clinton’s visit originated when he suggested to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees president at the union’s convention this summer that having Clinton come to Hawai’i to stump for the Democratic nominee for governor could provide a big boost to the candidate’s campaign.

The AFSCME president made some calls, and eventually Clinton confirmed that he would be available for the events in Hawai’i. Clinton said on Kaua’i Wednesday that he’ll attend around 100 such similar events all across the country before the end of the year.

Gerald Ako, HGEA head on Kaua’i, said no HGEA members left work to attend the Lihu’e event, other than those on lunch breaks. – TGI Editor Chris Cook contributed to this report.

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

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