A Mad Scramble In 2010 Election

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - March 25, 2009
| Del.icio.us

A late-19th century observer of American politics once remarked, “What the theatre is to the French, or the bull fight ... to the Spanish ... election campaigns and the ballot box are to the Americans.”

Certainly our presidential campaign of the last two years gave credence to Americans’ obsession with electoral politics. And rest assured that Hawaii’s gubernatorial ballot box in 2010 will focus Islanders’ attention for the next 19 months.

Why? The open seat, that’s why. Term limits sideline Linda Lingle in 2010, unless she decides to run for Congress.

In 2006, the popular Republican governor paralyzed the Democrats. U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie talked briefly about running, but backed off. Many candidacies were floated; none flew. Former state Sen. Randy Iwase finally came forward, but neither enthusiasm, money nor many votes were to be found for his candidacy.


But an open seat gives all sorts of folks courage. Abercrombie has already announced his gubernatorial ambition. Mayor Mufi Hannemann, people (though not he) tell me, is definitely in the race as well.

Then there’s Senate President Colleen Hanabusa. A Japanese-American woman who came within an eyelash or two of winning the 2nd District House seat in 2006, Hanabusa might do well in a Democratic gubernatorial primary against two alpha males.

Then there’s Ed Case - he who had the temerity to challenge a sitting Democratic United States senator three years ago. Dan Akaka beat Case, but not before getting the scare of Akaka’s political life. Case has indicated he’s looking at the governorship - or the 1st District congressional seat Abercrombie is vacating.

A gubernatorial win would be difficult, while the 1st District seems tailored for Case. It’s the urban, more conservative district - full of moderate Democrats, Republicans and independents, and lots of haoles too. In 2006, Case polled well in the East Honolulu and Windward precincts that make up much of the 1st; he might do just as well in a congressional run this year.

But so did Hanabusa, and many speculate that she’ll go for whatever office Hannemann doesn’t seek.

The Republicans? They don’t have a hot-selling brand these days, and their ranks are thin. Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona looks to have the gubernatorial nomination. He has Lingle’s blessing, and few others are even mentioned.

City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle’s name does come up. Carlisle’s self-deprecating wit and tough-on-crime rhetoric have vanquished serious ballot opposition in his re-election campaigns for prosecutor, but he would have to broaden his range of issues considerably to win the governorship - or the 1st District congressional seat.

Crime alone won’t do it.

Then there’s the lieutenant governorship. No one runs for the LG’s job. It’s an empty office, eight years that former Lt. Gov. Ben Cayetano described as “the most frustrating of my political career.”

People who run for lieutenant governor are, in fact, running for governor. Democrats Brian Schatz, Gary Hooser and Donovan Dela Cruz have all but filed papers. Both Schatz and Hooser have served in the state Legislature. Hooser spent time on the Kauai County Council. Dela Cruz currently serves on the Honolulu City Council. Veteran state Sen. Bobby Bunda also is likely to run.

Prospective LG candidates play mix-and-match. Schatz and Hooser do not match well with either Abercrombie or Case. A haole gubernatorial candidate plus a haole lieutenant governor candidate do not a balanced ticket make. Either would do well with Hannemann or Hanabusa. Filipinos Bunda and Dela Cruz, though, would balance any of the four mentioned Democrats seeking the governorship.

Do Democratic primary voters think about balancing tickets when they vote? A few party loyalists might; the vast majority don’t. But history says an ethnically unbalanced ticket is trouble for Democrats or Republicans.

In 2002, ethnic imbalance spelled the loss of the governor-ship by the Democrats for the first time in 40 years. An unbalanced Mazie Hirono-Matt Matsunaga ticket fell to Lingle-Aiona.

Ah, political theatre, political bullfights - and political speculation.

And we’ve only just begun.

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