Three veteran city councilmen who switched from the Democratic to Republican Party June 6 face a recall election today in a political battle that includes a last-minute television appeal on their behalf by President Reagan.
At stake in the voting is partisan control of the nine-member Honolulu City Council and, to some extent, the future of the Hawaii Republican Party's rebuilding efforts in this traditionally Democratic state. All three separate recall elections are rated a tossup.
Reagan's unusual 30-second television spot highlights the political stakes in the recall battle, which is being treated as the first skirmish of key statewide elections in 1986.
George G. Akahane, 54, Toraki Matsumoto, 56, and Rudolph Pacarro, 57, switched parties in the midst of the Republican National Committee's "Operation Open Door" aimed at converting some 100,000 Democrats to the GOP nationwide.
According to Hawaii National Committeewoman Carla Coray, Reagan agreed to make the TV spot on their behalf because the three councilmen are the only elected officials in Operation Open Door who have had to face recall as a result of their switch.
"The right to switch parties for principle is as American as the Stars and Stripes," Reagan says in the spot, which was filmed last Wednesday by Delta Productions of Virginia.
The midterm defection of the councilmen was seen as a coup for the local Republican Party and for Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi, himself a former Democrat. The switch gave the Republicans a five-member majority on the nine-member council and put Honolulu's city hall in GOP hands for the first time in decades.
The recall drive was launched a day after the three announced their switch. It was instigated by council member Patsy T. Mink, a former member of Congress from Hawaii and past national chairman of the Americans for Democratic Action. Mink lost her position as council chairman in the coup.
The Honolulu city charter does not require a reason for a recall election. It simply asks for a petition signed by 10 percent of the voters in the affected district.
The Democrats asked for the recall because, they said, the councilmen "betrayed" the trust of the voters by switching political parties with more than a year to go in their four-year terms. The three new Republicans said they switched because they wanted to take over the city council and get Honolulu "moving" economically in cooperation with Mayor Fasi.
Local election law does not prohibit midterm party switches.
Public opinion polls and campaign workers for the three councilmen suggest the election in each of the three districts is about even, with the outcome likely to hinge on voter turnout. No other election is scheduled here today.
Coray said the White House was at first reluctant to participate in this local recall fight, since Reagan generally does not get involved in elections below the congressional level.
"But since it was a result of Operation Open Door and because it was unique, they felt it wouldn't set a precedent," she said.
The Democrats' biggest television gun has been the popular senior senator from Hawaii, Daniel K. Inouye, who has appeared on both radio and television urging recall of the three.