Road Signs Of The Political Times

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - August 09, 2006

During the election season, I can’t drive two blocks on any street, any island, without counting signs, bumper stickers and sign-wavers. It’s just what I so perversely do in even-numbered years.

A month or so ago I ventured out along the Waianae Coast, where, as you might expect Reelect-Dan-Akaka-to-the-U.S.-Senate signs can be seen at every strategic intersection. Waianae is Hawaiian country, so the folks out there express their allegiance to Danny, their keiki o ka aina.

The coast’s choice for the 2nd District Congressional seat on the Democratic ticket? It appears to be Colleen Hanabusa of Waianae’s Hanabusa Auto Parts Store. The family business has been there a long, long time; and folks who got a fair price on their carburetor or head gaskets are loyal to the Hanabusa daughter who went into politics.

Two weekends ago, I was on Hawaii Island. We drove around Hilo, went up to Volcanoes National Park, and along the Hamakua Coast as far as Waipio Valley. Akaka signs outnumber Ed Case signs in Hilo town, but not by much. The Case folks display their man’s still boyish 51-year-old face on large, photograph-quality banners - and they’re to be found throughout East Hawaii. If they’re an accurate reflection of voter sentiment,Akaka has a problem.

Haole Kona will vote Case - heavily. For Akaka to win the Big Island, he must carry East Hawaii by a large margin. But friends tell me that an early Akaka rally in Hilo lacked both numbers and energy. A second one sponsored by state Rep. Dwight Takamine did much better. But a long-time Hilo vote-counter tells me that the U.S. Senate race on the Big Island is currently a dead heat.

Nothing’s new about the KonaHilo political divide, but in the words of one Big Island political activist: “The biggest change is on the Hamakua coast. The sugar workers who voted Democrat all their lives are dying off. New people are coming in, and they’re Independents.”

It’s hard to predict where those Independents will go. I’m betting, on the basis of the war issue, that they’ll lean Akaka.

Then there’s the 2nd District Congressional race on the Big Island. In late July it looked, according to my sources, to be Mazie Hirono over Matt Matsunaga by a margin of 2 to 1. But my unofficial sign-count offered a more mixed message. Besides Hirono and Matsunaga, Gary Hoosier, Clayton Hee, Ron Menor, Brian Schatz and Hanabusa all had their names on display.

Television signals have been infrequent and mixed. Currently, Case has his lovely wife talking about “respect,” for tradition, the past, children, etc. But not, apparently, for a particular elder named Dan Akaka. “Elbow the old fella aside! Bring on change!” And change is spelled C-a-s-e. Obviously, Case’s people know that “respect” - his lack of it for Akaka - is on a lot of folks’minds, and they’re trying to recast the discussion.

Akaka, meanwhile, knows that he has an issue in his opposition to the war in Iraq and Case’s measured support for it. But the television ad he’s running, a listless clip from his Democratic Convention speech, doesn’t forward his argument. More recently the Akaka campaign’s been running an ad in which Dan Inouye endorses his senatorial colleague. It’s called “appealing to your base,” the Japanese-American core of the democracy.

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