Election Year 2006: All Shook Up

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - January 25, 2006
| Del.icio.us

Jeeeeez! It’s tough being a political analyst!

Just when you think you’ve got election year 2006 scoped out - as in “Ho hum, Lingle unopposed for governor and little action on the undercard either” - Congressman Ed Case announces he will challenge incumbent United States Sen. Dan Akaka.

Suddenly the Democrats, whether they find a formidable gubernatorial challenger or not, are the party to watch - at least through the primary election on Sept. 23. The Akaka-Case contest will involve money, grass-roots campaigning, and a generational tug-of-war. And it changes the dynamic across the political horizon.

First, it opens up the state’s 2nd Congressional District seat, held by Case since 2002 and before that by the late Patsy Mink for more than a decade. Everyone from Kau on Hawaii Island to Kaneohe with even a touch of Potomac fever will be weighing their chances.

Second, some of the feverish may come from the ranks of Neighbor Island mayors - two Republicans, Kauai’s Mayor Bryan Baptiste and Maui’s Alan Arakawa, might carry the Republican Party’s congressional standard.

Others of the flushed may emerge from the state Legislature. Within minutes after Case’s announcement last Thursday, Democratic state Reps. Kirk Caldwell and Brian Schatz, and state Sen. Clayton Hee were all being talked about as possible congressional candidates. State Sens. Colleen Hanabusa and Gary Hooser (neither of whom will have to give up their seats) as well as former Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, indicated they would seek the vacant congressional seat.

Thus Case’s move will almost certainly result in vacating other elective offices.

It will also rend what’s left of Hawaii’s Democratic Party. Within an hour of Case’s announcement, Sen. Dan Inouye and 1st District Rep. Neil Abercrombie endorsed Sen. Akaka for re-election to the Senate. Every Democrat in sight will be asked to line up on this one.

Expect Akaka to have more folks on his side of the line. Dan Akaka is one of the genuinely nice people in Hawaii politics.

In a profession in which arrogance and grandstanding seem requirements for admission,Akaka is a truly humble man. Danny Akaka never struts. He never grandstands. He never dances on the table. Akaka came to politics from the Department of Education, where he was a teacher and principal. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1976 until his appointment to the U.S. Senate in 1990 on the death of Spark Matsunaga. He brings 30 years of national legislative experience to this year’s contest.

Case is a lawyer who spent four terms in the state House before his election to Congress four years ago. As state House majority leader, Case sometimes found it difficult rallying his Democratic colleagues.

Few would call Case a good party man. Case is a Case man. Following his narrow loss to Mazie Hirono in the Democrats’ 2002 gubernatorial contest, he concentrated on his own congressional run and offered Hirono little support. She does not speak highly of him.

Now Case will attempt to sell the electorate on the idea that they will be better served with a younger man in the Senate who can ring up seniority for the state while Dan Inouye does the heavy lifting over the next few years. He has a point, but it is a fine one and - I think - a difficult one to sell.

No one wants to hear how the Senate’s seniority system works. They want to know why you’re a better guy, a nicer guy, than Danny.

That said, Case is a ferocious campaigner. He proved that twice in 2002, almost winning the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and running away with the 2nd District congressional election. He’s undoubtedly done some polling that shows he’s got a good shot at it.

He will do well in Republican precincts, as he did in 2002. Haoles vote haole - or Republican - big time. But the Hawaiians will stick with Danny, and loyalty counts with Japanese-Americans. The older ones in particular are likely to support Akaka. Where the young ones go is more problematic. The Filipinos? Ah, the Filipinos. Who knows? I wish I had copies of Case’s polls.

So election year 2006 suddenly becomes interesting. Thanks, Ed.

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