Party label

February 15th, 2013

Who is a Democrat? A Republican? A Green? A new bill would shift the burden of proof in court to the potential candidate, not the political parties.

Dante Carpenter, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, asked for the bill after candidates ran for office last year as Democrats even though the party had determined they were ineligible.

Laura Thielen won a state Senate seat after disregarding the party’s ruling that she was ineligible to run as a Democrat because she had not been a member of the party for at least six months before the filing deadline. Chris Manabat, who was not a party member when he filed to run for the state House, won in the primary but lost in the general election.

Both Thielen and Manabat had signed sworn oaths that they were members of the Democratic Party and their filing papers were accepted by the state Office of Elections. Democrats had the option of challenging the candidates in court, but Carpenter said the party did not have the money and could not find attorneys to take the cases for free.

Carpenter said that the state should ensure candidates are “true to their word.”

The bill — Senate Bill 223 — would require the Office of Elections to reject potential candidates who political parties claim are not eligible to run under party labels. It would be left to the potential candidates to challenge the findings in court.

Democrats so thoroughly dominate Hawaii politics that some candidates have made strategic decisions to join the party to increase their chances of election or to maximize their influence at the Legislature. The party’s “big tent” philosophy has led to several disputes over whether elected Democrats adequately represent the party’s platform.

Sen. Les Ihara (D, Moiliili-Kaimuki-Palolo) said Hawaii is like a “one-party state.”

““Sorry, Sam,” Ihara said to his colleague, Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Kahala-Hawaii Kai), the only Republican in the Senate.

“Hey,” Slom said, “you’re stating fact.”

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