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Maui residents take in inauguration from afar

Maui Democratic Party chair: ‘Mission accomplished’

The Hawaii Democratic Party put together mug and Kona coffee packages for anyone who wanted to enjoy a hot beverage while watching the inauguration in Washington D.C. on TV early Wednesday morning. Maui Democrats were saddened they couldn’t travel to the nation’s capital to watch the events due to COVID-19 and heightened security following violence at the Capitol. Hawaii Democratic Party photo

Instead of joining a crowd of onlookers for the presidential inauguration in Washington D.C., Helen Nielsen “drank champagne and wore pearls” in her living room in Kaupo on Wednesday morning.

“This would have been the year we could have gone,” Nielsen said of the inauguration, where public participation was dampened by COVID-19 and the recent violence at the Capitol.

Nielsen and husband Jonathan Starr, both strong Democrats who have met former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, instead watched TV in their home in East Maui, pointing out fellow Democratic friends from the Mainland who did make the trek to the nation’s capital.

“It was so moving,” Nielsen said of the event, which began with the memorial for COVID-19 victims Tuesday night. “I cried the whole time.”

But Nielsen said she was also hopeful and happy, and that her choice of pearls was a nod to Vice President Kamala Harris, who wore her signature pearls to many important events. Supporters nationwide launched a campaign to wear pearls and Chucks on Wednesday in honor of Harris, the first Black, South Asian and female vice president in U.S. history.

Maui Democratic Party Chairwoman Stephanie Ohigashi had received an invitation and also longed to join the event in the nation’s capital.

“COVID has taken away all of the pomp and circumstance and the galas and the honor of being there in person,” the Wailuku resident said.

She called Wednesday’s inauguration like “night and day” compared to one of Bill Clinton’s inaugurations that she attended that had “thousands and thousands of people.”

“It was excitement in the air,” she recalled, adding that it was also “freezing cold.”

Ohigashi also attended a gala after Clinton’s inauguration.

While the ceremony was not the same this year, Ohigashi still felt proud.

“For us in the Democratic Party, it’s like mission accomplished,” she said.

“I hope that all of us on Maui will get together, no matter who you support or who you voted for, let’s come together for the benefit of our community, especially during COVID,” Ohigashi said.

Hawaii Democratic Party Chairman Tyler Dos Santos-Tam said that the Presidential Inaugural Committee had strongly discouraged in-person travel due to COVID-19 and the security situation at the Capitol.

“If things had been different, I’m very sure that we would have a good number of Hawaii Democrats — including our grassroots and our local elected officials — flying up to participate in person,” Dos Santos-Tam said in an email Wednesday.

Leading up to the inauguration, they’ve also joined briefings on Zoom with key officials involved in the transition and inauguration planning, he said. The party has also encouraged people to participate in community service activities from home to recognize the occasion, such as volunteering in a food drive or picking up trash.

In addition to Zoom events, Hawaii Democrats also found a way to celebrate together while watching the inauguration.

Since the event kicked off at 11:30 a.m. in D.C. — 6:30 a.m. in Hawaii — the party released a commemorative mug with Kona coffee that viewers could drink while taking in the early-morning ceremony. The mug read “Time to Heal.”

Ohigashi nicknamed the mug a “cup of Joe,” in reference to President Joe Biden.

“We can’t be there physically, so it was kind of a no-brainer to have coffee and watch in the morning,” she said.

Nielsen said Biden had won handily and that the election was fair, following months of claims by then-President Donald Trump over election rigging that many officials blamed for inciting the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. She said that she hoped the country could work together and unify to “offset four years of Trump’s misinformation and narcissism.”

“I’m going with Biden’s mantra of unity and love,” Nielsen said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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