The Star-Advertiser’s Kevin Dayton provided the best wrap-up of the Democratic Party of Hawaii’s state convention, held in Waikiki over the weekend (“Isle Democrats rally for unity, pick new leader“).
The election of the party’s state chair was one of the key battlegrounds.
For the first time that I can remember, one of the candidates ran an email campaign soliciting support. I received several campaign emails this month from Jacce Mikulanec, a longtime activist in local Democratic circles. Mikulanec has served as president of the Honolulu Japanese American Citizens League and is registered as president of the Equality Hawaii Action Fund, a political action committee supporting “candidates who support equality for Hawaii’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families.”
It seemed to me that Jacce had a real shot at winning this election.
Also running were Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, executive director of the Hawaii Construction Alliance, and Florence Kong Kee, a UPW lobbyist and another longtime party activist and insider.
But in the end, the prize went to Tim Vandeveer, an environmental activist who ran with the backing of supporters of the Bernie Sanders campaign.
A quick online search turned up additional background on Vandeveer, who originally hailed from Texas. He’s been host of Hawaii Public Radio’s “Full Nelson.”
“I was raised on Willie’s music,” he explains in an HPR blurb about the program.
He worked for several years at the Turtle Bay resort on Oahu’s north shore.
A 2008 Honolulu Weekly story noted that Vandeveer “led Turtle Bay horseback tours for five years and was named Kuilima’s Employee of the Year in 2004.”
He was one of the hotel employees who opposed a massive expansion and became active in the Defend Oahu Coalition. He’s currently a co-chair of the group, according to its website, and president of the Defend Oahu Coalition Fund.
And Vandeveer was the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against American Savings Bank, which alleged the bank (owned by Hawaiian Electric Industries, parent company of HECO) processed debit card transactions in a way that maximized overdraft fees. The lawsuit was eventually settled last hear for $2 million, according to a story in Pacific Business News.
Vandeveer said he is going to put a priority on ending the Democratic Party’s reliance on corporate and special interest funding, which he termed “fundamentally wrong.”
Of course, the party in Hawaii has never been financially flush, so it’s going to be interesting to see whether Vandeveer can actually motivate individual members to contribute to the party, rather than directly to candidates.
I agree with comments by former Gov. John Waihee, quoted in Dayton’s story.
“I appreciate his ambition, I wish him well, but … ultimately, the party’s primary duty is to get people elected, so we’ll see how that agenda plays into that scenario,” Waihee said. “It’s a complex thing, because at the same time you need to raise money.”
Waihee said he hopes a Democratic president will be elected who will appoint Supreme Court justices who will help overturn the Citizens United ruling.
“That’s really what ultimately the big picture is about,” he said.