Lihue, Kauai -- Sinking enthusiasm among Hawaii Republican Party members resulted in only 359 out of 2,000 eligible delegates and alternates -- just 18% -- to bother showing up at today's state convention on Kauai where Shirlene Ostrov was elected by a vote which wasn't even close to serve as the new party chair for the next 24 months along with her slate of mostly unfamiliar names and faces; bringing to a close a months-long campaign between two rival factions divided over the future of the expensive Kakaako party headquarters on Kapiolani Blvd.
After shrinking to the lowest number of elected Republicans in the past six decades, many convention delegates only showed up after being lured to Kauai with the offer of free, round-trip airfare by competing state chair candidates Andria Tupola (who normally votes with Democrats like Beth Fukumoto) and Shirlene Ostrov (a complete unknown to party members until a few months ago and recruited to run by the liberal wing of the state party which favors staying officially neutral and silent on issues facing Hawaii).
Among today's convention highlights was a moment when the outgoing Fritz Rohlfing leadership team got booed for the shockingly dismal content of outgoing treasurer Mary Smart's report. The state party is now broke and barely able to meet its obligations after struggling financially and politically for years. In fact, the cash poor party is unable to support Republican messaging, organizing, lobbying and even its own candidates. The sustained booing for Rohlfing's team could be heard in the hotel lobby.
Also, in a strange twist, outgoing chairman Fritz Rohlfing actually awarded the state party's honor for "Volunteer of the Year" to the outgoing vice chair for coordinated campaigns, Bob Hickling. Hickling is party officer who led the party's official statewide campaign over the past 24 months which resulted in the loss of multiple elected Republicans in 2016.
Adding to the divisions within the party, the Hawaii Republican Assembly (HIRA), the conservative wing of the Hawaii GOP, officially endorsed "None of the Above" for party leadership after citing "serious lack of qualifications" among the 14 candidates for state party officer posts, substantial cheating and manipulation of the delegate selection process, as well as the rulebreaking selection of Kauai rather than Oahu for the 2017 state convention.
HIRA president Eric Ryan commented: "With 87-year old Pat Saiki, 74-year old Gene Ward and 73-year old Miriam Hellreich firmly re-installed as the top leaders of our failed party, today's Hawaii GOP Convention has ushered in another bleak and underwhelming era of closet Democrats and unqualified RINO's leading our state party. You'd think we learned the lessons of the last two decades of decline at the hands of liberal Republicans. But they control the process by which party leaders are elected, so Democrats dodged another bullet today. As history has repeatedly shown, RINO's are determined to keep our party silent while preventing Republicans from leading a full-blown political uprising against Democrats. Today is a sad day. Despite Hawaii being in big trouble and the GOP having all the arguments for change on our side, we handed victory to Democrats today through a decision to remain weak and liberal."
The irrelevance of the Hawaii GOP was not only reflected in the steady reduction of elected Republicans to a record low of just five, but Hawaii's news media stayed away from today's state convention in droves. While a reporter from Kauai's Garden Island newspaper was spotted covering the event, no members of the statewide media were on hand.
Ryan responded to the deliberately low-key affair: "In a state of 1.4 million people, we have a weak and unappealing party which can only turn out 359 people for a nearly invisible gathering of no interest to even Republicans, let alone the news media. Today's rigged election on Kauai shows, once again, how our state GOP fails at transparency. Today's barely noticed election of party officers gives little to no hope for party members nor Republican and independent voters hoping for relief from failed Democrat policies."
Six months have already passed since the 2016 General Election. Most of the remaining eighteen months between now and the 2018 General Election are expected to be sacrificed by inexperienced party officers still receiving on the job training and trying to get their bearings in running a party with no funds, no infrastructure, few candidates, and very little respect from voters.