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Internal Strife in Hawai'i GOP


Political candidates contemplating running for elected office in 2018 will be allowed to file nomination papers in 6 months.  As HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports, the Republican Party of Hawai’i hopes to is resolve ongoing internal issues by then. 

The Hawai’i Republican Party conducted its first major fundraiser Saturday, with two dozen luncheon attendees paying $500 per ticket.  GOP State Party Chair, Shirlene Ostrov, described the political landscape.

Credit Wayne Yoshioka
Hawai'i Republican Party chair, Shirlene Ostrov

“For Republicans across the nation it was a great start of the year.  We won the White House, the House, the Senate, the highest rate of GOP governors and the highest state Houses won since 1920s.  Here in Hawai’i, it was a little different.  We have zero Republicans in our State Senate and we have only 5 of the 51 in our House.”

Ostrov won the State Chair seat in May by a two-to-one margin and plans to work with the Republican National Committee to identify Hawai’i districts that lean GOP.

“There’s only 30-thousand-something registered Republicans and there are a 130-plus-thousand who voted for Trump.  So we got a 100-something friends out there we gotta meet.”

Credit Wayne Yoshioka
Hawai'i Republican Assembly president, Eric Ryan

But, the Hawai’i Republican Assembly or HIRA, is hypercritical of the state’s GOP leadership andstrategy.   Eric Ryan is HIRA president.

“We’ve got several hundred members, about 600, I think.  All of our members are dues paying members and we’re constantly in competition with the Hawai’i GOP and think they have one dues paying member.”

Ryan says long-time Party Leaders have set the stage for defeat in 2018.

“They have made a strategic decision to repeat what they’ve done in the past, which has always failed, which is to not fight Democrats on issues.  They’re not going to fight any of their policies, they’re not going to fight any of the bad results of 63 years of Democrat rule.  So we’re going into the 2018 election having decided not even to challenge of criticize the records of Democrats.”

GOP-Hawaii national committeewoman Miriam Hellreich, former Congresswoman Patricia Saiki and state Representative Gene Ward declined to comment on HIRA or Ryan.  But, Ostrov, who ran for Congress in 2016, says HIRA is a disruptive force and not a priority.

“HIRA is not a large organization or credible organization.  They’re not focused on electing Republicans.  They’re focused on tearing Republicans down.  And so there’s a campaign on Fake News and all of that.  I haven’t seen a HIRA candidate run or put up at all.  So I have to focus on finding real conservative Republican candidates to run and win elections.”

Ryan, meanwhile, says his focus is not on recruiting candidates but on fixing the Hawai’i GOP.

“Our party is – without question -- on a downward spiral.  The numbers prove it out and right now the Party is broke, the Party has decided it’s going to throw the next election so we’re in huge trouble.  And the reason HIRA’s doing this is to sound an alarm bell to be heard by conservative Republicans statewide that it’s even more out of control than you know.”

But Ostrov is the party chair.  She says she will oppose out of control mega infrastructure projects like Honolulu’s rail transit and reach out to the one-third of voters in Hawai’i who voted for Donald Trump in 2016.

“Put American First, put Hawai’i first, those are the messages we have to come out with.  Very strong and very unapologetic of who we are and be courageous about it and there are people out there who will answer that call.”

For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.

Wayne Yoshioka
Wayne Yoshioka is an award-winning journalist who has worked in television, print and radio in Hawaiʻi. He also has been on both sides of politics as a state departmental appointee and political/government reporter. He covered Hurricane Iwa (1982) as a TV reporter; was the State Department of Defense/Civil Defense spokesperson for Hurricane Iniki (1992); and, commanded a public affairs detachment in Afghanistan (2006). He has a master's degree in Communication from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and is a decorated combat veteran (Legion of Merit, Bronze Star and 22 other commendation/service medals). He resides in Honolulu.
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