Handicapping Election Year ’06

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - January 18, 2006
| Del.icio.us

Election year 2006 begins this mid-week with the opening of the Hawaii State Legislature. Senate President Bobby Bunda and House Speaker Calvin Say will outline the Democrats’ legislative agenda for the coming session.

The smattering of Republicans in the House and Senate will offer their feeble reply, knowing full well that this year - as in all the previous years for more than half-a-century - no one will be listening to them. (Not that a host will be listening to Bunda and Say either. But a few, a few.)

Folks will be paying attention next week, however, when Gov. Linda Lingle delivers her State-of-the-State Address.

With it Lingle will, in essence, outline the platform on which she will run for re-election next fall. She will brag about the accomplishments of her administration (real and imagined), promise a bigger tax cut or rebate than the Democrats, propose less spending of the state’s healthy budget surplus.

In this era of high energy costs, both legislative Democrats and the Republican governor will nod toward energy conservation.

In this era of disasters, natural and man-made, both will say something about preparing for hurricanes, tsunamis or terrorists - plus education, of course, the state’s biggest responsibility.

And affordable housing, of which there isn’t any.

All the rhetoric - this week and next - will be numbingly predictable.

So too, at the moment, is the outcome of the next fall’s election. Hawaii appears to face the possibility that the state will hold a gubernatorial election and no Democrat will show up.

Oh, I know, someone will. Randall Iwase sounds enthusiastic about making the effort, but - after six years out of elective office - he has little name recognition.

The other possibilities have come and gone without making a ripple:

Abercrombie and Dods, McCartney and Kim, Hamamoto and Donohue.

Then there’s money, or rather, the lack of it.

Money follows electoral success in politics, and Lingle looks like a sure thing. Her poll numbers are good.

Meanwhile, timidity has gripped the heart (or perhaps, other, less-mentionable but equally debilitating organs) of those who traditionally bankroll Democratic candidates.

The Lingle bandwagon appears ready to roll from State-of-the-State speech to general election day. Political money will follow it. Iwase - or whoever else ends up with the Democratic nomination - will only be able to pick up spare change.

So what’s to watch this 2006 election year?

Once again the Republicans will attempt to pick up seats in both the state House and the Senate, and the Democrats will attempt to protect their incumbents. That may be the height of the Donkeys’ ambitions.

Historically, Lingle hasn’t shown much in terms of coattails; but this year without a formidable opponent and with an expected $6 million campaign fund, Lingle may be wearing a campaign coat with very long tails indeed.

No legislative race looks more interesting than that in downtown’s 28th House district. There Republican-turned-Democrat-ever-so-quickly Bev Harbin, the gubernatorial mal-appointment of this or any other year, will face stiff opposition in the Democratic primary. Whichever Democrat survives that, will in probability meet Colin Wong, the young Republican who almost beat incumbent Democrat Ken Hiraki two years ago.

Then there’s the organization of the state Senate. President Bobby Bunda faces a body divided into five factions - in each of those five factions there’s at least one individual senator who thinks he or she would look better with the president’s gavel in hand than Bunda, handsome devil that he is.

So while the rhetoric may be predictable and the contest at the top a yawner, give election year 2006 a chance.

It’s a long, long time from here to November.

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