The Dems’ Big Gubernatorial Goof

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - September 13, 2006

Hawaii hasn’t had an election like this since 1990. That one involved Dan Akaka as well. Spark Matsunaga was elected to his third term in the United States Senate in November 1988; he died 18 months later.

Gov. John Waihee appointed 2nd District Rep. Dan Akaka to replace Matsunaga until the biennium election. Soon thereafter, two-term Republican Congresswoman Pat Saiki announced her Senate candidacy.

Then, of course, the flood-gates opened in the Democratic 2nd District contest. Former Congresswoman Patsy Mink immediately announced. So too did Mufi Hannemann and state Senators Ron Menor and Mike Crozier.

With Saiki’s departure from the 1st District, City Councilman Neil Abercrombie, attorney and Spark’s son Matt Matsunaga, and Sen. Norman Mizuguchi all jumped into the Democratic primary in that district.

It made 1990 a spirited and fascinating campaign year- all the way to the general election.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said this year, because the drama in the marquee races - the 2nd District congressional, the United States Senate and gubernatorial - will be over sometime late in the evening of Sept. 23, primary election day.

The reason was on display at last week’s KGMB-TV 2nd District congressional forum at the Hawaii Theatre. For 90 minutes, 10 Democrats and two Republicans strutted their stuff before a crowd of 600 or so and a statewide television audience.

Good strut. Good stuff. Particularly by the Democrats. At least six of the Dems showed themselves more than ready for prime time and a seat in the United States House of Representatives.

And I mean no disrespect for Republicans Bob Hogue and Quentin Kawananakoa. Both acquitted themselves well. But the combined public service of eight of the Democrats - Councilman Nestor Garcia, state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, state Sen. Clayton Hee, former Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, state Sen. Gary Hooser, former state Sen. Matt Matsunaga, state Sen. Ron Menor and state Rep. Brian Schatz - comes to more than 100 years, an average of 12-plus years apiece.

State Sen. Hogue and former state Rep. Kawananakoa tally less than 10 between them.

And it showed. The Democrats have spent all of their legislative service as chairs of committee or members of the Democratic majority that crafted Hawaii’s laws over the past quarter century. However you feel about them philosophically, they know their issues.

Watching the Democrats field questions, I - and a lot of others, I’m sure - couldn’t help but wonder how a party with the talent on display in the 2nd District Congressional primary had such a tough time finding gubernatorial candidates to run against Gov. Linda Lingle.

Part of the answer, of course, is that four of the Democrats - Hanabusa, Hee, Hooser and Menor - risk nothing. Should they lose on Sept. 23, they can return to the Senate for the last two years of their four-year Senate terms.

But somewhere along the line this past election year, someone should have tapped a Menor or Matsunaga or Hanabusa or Hooser or somebody of that caliber and energy, started raising money, and urged them - repeatedly - to go for the governorship.

Instead, months were spent speculating: about the Hamlet of Hawaii County, Harry Kim; the good soldier, Gen. Eric Shinseki; and the deep-pocketed banker, Walter Dods.

Said one of the congressional candidates after the KGMB forum:

“The Democrats shot themselves in the foot this year. They went after the big-name gubernatorial, the dream candidate.

They should have encouraged a hard-working politician instead.”

That they should have, and they had a slew of them from which to choose.

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