State Democrats may give potential candidates two paths to become eligible to run for elected office under the party’s banner.
The rules committee at the party’s state convention voted late Friday for an amendment to the party’s constitution that would recognize potential candidates who have been party members for at least six months or who demonstrate party fidelity after an interview.
Under the existing constitution, candidates who do not meet the six-month requirement have to request an exception, a process that has been criticized after the party rejected Laura H. Thielen — a former director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources under Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican — who has filed as a Democrat for a state Senate seat.
Democrats can go to court to challenge Thielen’s candidacy or vote to expel her from the party.
Democrats said late Friday that the amendment was a “middle path” between those who wanted to expand the six-month membership rule to 12 months with no exceptions and those who wanted to abolish the rule altogether.
The amendment will be up for a final vote before convention delegates on Saturday. *Update: The amendment was approved Saturday morning.
Bart Dame, a progressive activist who worked on the amendment, said it would be an acknowledgment by the party that the existing rule is flawed and could influence the party’s response to Thielen’s candidacy. Dame also said that the amendment would establish standards and criteria to determine whether a candidate should represent the party, removing the ambiguity in the existing rule over when an exception should be awarded.
Jim Shon, a former state lawmaker, said he was sad that Democrats were even discussing expanding the six-month rule to 12 months. He said the party had always trusted primary voters to decide which candidates were authentic Democrats. “This party is bigger than that,” Shon said. “That’s what the other guys do.”
But Ann Freed, a member of the party’s state central committee, said primaries are used to select candidates who represent the party’s values, not all voters who are eligible to vote in the state’s open primaries. She said the 12-month membership rule would have given the party greater ability to screen candidates.
Democrats on the rules committee, meanwhile, voted to reject an amendment that would have subjected elected officials who failed to demonstrate support for the party’s human and civil rights, labor, social safety net and environmental protection planks to possible expulsion.
The amendment had drawn the concern of several state House and Senate lawmakers and the Abercrombie administration.
Freed and other party activists have been disappointed that elected officials do not follow the party platform.
But Linda Chu Takayama, an ally of U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said expulsion was a serious penalty for elected officials who may have legitimate differences on issues such as Honolulu rail or the Ho’opili residential development project.
“There are many issues on which we as Democrats disagree,” she said.