Delegates descend on Denver

DENVER — As members of the Hawai‘i delegation to the Democratic National Convention waited in line to hear Hillary Clinton speak yesterday evening at the Pepsi Center in Denver, they reflected on the “emotional” speeches delivered Monday and what it means to represent local residents at the “history-making” event.

State Sen. Gary Hooser, D-Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau, said the words of ailing U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy and Michelle Obama moved him to tears and “chicken skin.”

“Living on Kaua‘i I realized that one person can make a difference,” Hooser said. “The political process is open to all of us.”

Barack Obama is the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee because of the individual efforts of thousands of grassroots supporters, he said.

“Not from the insiders, not from the good ol’ boys, but from grassroots,” he said. “I’m so hopeful for the future, but I realize we have to work hard to get Obama elected.”

Recent polls have shown the Illinois senator in a near dead heat with his Republican challenger, U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, D-2nd District, said she and other members of the Hawai‘i delegation have been “going like mad” since they arrived at the convention, which started Monday and ends Thursday with Obama’s nomination acceptance at Invesco Field at Mile High.

“It’s always great to be with a Hawai‘i group — we really do stand out,” she said, noting the media attention paid to the lei-wearing delegation on Monday. “It’s important. Barack Obama is a son of Hawai‘i.”

Hooser, of Kapa‘a, served on the National Credentials Committee which worked to resolve the seating of Florida and Michigan delegates. The committee decided to restore full voting rights to the two states, which had been penalized for holding early primaries.

He lacked the words to describe what it meant to be “a small part of history, a small part of this process.”

Hirono said Michelle Obama’s speech was “incredible,” focusing on the importance of family values, and called Kennedy’s address “touching.”

“To speak to us, in his health, that was the most inspiring moment of the evening,” Hooser said of Kennedy, who has been undergoing treatment for a malignant brain tumor. “Whether you support Barack or not, it was a wonderful testament for the American story.”

He said he could relate to Obama’s upbringing, coming from “Grapes of Wrath kind of roots.”

“Most of us realize if you work hard, sacrifice, you can make it in America,” Hooser said. “But there’s many more battles to be fought and to be won — securing health care for all Americans being number one.”

Hirono said she has also been touched by the stories of the new people she has met at some of the hundreds of events surrounding the convention.

On Monday, she said she met a 30-something immigrant from Vietnam who said it was the first political event she has ever gotten involved in. Similarly, she met an older woman from Iowa, originally from Hawai‘i, who said this was the first campaign she has ever gotten involved with.

“Barack Obama talks about hope and change,” Hirono said. “But people don’t just say ‘That’s a nice message.’ It moves them. It resonates so much it gets them engaged.”

The congresswoman said the candidate represents a change in the nation’s direction and priorities.

“I’m hopeful this will signal a new era in American history,” Hooser said.

This is the first convention where women are the majority of the delegates, Hirono said.

The official Web site for the convention says they expect 4,440 delegates casting 4,235 votes and around 50,000 guests.

Earlier yesterday, she said she attended a panel discussion on the nation’s transportation needs, a function for U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawai‘i and a sold-out Emily’s List event featuring Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other “very committed, powerful women.”

Hooser said he is working to arrange another Kaua‘i visit by Obama’s half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, who spoke Monday at the convention. He said dates will be finalized within the next few days, but it looks like it will be toward the end of September.

Kapa‘a resident Michael Fox is among the 29 delegates at the convention from Hawai‘i. He is heading the Kaua‘i for Obama campaign with Hooser.

There will be local viewing parties for Obama’s speech tomorrow and it will be on a continuous loop at booth 55 at the State Farm Bureau starting at 6 p.m., Kaua‘i resident Roxanne McCann said. Information can be found at barackobama.com.

“This is a history-making convention,” Hirono said, noting that it was her fourth. “It’s palpable. Each is incredible. Selecting our nominee is always very emotional.”

Hooser, who has been blogging on the convention at garyhooser.livejournal.com, described the atmosphere as “very exciting, very optimistic about the Obama candidacy.”

“It’s a mood of unity among Democrats … a mood of celebrating diversity,” he said, referring to the competitive campaign fought against Clinton and Obama being the first black Democratic presidential candidate.

Denver attorney Steve Nagy described the feel in the city as “electric.”

“Strangers were talking to each other about issues like the economy. That just doesn’t happen on a daily basis,” he said. “It’s also been really cool to see a lot of revitalization in the city. I don’t know if it’s just anticipation of the convention, but Denver is looking pretty hot right now.”

Nagy said there are more cops than protesters, functions galore, swanky parties, rampant political advertising and progressive billboards reflecting a heightened interest in issues like conservation.

McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has yet to name his running mate. The Republican National Convention starts Monday in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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

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