I want to thank Keali’i Lopez and Tim Vandeveer for their commitment to the Democratic Party, and for being willing to “put themselves out there” for all of us.
In a 529-472 (weighted) vote this past Sunday, Tim Vandeveer, the chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, lost his bid for re-election. As per the Party Bylaws, votes are weighted for delegates that had to travel to the Convention from a different island.
There are cautions and wisdom to be gleaned from what transpired.
I love Tim. He is an awesome human being who at one time stood up for me when I needed him. This past Friday, I flew to the Democratic Convention in Kona to stand up for him.
It was an exhausting roller coaster of a weekend consisting essentially of a battle between what most would label the establishment and progressive wings of the Democratic Party (less nuanced observers might say the corporate and the democratic socialist factions).
Upon arrival at the convention I discovered that the person competing for the position of Party Chair, Keali’i Lopez, is a registered lobbyist whose clients include the agrochemical industry.
You really can’t make this stuff up.
We spend years fighting this industry and now their lobbyist is going to be put in charge of our party?
Anger, shock and disbelief came together in me at that moment, fueling even greater personal resolve to ensure Tim’s victory.
As the events at the convention unfolded, I told myself that this could not be happening and that if the corporate lobbyist won, I was done with the Democratic Party. I would walk out of the convention, quit the party and just move on.
But in his gracious and wise remarks on stage following his loss, Tim Vandeveer convinced me otherwise. He reminded me and the other 600 attendees in the room of our common values and that we are all in this together. He spoke of the unity of purpose that brought us to the Democratic Party in the first place, and had brought all of us together for that weekend.
The impulse to quit and walk away quickly shifted to a desire to roll up my sleeves and work even harder. I then spoke briefly to our new Party Chair Keali’i Lopez offering my congratulations and expressing my willingness to help her move our party forward. Her response was gracious and receptive.
In a conversation earlier in the day, prior to the election, she and I had engaged in another fairly animated discussion where I expressed my strong concerns about her role as a corporate lobbyist. She pushed back hard, defending her occupation and her ability and commitment to serve as Party Chair. We agreed to disagree on this point, reaffirmed our mutual respect and then shared a commitment to work together for the common good.
I don’t doubt her good intentions. But I have no reason to trust the intentions of the corp ag industry, who employ her as a lobbyist.
For five years I have watched them use every tool at their disposal, from threats to lawsuits, to thwart the community’s desire to shield their children from dangerous neurotoxins in pesticides sprayed near schools and homes. That is not going to change. Now their lobbyist is leading the Democratic Party. What should we anticipate them doing?
Tim Vandeveer’s loss was a huge disappointment for many across the state. However, in these fractious times when women and indigenous rights are being trampled upon, there is much to celebrate in the election of Keali’i Lopez.
The convention weekend included many significant wins. Our unwavering support of economic, social and environmental justice remains intact, and many new strong progressives were elected to the State Central Committee and key party leadership positions.
While I had not gone to the convention with the intention of running for election to a party leadership position, the transition of leadership at the top of the party motivated me to run for and consequently be elected to the #2 slot, of vice-chair.
It’s up to the community now to hold all of us, and the entire apparatus of the Democratic Party, accountable. Can we serve competing interests? Can we indeed protect and enhance the public good while at the same time protecting corporate profits? Or is there an inherent conflict of interest when compelled to do both?
Thank you Tim Vandeveer for your leadership and service. I look forward now to working together with Keali’i Lopez as chair of our party.
Mahalo as well to friends and convention delegates who encouraged me to run for the vice-chair position and offered their support. I am looking forward to working with all of you and our extended ohana throughout Hawaii to achieve our shared core vision of justice.
Now more than ever, we need everyone to sit up, pay attention, seek solutions and ask tough questions that transcend place of birth, the 2016 elections, and special interests.
Most of all we need each and every one of you to vote.
This past weekend’s election should leave you in no doubt that your vote matters.
And yes, tell a friend to vote’ too.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.