Running For The Working People

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - March 15, 2006

“In 1998 we had a graffiti problem in Mililani,” says Randy Iwase, who represented Mililani from 1990 to 2000 in the state Senate.

“Every day I’d say to my wife, ‘Somebody should deal with all this graffiti.’ Then it occurred to me, that somebody is me. So we organized a graffiti clean-up day. Five hundred people came out to help.”

Eight years later, Iwase still goes out with a bucket and a brush - sometimes alone, sometimes accompanied by wife Jan - to scrub graffiti off the walls of Mililani.

For the past year, Iwase watched Democrat after Democrat step back from challenging incumbent Gov. Linda Lingle in this year’s election.

“This administration is all public relations,” says Iwase, “and somebody should run and bring serious government back to this state. People with more name recognition than I didn’t come forward, so that somebody is me.”

Gov. Lingle isn’t interested in “serious government”?

“How Lingle played education her first year in office - her proposal that we have seven school boards. Then I knew,” says Iwase. “All that talk about being the education governor was waha - just talk. You haven’t heard anything from her about education since.

“And her calling George W. Bush one of our greatest presidents. That’s mind-boggling. Bush ranks below Millard Fillmore.”

In the coming campaign, Iwase says that he will focus on two issues: education and the economy.

“We must elevate education to the top priority of state government,” he says. “And we must support decent jobs and wages for our people.”

Iwase sees the University of Hawaii playing a key role in all of this: “The university must become an economic magnet for the state. It should draw students from around the Pacific Rim to study engineering, medicine, law, astronomy, oceanography in Hawaii.

“They will then go back to their homes with UH degrees and plant seeds of critical relationships for Hawaii’s economy.”

Iwase acknowledges that he is a longshot in his bid to unseat Lingle. Lingle will have $6 million to spend for her campaign; Iwase starts with virtually nothing. Lingle has been prominent politically since her first bid for governor in 1998; as head of the state Labor Board of Appeals, Iwase has been out of elective politics for the past six years.

“We’ll have to get the Democrats out better than we did in 2002,” says Iwase, “and we need to appeal strongly to independent voters, who are increasingly leaning toward the Democrats.”

The reason for the lean, Iwase feels, is simply time: “The Republican philosophy is getting old, and the pendulum swings. There’s rising concern about war and peace and about the Republicans’focus on spin rather than substance. The Republicans say they’re for cutting taxes to save money, yet they cut taxes and spend more money - and they cut programs that help people: education, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, local police.

“Independent voters see that, and they’re beginning to say ‘You can’t fool us anymore, and you won’t.’ And the Republicans are reminding Democrats why they became Democrats to begin with - because the party stands for fairness, equality and opportunity.

“Democrats water the roots to make the tree grow. Republicans water the top of the tree - the leaves - and say the water will filter down. The roots are the working people.”

Iwase’s background is certainly working. His father was a musician with the Royal Hawaiian Band, his mother a waitress. He grew up in St. Louis Heights, attended public schools and graduated from Kaimuki High School. He spent his first two collegiate years at the University of Hawaii.

“But I did my ‘60s thing,” he says, “dropped out of college, worked.”

Iwase went back to school at the University of Florida, from which he graduated in 1971. Three years later he earned his law degree from the University of San Francisco. He worked in the state attorney general’s office from 1974 to 1985, leaving when he won a seat on the Honolulu City Council. Three years later he made an unsuccessful run for mayor.

In 1990, after a stint as head of the Aloha Tower Development Corporation, Iwase won election to the state Senate. He spent a decade there, leaving in 2000 when Gov. Ben Cayetano appointed him chair of the state Labor Appeals Board.

Iwase and wife Jan, an elementary school principal, reside with their three sons in Mililani.

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