Kaua‘i senator fills key role

Hooser picked to serve on national credentials committee

by Nathan Eagle – THE GARDEN ISLAND

State Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser, D-7th District, may play a critical role in what candidate the Democratic Party nominates to run for president.

The Hawai‘i Democratic Party last week picked the Kapa‘a resident to serve on the national credentials committee that will meet in August at the Democratic National Convention in Denver to handle disputes over delegates.

“Being chosen to participate at the national level in helping to select the next president of the United States of America is a responsibility that I take very seriously and I look forward to being involved in the process,” said Hooser, who will be the state’s sole representation on the roughly 180-member committee.

Barack Obama is expected to secure the Democratic presidential nomination after picking up more delegates at the final primaries today in South Dakota and Montana.

Party officials anticipate uncommitted superdelegates will announce their decisions soon after the primaries end, likely giving the Illinois senator the numbers he needs to become the presumptive nominee.

The Hawai‘i-born candidate, bidding to become the first black major party nominee in history, was 41.5 delegates shy of the 2,118 needed to clinch the nomination, according to The Associated Press count yesterday.

His chief rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, had secured 1,917.5 delegates at press time.

The former first lady, who was the early front-runner in a marathon Democratic nominating contest, has refused to concede defeat despite dwindling odds.

Last week, Clinton reserved the right to challenge a controversial decision that impacted delegate counts.

The national rules committee decided last weekend that the entire Michigan and Florida delegations would be seated at the national convention, but their delegates’ votes would count as half a vote. The states were punished for holding their primaries too early.

The Clinton camp reportedly opposes the rules committee’s decision because Obama was awarded delegates he did not earn outright because his name did not appear on the ballot.

Any challenge to this ruling would go before the credentials committee on which Hooser now serves.

He said yesterday that it is “an honor and a big responsibility.”

Hawai‘i has a slot on each of the three national committees: rules, credentials and platform. The state’s delegate selection plan determines committee assignments.

In a two-candidate race, whoever gets the most votes at the state caucuses gets first draft pick, said Andy Winer, the state director of Obama for America.

Since Obama won more votes than Clinton at the caucuses, the Obama camp had first choice and selected the credentials committee, he said.

Winer, as the authorized state representative for the Obama camp, recommended Hooser fill the slot and the national campaign approved.

“Gary was an invaluable part of the Obama campaign in Hawai‘i and one of the earliest elected officials to endorse Sen. Obama,” he said. “He’s an extremely effective legislator, someone who understands the rules and someone who understands how to work in a group process. I thought the same skills he’s proven in the Senate would be the kinds of things valuable and useful in the credentials committee.”

The Obama campaign has been working to fill the credentials committee with Obama supporters, Winer said, particularly in light of the expected challenges stemming from the Florida and Michigan situation.

The Clinton campaign had sufficient votes in the state to qualify for one of the remaining two national committee picks. They took the rules committee and selected state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa.

The Obama campaign was then left with the platform committee position and picked Lono Lyman.

Kaua‘i Democratic Party Chair Linda Estes said the decision to pick Hooser to serve on the credentials committee was “wonderful” and the county and state Democratic parties should be “very proud.”

She said his voice will be critical in handling any challenge filed over delegate credentials.

“He’s the Senate majority leader, a prominent politician in Hawai‘i — to me he would be a natural,” she said.

The Obama campaign was looking for someone with either a legal background or a proven legislative leader, Winer said.

“Given (Hooser’s) skills, he should be able to take a fairly prominent role,” he said.

The credentials committee is charged with coordinating issues around the selection of delegates and alternates to the convention and will likely meet in the summer. The committee will issue a report that is the first official item of business at the convention.

“As primary season is winding down, it’s fairly clear Obama will be the presumptive nominee,” Winer said. “I’m confident the Democrats will unite behind him and turn our attention to Sen. McCain.”

U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

“Once we start to do that, I think there’s a significant difference between the two candidates that will become pretty obvious,” Winer said.

He said Obama represents change and a new way of looking at foreign policy.

“McCain is like looking at almost a third term of George Bush,” Winer said. “Do we want something new and different in Washington or another four years of Iraq and an economy that’s going down the drain?”

The state Democratic caucus results showed support for Obama at a roughly 3-to-1 ratio.

“I guarantee we’re going to elect a Democratic president in 2008,” Estes said.

• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or neagle@kauaipubco.com

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